Scripture: Philippians 1:1–11
When I say “friendship” what do you think of? What images or words come into your mind? Maybe it’s your childhood best friend, a sibling, or someone you met in college or at work that became family.
When Paul was in prison, one of things that brought him joy was his friends.
The book of Philippians is considered Paul’s most intimate letter, many even call it a friendship letter. Paul was not writing to a church he heard was having problems and giving advice as a church leader. Paul was writing to friends he had spent time with and loved.
In these verses, Paul says that every time he thinks of his friends in Philippi, he cannot help but feel joy. Even though he is in prison, he feels joy because he knows he is not truly alone and can feel the support of these friends as they continue to work together to spread the gospel. These friends have been there for him through it all. Whenever he thinks of them, Paul says he instinctively shouts a prayer of thanksgiving to God for his friends.
Paul was longing to be back with his friends. Our text says Paul longs for them “with the compassion of Christ Jesus” but the Greek is really saying he longs for his friends from his inner organs, his gut, where deep feeling was believed to come from in the ancient Greek world. It reminds me of a quote from a child I saw that went something like, “Mom, I love you with my heart, but I love you even more with my stomach because that’s where pizza goes after I eat it.” That child and Paul both know that love emanates from what sustains us.
Verse 7 says Paul’s friends in Philippi held Paul in their hearts, but really the Greek can be read both ways—Paul holds them in his heart, and in turn, they hold Paul inside their hearts. What a beautiful image of friendship—holding one another in your heart. Ancient people did not know much about the heart, but they did know that life flows from the heart and life ends when the heart stops beating. So when Paul says he holds them in his heart, I think Paul is saying that they are a part of his inner life, that their friendship has helped form him into the person God made him to be, and that their friendship gives him life and joy. I imagine a set of hands tenderly holding something precious. I feel the warmth of a hug.
This text reminds me that friendship is a gift from God and we need to treasure our friendships. God calls us to be friends with one another, to hold one another in our hearts, but that isn’t always easy. Friendship can be hard. As an adult, making new friends is really hard. Our culture doesn’t value friendship as much as it should. It says romantic relationships are most important and our lives should revolve around work, then family, leaving little time for friends. The pandemic created even more challenges for friends to get together.
Social media, especially Facebook, also doesn’t help us cherish our friends because I can ‘friend’ anyone with the click of a button but that doesn’t really make them my friend, someone I hold close in my heart. According to Facebook, I have 530 friends but that describes people I met once at a conference, my classmate from sophomore year chemistry, and that super friendly person in college who friended everyone…that number doesn’t reflect my friendships.
The English language is sorely lacking in words to describe friends. I believe we need more words for this. I want a word to describe those childhood friends that you’ve lost touch with but always remember fondly, and another word for work friends who are more than coworkers but you also wouldn’t be friends with if you didn’t work together. We need a word for those peripheral friends that you were never that close with but were always around and you appreciated what they had to say. There should be a word for seasonal friends that were only with you for a short time but will always remain dear because of what you experienced together. What about a word for a person you just met, but you just know you’re going to click and become friends in time.
Friends take so many forms and I want to treasure them all, hence my need for more words for ‘friend’. Not all friendships last forever, but all good friendships, no matter their length, can be cherished. I have found that my heart always finds more room to hold another friend within it.
While this text does not give me any new words for my friendships, it does give me some guidance for how I can think about my friends. I can hold them in my heart remembering how they helped mold me into who I am today and give thanks. I can long for friends I have not seen in a while or may never see again but take comfort in knowing that we are connected through Christ. I can remember friends with joy and pray for them when they come across my mind.
And what a prayer Paul prays for his friends in verses 9–11! Here is my version of Paul’s prayer—”May your love flourish abundantly, and through that love, may you gain knowledge to know what matters most, so that when Christ returns, it is clear that you lived a life that faithfully followed him because all that you did gave glory and praise to God.” What a prayer for your friends! May we learn to pray for our friends just as passionately.
While I was writing this sermon, one of my closest friends called me and I answered because ignoring a friend’s call to continue writing a sermon about friendship just didn’t feel right. She told me her new life update and I told her about this sermon. We reflected together on our friendship and how friendship is one of the best ways that we can see the image of God in each other, and that through friendship, we are able to experience the love of God. We talked about how it was clear that if it were not for God, we would never have met, let alone become friends and we gave thanks. It was a conversation to cherish.
So, I am ending this sermon early because I could talk for another 10 minutes on friendship and read you funny yet insightful quotes on friendship from Oprah and the Cookie Monster. But I believe you will get more from taking those minutes and using them to connect with a friend.
Right now, if you are struggling with friends, if this was a hard sermon to listen to, if you feel alone, know that you are seen and loved in that struggle. Your church is here for you, to pray with you, and Jesus, your forever friend, is always with you ready to listen, so take those minutes to connect with someone from the church or to talk with Jesus about what’s on your heart, and if you feel up to it, think about one thing you could do to try and make a new friend.
Life is busy, and time for friends is unfortunately one of the first things people drop. God created us for friendship. If we are to be imitators of Christ and Jesus calls us friend, then we are called to be friends with one another. So today, take these extra minutes you could have spent listening to me preach and celebrate friendship with someone—maybe someone you see regularly, maybe someone you haven’t talked to in years—give them a call, write them a card or email, send them a text, or take time to pray—and thank God for them today.
Let’s give thanks together.
God of friendship, who became human and called us “friend”—thank you for the gift of friendship. Thank you for our first friends that we played with on the floor before we could talk or walk. Thank you for the friends that were with us to give us comfort over our scraped knees, and as we got older, broken hearts. We give thanks for those friends that were just with us for a short season of our lives but made all the difference to make that time good. We also acknowledge that some friendships become toxic, some friendships bring more pain than joy, and we give those friendships to you. May you become our healer. Guide us to make new friends that will give us new life. Jesus, thank you for calling us friends. Thank you for the friendships you clearly brought together and have blessed. Thank you for the friends that have been there for us in our hardest moments and greatest joys. Thank you for friends that helped us see and experience the world in new ways, for friends that challenge us to be better versions of ourselves, for friends that became family. Thank you for our church family who become our friends. Thank you for new friendships and for the friendships to come. Thank you for friends that give us glimpses of your everlasting and steadfast love for us. Help us to be a good friend to others, to seek friendship with those feeling alone and unlovable, and to cherish the friends we have now. Amen.
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