Episode 1. Why No Man is an Island
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In the busy world in which we live, we make all sorts of excuses for not connecting with friends. Too busy, too tired, too many hurts from the past … let’s be honest, too selfish. But being alone …
In the busy world in which we live, we make all sorts of excuses for not connecting with friends. Too busy, too tired, too many hurts from the past … let’s be honest, too selfish. But being alone is hard work because, as it turns out, we were never made to be alone.
We’re Created for Community
It’s always exciting to kick off a new series of messages and starting today we are going to be talking about friendship. That’s why I have called this series “A Friend In Need is a Friend Indeed.” It’s a saying that most of us have heard of many times before and it’s well … it’s so true. There are some people who, right now, who are living their lives without a friend in the world – or so it seems to them right now. Sometimes that happens because we isolate ourselves and sometimes it happens, well, for a whole bunch of reasons that are completely outside our control. And sometimes we are just not sure why it’s happening but we feel so desperately alone.
Well, over the next few weeks we are going to explore this whole thing about friendship, because whether we realise it or not, we are made to have friends. We are made to be a part of a community; part of a family and we are made to connect with people who are our friends. And there is a reason for that. It’s not just a quirk of fate as the primeval slime evolved over eons to become thee and me. No, that’s just stretching the imagination a bit too far.
The reason we are made to connect with other people is that that is exactly what God is like and you and I – the thing that makes us different from any other creature or species alive is this: you and I are made in the image of God. And that as it turns out, is the whole reason that we are meant to be in close relationship, at least with a few other people.
It has always blown me away how the first few words of the first verse of the first Book of the Bible must have puzzled people way back when it was written. Genesis chapter 1, verse 1, starts out:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Hang on – let’s just stop; let’s just pare that back a little bit.
In the beginning God …
Before everything and everyone else, was and is God. Now most of the Old Testament is written in the Hebrew language – this verse certainly was – and the word that we translate as “God” is the strangest word. It’s the word “Elohim”, which literally, in the Hebrew language, is the word “gods” – plural. “In the beginning Gods”, is what it actually says and it’s what it said to them, thousands of years ago when it was written and what it still says to the Jewish Nation today.
In the beginning Gods …
And just a few verses down, when God tells us how He created us, this is what it says – Genesis chapter 1, verses 26 and 27:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, in our own likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Did you pick it up? God said, “let US” make humankind in our image.” “US!” Now back in those days, just about every nation had its gods – they were polytheistic, which means they believed in many Gods, much as Hinduism does today. But Israel … Israel believed in one God; they were monotheistic and in that way they were really quite unique. Have a listen, Deuteronomy chapter 6, verse 4:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
And so this One God, who declares Himself from the beginning, to be more than one, turns out as we later discovered, He is three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in one perfect relationship that we call “God”. Three persons in One God which is the mystery of what today we call the Holy Trinity. So from the very beginning, God is a God of community.
And we – you and I, and every other homosapian that has ever trodden this Earth – are made in the image of God. And how did God make us in His image? Well, male and female He created us. He made us to be companions; to have friends; to have close relationships for this reason, because this is one of the key aspects of being made in God’s image.
Now, as you and I look at ourselves in the mirror, we realise that we are made to have friends, notwithstanding the fact that we are really all quite different. I mean, my daughter Melissa and I couldn’t be more different. We both go exercising most mornings. I do it on a brisk ten kilometre walk all on my own. I have done exercise with other people when I was in the Army – I hated it. I love exercising just on my own. Melissa, on the other hand, she joins a group of twenty or so people under a trainer and they exercise together. For her, she simply wouldn’t get out there in the morning if it weren’t for the companionship of the other people.
See how different we are! And yet, even I at the end of the spectrum where I really enjoy my own company, at that extreme – if I can put it that way – I need close relationships; I need friends; my wonderful, long suffering wife and a few good friends. They say “no man is an island”. It’s true of women too. None of us is meant to travel through this life on our own. Yea, sure, there are times when people desert us. That even happened to Jesus, when He was arrested and tried and crucified – all His friends left Him. It happens, sadly, sometimes to each one of us. But that’s not the norm; that’s not how it’s meant to be for most of the time, because that, quite simply, is not the way we have been created – in God’s image, remember!
And so in kicking off our chats about friendship and relationships, I guess I am hoping that you and I will examine our own lives. Come on, honestly, who are our close friends? Do we really share our souls with them, or have we built up protective walls to hide behind. Walls that protect us from getting hurt; walls that shield us from accountability; walls that save us from the pain and the expense of feeling someone else’s pain and sacrificing for them? Or quite simply, walls that have grown up all by themselves because we are so … so busy racing around earning money, paying the mortgage on a house that is way too big and for possessions that are really way more than what we need?
