I recently read an article by Lindsay Holmes, entitled “11 signs of a genuine friendship.” Qualities you’d expect such as really listening, being present, helping to keep stress in check, supporting through adversity, all figured in this list. And brilliantly (albeit for most less excitingly) was the addition of keeping us humble and calling us out when we’re wrong. All of which we’d all likely say are signs of a good friendship when the motive of love is clearly present.
The psalmist writes in Psalm 133, “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head..it is like the dew of Hermon which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” Fellowship and unity between believers is a delight to God, and a delight to experience. It’s also a blessing from above and it’s coloured and flavoured by “life forevermore”- the Lord’s life, his presence in the midst of love that is shared amongst believers.
Today’s passage is a delightful peek into the heart of the genuine friendship and love shared by Paul (along with Silas and Timothy) and believers in the Thessalonian Church.
“We could bear it no longer” (v1) are the emotional words Paul writes concerning the distance between him and the Thessalonians. He adds “we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face” (v10). Paul longed to be present with them. But couldn’t (due to pressing ministry needs). So he sent Timothy to them. I want to have such determined love for every believer in the church, that I’d have a longing to be with, encourage and pray for the church daily. What passion Paul had for his brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s pray that we experience this ourselves!
Paul’s longing was of course not simply based on the fuzzy and fun experience of being with those believers he wrote to, but was largely prompted by concern over their faith in the midst of suffering. Suffering that he had told them would come (v4). As mentioned earlier, a decent friend’s not afraid to share tough or humbling news for the sake of their friend’s best interests. This was certainly the case with Paul. I can openly state that I find this difficult, probably like most other people, but it’s clearly an important trait to have if we consider ourselves as a genuine friend.
God’s aim for the Thessalonians, as it is to all believers today, is to establish and encourage genuine faith (v2) through relationships. Firstly, faith is to be established – we’re to have a secure faith in Jesus and his saving work on the cross for us. Many of us came to this understanding through a friend, this was true of 75%-90% of 17,000 surveyed by Win Arn (1980). Secondly, faith is to be encouraged (exhorted) to help it grow and be expressed in every area of our lives, bearing fruit, irrespective of circumstances. This is discipleship in a nutshell. It’s certainly not a passive, emotionless conveyor belt for every believer to be thrown into. It’s instead relational, it looks and feels like friendship, and includes a heart pounding longing for the other to be secure and strong in faith and to therefore be truly happy!
I love Paul’s prayer at the end of the chapter – “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (v11-v13).
Importantly the height of what Paul could ask of God for his friends here was love:
- that they would increase and abound in it, for one another and for all;
- that their hearts (their will, passion, emotions) would be blameless in holiness.
Can you imagine the difference we’d see across churches if we prayed like this for one another? Why not make it a habit to seek to a) spend time in fellowship with members of the church (in person, or via video chat, phone call etc…lockdown is no excuse out of this!); and b) pray along the lines of Paul’s prayer (you can use your own words) for believing friends. I’m going to do so for you right now!