The Gift of Friendship
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 15 February 2003
Click here to see Part 3
I knew a lady who was devoted to her husband while he was still alive. You would have needed a crowbar to separate them, so great was their love for one another. The way they lived for each other you'd have thought they were one person. At length her husband died, and when he did, her life collapsed. She lost the will to live. And in less than a year she followed her husband to the grave. Such stories are quite common.
I knew another lady who was likewise devoted to her husband, and loved him with all her soul, as he did her. When he died, however, she did not fall to pieces and outlived him by at least another twenty years. Was it because she loved him less than the first woman? Was there something defective in her love that enabled her to somehow 'forget' her husband? The answer is - no, her love was not a bit less. Indeed, when I talked to her, it was plain that her husband was never very far away. She would say things like: "I can feel John right beside me - I can feel his love." She knew that though John was not present in the flesh that he was nonetheless alive in the spirit. She sensed his presence. And because she sensed he was there, her zest for life never diminished. The spiritual bond between them was so sure that it transcended the veil of mortality. She knew that John was alive in the spirit, she could feel his presence, and she could feel his love. And I suspect that is what sustained her during those long years of widowhood.
I am sure you have heard of similar stories. Many people know simply from their own personal experiences that death is not the end of things. They know because they experience life beyond the veil. Now don't misunderstand me - I am not advocating spiritualism here, which Yahweh has expressly forbidden. We are forbidden to actively seek contact with the dead. Indeed, in doing so, we engage in a form of occultism which opens up demonic channels. And once you have done that, your life will always be one of stress and oppression of one sort or another until you have had them properly closed. What I am talking about is not actively seeking invisible realities but in accepting what is - when pursued in Yahweh's way.
For the last three weeks we have spoken of the invisible presence of Yah'shua (Jesus) and how it is possible to know His active friendship even though He has not been here on earth for nearly two millennia. You can know His presence by opening your heart to Him and receiving Him on the conditions which He has given.
In many Western countries we have a tradition of carrying a new bride over the threshold of their new home. Once that ceremony has been enacted the new bride takes over stewardship of her husband's home and, in a way, becomes its manager. To have the right to do that she must first, however, marry her husband. You can't just walk into another person's house and take over. Her rights of residence are based on her marriage vows which, if done according to the biblical pattern, will include vows of obedience to him.
To have Yah'shua (Jesus) as your friend requires that you enter into an allegorical marriage relationship to Him. Practically speaking, it means renouncing other masters and allegiances such as the world system and other suitors, and accepting Him as Master and Saviour. You give Christ first rights. You give Him precedence. You enter into a kind of marriage covenant with Him which is that you will obey Him in everything, as a wife is supposed to obey her husband. That covenant is entered into after your verbal confession of faith and is sealed by being baptised by full immersion in water in the presence of witnesses. Your baptism is your written contract, though the substance of the contract is your mental, emotional, and spiritual assent to His Kingship. He will enter your heart once you invite Him in but you must also remember to fulfil the requirement to be baptised, which is your first outward sign of obedience. Similarly, a Christian women denotes her submission and obedience to her husband by wearing a head scarf in public meetings, as a sign to both angels and men.
A woman who truly loves her husband - and especially a new Christian wife - will want at all times to be at her best. Her desire will be to be a companion and helper in everything, to please him, and imitate him. In his turn, if he is a Christian, he will seek to please and imitate Christ in all things, and it will principally be the righteousness of Christ in him that his wife will want to imitate. And unless she is blindly in love and without the possession of her own mind, she will not want to imitate anything that is unchrist-like in him.
True friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus) is, as I said last week, a transforming friendship. True friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus) is to obtain a spiritual power that enables us to be our very best - a power which causes us to hate and detest that which is impure and coarse - a power which creates within us a deep longing for all that is good and holy. And Christianity is utterly meaningless without this power. Christianity without the friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) is dead religion. It is temporal and passes away. What Yah'shua (Jesus) once was, He is eternally; and therefore to possess the friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) is to possess eternity.
Last week we saw how superior the invisible friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) is to the visible one. He comes to us not only in His temple, or in the room where the door is shut, but as He came to Mary and Martha in the midst of household tasks, and as He came to Peter mending his nets and doing his daily work; and He comes with the same offer, the offer of His transforming friendship. There are no conditions to receiving this friendship except the imaginative faith to believe that He is, and that fellowship with Him is possible. It is an amazing offer. It means that no single experience of life has ever to be faced alone. What would it mean to us if in the temptation to hasty temper, to meanness, contempt, jealousy, impurity, avarice, we could pull ourselves up with the thoughts that this patient, kind, but inexorable Friend was near? What would it mean in sorrow, in bereavement, in pain, in loneliness? What would it mean in joy and laughter, in pleasure and fun? It would mean that sanctifying of every part of the life. It is the experience of what the apostles called "being saved", for to be received into this friendship is to be at the end, not indeed of our journey but of all fruitless wanderings.