Well, come on, let’s get real here! God made you and He made me in His image to be in this thing called “community” – to have friends and deep and meaningful and rich and rewarding and painful and sacrificial relationships. And one of the most profound turning points of my life – as someone who doesn’t need quite as many relationships in his life as perhaps others do – is that until we enter into such relationships; until we start serving our friends with the gifts and the abilities and the resources that we have and until we see the impact on their lives through our service, there can, quite simply, be no sense of satisfaction or fulfilment or contentment in our lives.
Why? Because it was for this purpose that God made us – to love Him and to love our neighbours as ourselves. That’s it. That’s what life is all about! And to the extent that we turn away from relationships of true friendship, it is to that same extent that we miss out on real life; rich life; a rich and abundant life; the sort of life that Jesus came to purchase for you and purchase for me on that cross.
It’s Not Good to be Alone
It strikes me that in one sense we are all incredibly different – different places, cultures, circumstances – and yet in another, though, we are all the same – we all need to feel God’s love around us. We all need to experience the warm touch of a friend; we all need to know that there is someone we can turn to and talk to; someone who cares and who understands. It doesn’t matter who we are or where we are, what we are going through, we all need at least one friend.
You know what they say, “A Friend in Need, is a Friend Indeed”. Now the foundation of that need for friendship is found in the one thing that sets you and me apart from every other creature in the animal kingdom, it’s the fact that we have been made in the image of God. And God is a God of love and of relationship and of friendship and of community – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three persons, one God – the mystery of the Holy Trinity. A God who has always lived in love and relationship.
And so this one God; the three persons, creates thee and me in His image, so should it be any surprise then that we are just like Him in this? We are made to be in relationship with Him and with other people. And it’s for this purpose that we have been created, as we saw earlier: Genesis chapter 1, verse 26:
God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
This one God who talks about Himself as “us” and then in order to create humanity precisely in His image, He makes male and female to live in unity and relationship together. He didn’t just make one or the other – He made both. And in a different part of the creation account, God actually speaks about this very issue of being alone, verses having a close companion. Genesis chapter 2, verse 18:
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”
Now, let’s just stop and think about this for a minute: here are the words that come from God’s own mouth; from deep within His great and mighty heart – He tells you and He tells me that it is simply not good for someone to be alone. Now here He provides a wife for Adam but the principle spans across all human relationships and before I say it again, these powerful words from God, I just ask you to look at your life.
How close are you to other people or how distant are you? Do you have people to share your triumphs or your failures with? Or are your victories empty and your burdens great because you can’t share them with others? If your answer tends more towards the latter than the former, then listen again, deep in your heart to the Word of God: “It is not good for us to be alone.” It simply isn’t good because that’s not what we were made for.
As you may have heard me say before, I am the sort of person who doesn’t need a whole bunch of people to be close to me. Is that because I don’t like other people? No. Not at all. Is that because I am overly selfish or standoffish? Well, I hope not. The reason is that my motivational gifting – and you can read about those in Romans chapter 12 – is to be a leader and the key thing that we leaders bring to the table is our strength, rather than say, our natural compassion or our bubblyness or anything else.
Leaders are very much like eagles – when it comes to the important things they hunt in packs of one. They are naturally a solitary sort of person. And if we take that to the extreme, we leaders can become hermit like. I know I can. But … and there’s a big “BUT”, even someone with that sort of personality still needs friends.
I have a handful of very close and very trusted friends. I catch up with a lot of people. I love interacting with people but generally speaking, I rely on a small group of friends to help guide me and support me and when needs be – and we all have this need from time to time – to set me straight.
One of my favourite sayings is that ‘a friend is someone is who stabs you in the front’. It’s a great saying, isn’t it? And there are a handful of people like that in my life, without whom – quite bluntly – I’d be pretty much useless to you. But there was a time in my life when I allowed my natural tendency towards a solitary existence, combined with my tendency to overwork myself and make myself so busy that I simply didn’t have any friends. It was a time almost two decades ago when I found myself in an incredibly difficult place. I was very needy; at one point I didn’t even have anywhere to live.
And it was in the middle of that that I realised the compelling truth of what God said when He took a look at Adam – Genesis chapter 2, verse 18:
It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his companion.
So today, let me challenge you, come on, let’s be honest with ourselves. How many of us are living our lives in emotional isolation? How many of us are relying on ourselves to claw our way through life? How many of us have simply forgotten what it means to have some friends around: people who help us with their unique gifts and abilities and resources and outlook; people who one day we can help with our gifts, our resources, our abilities, our outlook?
And as time goes by, sure, we are going to rub each other the wrong way from time to time, but as the days and weeks and months and years pass by, we, together with our friends and loved ones; the people whom we have invested in, the people who have invested in us, will have woven this rich tapestry that we call “community”.
It’s not good for us to be alone, we need helpers; we need to learn to become helpers because we can’t do it on our own. So if you are someone who has become just a bit isolated – perhaps it’s busyness, perhaps it’s selfishness, perhaps it’s a reaction to the hurts of the past, maybe it’s just circumstances … whatever it is, listen again to what God has to say to you today: it is not good for you or for me or for anyone else, that we should be alone, it just isn’t!
Friendship Makes Us Strong
One thing that I’m not in life is an engineer or a builder and so when I see some massive bridge that seems to effortlessly span a ravine or a harbour and carry trains and trucks and cars and buses 24/7, I think, “How would you ever build that?” I mean, where would you start? Where would you turn the first sod or sink the first pylon? It is totally, totally inconceivable to me how they do those things.
Pretty much everyone on the planet I guess, has seen a photo of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge – the “Coat hanger” as some people affectionately call it. It was built back in the 1920s and 1930s before computers and a lot of the high-tech stuff we have nowadays. And here’s how they did it. They started at each end, on the northern shore, on the southern shore of the harbour and built their way into the centre – the thing met in the middle! I just can’t imagine how they did that, can you?
Now, I’ve seen photos of the bridge as it was being built and it looks quite uncanny because you sort of have like half a bridge reaching out from one shore and the other half reaching out from the other shore and the whole thing looks so lopsided you wonder how is it that the whole thing didn’t just fall over before it joined in the middle?
Well, here’s what the experts will tell you: the strength of the structure comes from all the cross braces that are built into it. They don’t look particularly pretty; they have no other purpose other than to work together with the rest of the structure to give it strength and stability. That’s how come you can have half of this massive bridge stretching out from each side of the harbour, without the thing toppling over. It’s the cross braces that did it.
Now I have been sharing this whole thing about the strength of this amazing bridge with you because one of the key things about friendship is that it makes each of us stronger than we can possibly be on our own. Don’t believe me? Have a listen to what God’s Word has to say on the subject – Ecclesiastes chapter 4, beginning at verse 7:
Again, I saw vanity under the sun: the case of solitary individuals, without sons or brothers; yet there is no end to all their toil and their eyes are never satisfied with riches. “For whom am I toiling,” they ask, “and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.
See, he starts off here by talking about the solitary individual. Sadly, there are a lot of those in the world – people who work hard, labour hard and … for what? What’s the point of having wealth and comfort and all that stuff if you don’t have anyone to share it with?
My wife Jacqui and I live in a comfortable apartment. It’s nothing super flash, not a great stunning harbour view or anything like that, just comfortable. And we have decorated it as tastefully as we can, within our means and I love living there with her. But I have often looked around the place – I sometimes work at home, writing and preparing stuff – I look around and you think, ‘You know, without her in this place with me, it just wouldn’t mean anything. The joy and the satisfaction I have in our apartment, is because it’s not just an apartment, it’s our home together. Not because it’s anything fantastic architecturally, it’s because it’s ours.
And that’s what God is saying here. Stuff isn’t where it is at. All that stuff is simply vanity if you are on your own. God’s solution? Let’s read on Ecclesiastes chapter 4, beginning at verse 9. He says, look:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other, but woe to the one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A Threefold cord is not quickly broken.
You see, God’s solution is that two are much better than one. Why? Because firstly, they have a good reward for their toil. In other words, there’s great satisfaction in doing things together and achieving things together. But secondly, it’s because two are stronger than one – if one falls, the other lifts them up.
But woe to the one who is alone and falls and doesn’t have another to help.
And how often do we get it wrong or run out of steam or find ourselves bleeding on the ground, without even the strength to get up again? Right then we need a friend! A friend in need is a friend indeed! And again if we face adverse circumstances – the cold in this case – if you lie down alone, you’ll freeze. If you have the heat of another, you’ll probably both survive. If we are attacked, one may prevail against the other but two will definitely withstand the attack.
Very simple logic! But doesn’t it get you how in our busy-ness, with all the stuff we have going on in our lives or in our selfishness, we are not prepared to make the sacrifices that friendship demands and we become solitary individuals. And I love … I love how God finishes this teaching off. He says:
A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Hang on! He was talking about one and then two – where did the third one come from? Here’s how I understand this: I think God is introducing Himself into this equation of friendship and relationship. Two is great, it’s much better than one. But three … two plus God binding them together is absolutely stunning. It’s the strongest of the three options.
I was preaching on this once in our church and demonstrated this truth by first having two people hold a single strand cord tight. Of course the moment I cut it, it fell apart. Then we platted two cords together and I was able to cut one cord here and another there and they still were held together. Although when you pulled them tight at the ends, they started coming apart. And then we platted three cords together and made six or seven cuts in the different cords over about two meters. You know something? They hung together in this incredibly strong formation because a threefold cord is not easily broken. That’s the simple truth.
When you are weak, I can be strong for you and vice versa. And when we are both a bit frayed at the edges, God can hold things together for us. Friends make us stronger, and when we introduce God into the friendship; when we forgive the way He wants us to; when we humble ourselves the way He wants us to, then that friendship cannot easily be broken. It’s like those cross braces on the Harbour Bridge, friends make each other strong and in Christ, the end result is so much greater than the sum of the parts.
That’s the whole point. What bit about this don’t we get??