Some of you are probably wondering where Torah comes into this, and perhaps even thinking I have become a liberal. Well, it will be no shame if I am liberal in love and friendship to be sure. However, a fruit of true friendship with the Master is always voluntary obedience - obedience to Torah, obedience to His Law. When you receive the friendship of the Master it is always with the understanding that you will distribute His friendship to others as He has to you. Making friends with somebody unconditionally is good and right, but acceptance of your friend's immoral ways is quite something else. To be the friend of sinners is correct - to be the friend of sin is absolutely not. A true friend stands up for the truth, and the truth is contained within Torah. My friend may be a drug addict but I will not turn my back on him because of that. I will still be his friend. But I will not agree with his destructive lifestyle and will tell him so. Is that not ultimate friendship, the desire to rescue someone from the destructive effects of sin? I had a friend who was living in an adulterous relationship. He knew I was still his friend even though I told him what he was doing was wrong and he should end it at once. Friends are there when you need them but true friends do not compromise with truth. True friends obey Torah.
A friend of mine who is presently going through a hard time and who has been suicidal asked me the other day: "Where is God?" The answer to that question is to ask another: "Can we enter into the friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus)?" And the answer is, yes, we can. We can practice the presence of God. But the only way of practising the presence of God is by practising the presence of Yah'shua (Jesus), who makes God credible and real, and entering into the transforming friendship which he offers.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean. An old Scotsman lay very ill, and his pastor came to visit him. As the pastor sat down on a chair near the bedside, he noticed on the other side of the bed another chair placed at such an angle as to suggest that a visitor had just left it. "Well, Donald," said the pastor glancing at the chair, "I see I am not your first visitor." The Scotsman looked up in surprise, so the pastor pointed to the chair.
"Ah!" said the sufferer, "I'll tell you about the chair. Years ago I found it impossible to pray. I often fell asleep on my knees I was so tired. And if I kept awake I could not control my thoughts from wandering. One day I was so worried I spoke to my pastor about it. He told me not to worry about kneeling down. 'Just sit down,' he said, ' and put a chair opposite you, imagine that Yah'shua (Jesus) is in it, and talk to him as you would to a friend.' And," the Scotsman added, "I have been doing that ever since. So now you know why the chair is standing like that."
A week later the daughter of the old Scot drove up to the pastor's house and knocked at his door. She was shown into the study, and when the pastor came in she could hardly restrain herself. "Father died in the night," she sobbed, "I had no idea death could be so near. I had just gone to lie down for an hour or two. He seemed to be sleeping so comfortably. And when I went back he was dead. He hadn't moved since I saw him before, except that his hand was out on the empty chair at the side of the bed. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said the pastor, "I understand." You see, the Scotsman, not by intellect or will, but by an imagination which had become faith, had accepted the gift of a friendship and made the Master real. Truly 'our fellowship is with Yahweh the Father and with His Son Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ)'.
The reality of this transforming friendship is reached not through argument but through experience. As an old hymn says:
The love of Yah'shua (Jesus), what it is,
None but His loved ones know.
But they know.
People come up to me who have read of some of my experiences and have often said, "Oh if only I could see visions as you have, Brother Warren!" But they have missed the point entirely. Friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus) is not through supernatural, mystical experiences such as these, even though they may add some sharpness and focus to that friendship occasionally. Friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus) is not that rare pictorial flash called a vision. Friendship is not an occasional photograph you send a friend. Friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus) is that constant 'there-ness'. Friendship isn't just something you give or receive, it has a life of its own. It's something 'beyond self' which includes more than one person. Friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus) isn't just 'you and Him' but it consists of something more than the both of you. In that respect it's like marriage - there's an extra part which is the sum of the two. And when one of the two is gone, as in death, yet he remains because of the 'extra part'.
Christianity began two thousand years ago in a vivid, tremendous, transforming experience of the friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus). It could never have continued unless the friendship had been sustained - unless those who had never seen Him could yet enter into the fellowship and become sure of Him also. There is no greater need in our time than that those who teach the Gospel should concern themselves, not with tightening up the machinery, developing organisation, encouraging people to seek after supernatural gifts, or arranging more meetings - the need is to make Yah'shua (Jesus) real to men and women - to invite them into the transforming fellowship which cannot be proved save by personal experience, but which, when realised, brings them that glorious exhilaration, that sense of ineffable peace, and that escape from all bondage which are promised in the New Testament.
To most Christians, religion has never meant this, and until it does, they will never see much in it. There is a cry amongst Messianics to return to Torah, and that is good and right, but unless you have this transforming friendship first, it will degenerate into lifeless, oppressive legalism. Then there are the charismatics crying out to have more supernatural experiences, and they are getting them, only they aren't always from where they think they come from, and they don't bring friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus). Then there are the traditionalists for whom tradition means everything who are constantly inventing new things to keep the tradition alive, but who more than anything else need the friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus).
It is actually a wonder that that Christians are interested in this friendship at all, for without this central experience it is little more than the beautiful thought system of a philanthropic society begun by one who, like all others, passed into the great silence of death never to emerge again. So our advocacy of the friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) in their eyes must be on the same level as an invitation to join such a society, and people say: "Don't bother me - I'm not interested. Religion is al very well in its way. I dare say it does good work. But I'm not interested. You go your way and let me go mine. You Christians are always squabbling. Look at all the denominations! You believe in all sorts of fantastic things. Look at your history - at the bloodshed and persecution. Come down to the business of living, and you don't seem much different from anybody else."
That is a pretty good summary of the indifference or hostility of the multitudes today towards Christianity and who can blame them. The trouble is, what they have seen or heard of probably has nothing to do with the friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) at all. The words may be there but that vital experience is not. I know that's what turned me away from Christianity in my youth. Those who do enter Christianity either look for authority claims ('we're the only true Christians'), are carrying on a tradition of their family, or are looking for a spiritual 'fix' to replace their sex and drug addictions.
I have been walking with Yah'shua (Jesus) for over 25 years. I think I have a pretty good grasp of theology and history. I am always learning. And yet every now and then - usually in the middle of a crisis - someone with honeyed lips and a brilliant mind comes along and challenges the intellectual basis of my faith. It happened quite recently, actually, just as I was about to do some critical deliverance ministry. What he wrote seemed correct. He picked and he dissected, and threw doubt on some of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith by accusing unnamed persons of forging the New Testament. By addressing theological issues that I had shelved he was throwing down the gauntlet at my feet - I was being challenged to reject Yah'shua (Jesus) as Messiah and Son of God and being invited to accept Him as a very inspired and pious Rabbi who lived and died 2,000 years ago and has gone the way of all flesh.
There are times in our lives when sometimes the reputation of someone we know and love so well is challenged and we must choose to make a judgement based on what strangers say or on what we know from our own intimate walk with a person. Having been a pastor now for a good many years I have come to learn that people are usually more complex than the hurried and unthoughtful judgements of those who wish to blackmark them. I've met people who seemed to be demons but turned out to be angels, and people who seemed to be angels but turned out to be demons. I have learned that it is best not to be hasty in our judgements of people.
So what did I do when confronted by the challenge that Yah'shua (Jesus) was not the way He is portrayed in the Bible? If my knowledge of Him had been purely intellectual - based only on what I have read in the New Testament narratives - I suppose I would have been pretty shaken. But my knowledge is not based solely on a written account - it is a relationship based on a long and intimate acquaintance. True, I could have been fantasising, just as I could be fantasising about the many friends I have had; but the cumulative experience I have of life and many encounters with the Divine make the suggestion that I have been making it up as preposterous as the suggestion that Shakespeare the man never existed - that someone else pretended to be the great bard. And how do I know Shakespeare existed? Apart from the testimony of the many who knew him, a common sense knowledge that such a man was unique and unimitatable, possessed of a personality seen through his writings that no man, living or dead, could copy.
In the life of the invisible realms where thoughts, fantasy and spirit beings often merge, we learn at length, if we are diligent and attentive, to discern and distinguish that which is purely of ourselves and that which comes from somewhere else. And then, having discerned the existence of invisible beings, we in due course begin to distinguish between those like ourselves with a finite grasp, and a power which has no such limitations, a power which is also a Person who seems to know everything about us - past, present and future - someone both like us and yet so very far above us. That is the Person of Yah'shua (Jesus). And my witness of Him is not based on visions and prophetic dreams (which could conceivably be no more than wishful mind projections, awake or asleep) but on an incredible relationship. And if He turns out to be no more than an alter-personality, then surely I am some unbelievably wonderful and faultless person, which I know I am not!
Those who know, simply know. My first encounter of Him was enough. More next week.
Click here to see Part 5
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