If You Can’t Be a Good Friend, Be a Warning of What Not To Do

Editor’s Note: For readers who may not know, I have been teaching a Sunday-morning class – at least, I was doing so before the coronavirus swept through our state, and I hope to resume doing so again in the future.  This commitment was technically part-time (about 3 Sundays per month), but I have grown close to those in that class over the years.  Because many members of that class are in populations that have a high risk of being seriously impacted by the COVID-19 virus, we haven’t been able to meet in person for a while.

However, our Discipleship Pastor set up a teleconference for the summer months, allowing various Sunday-morning teachers to rotate from week to week, sharing God’s word over the phone.  This helps not only the members of the class that I would normally teach, but also other groups that used to meet on Sunday morning.

Below is a cleaned-up version of my notes for today’s lesson.  It’s a little different format from my usual articles; hence, this introduction.  Many of the Sunday-morning groups use the Lookout (now embedded in the Christian Standard magazine, from Christian Standard Publishing), as a guideline for devotions during the week, as well as for teaching.  However, other than the Bible passages and the corresponding section headings, most of the notes below ended up being complementary to this week’s lesson in the Lookout (which is available as a free download, from which this lesson is pages 79-80), rather than following its specific content.


Welcome

  • Thank you for joining this teaching session by phone today.  It’s not the same as being in person, but it is a good chance to dig into the Word of God and remember that no virus or lockdown, no rules or risks, prevent us from being the Body of Christ.
  • It’s my privilege to teach you today.  Hopefully, while meeting like this, we’ll get the chance to hear from multiple teachers from week to week, but I’ve learned a lot from our lesson material today, and I hope that you do, too.  Because of this format, there may be less opportunity for discussion and questions during the lesson, as we try to figure out the right balance between having a dialogue and muting background noise.  (This has been a challenge in business meetings for many years, so we’re not the first to tackle it.)
  • On a technical note, I’m calling in from a computer today, so I’ll look to our moderators to let me know if my connection drops or breaks up.  In that case, give me a couple of minutes to switch to a landline and continue.

Introduction

  • Do you have some good friends?  Maybe they are on this call right now.  Maybe you miss spending time with them, where you can give them a hug or a handshake.
  • In preparing this lesson, I was thinking about songs about friends, and there are a lot!  For instance:
    • Michael W. Smith’s “Friends are Friends Forever” (sung at perhaps every high school graduation in the early 1990’s)
    • Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (from the original Toy Story movie)
    • Garth Brooks’s “Friends in Low Places” (from the world of country music)
    • “Stand by Me”, which had its roots in a previously-written spiritual song, with references that look like they are from Psalm 46.
    • “With a Little Help From My Friends” (used as the theme from “The Wonder Years” TV show)
    • “Jesus, Friend of Sinners” (a modern Christian song that reminds us to reach out to everyone, since we are also forgiven sinners)
    • …and, there are many more.
  • However, no friend (except Jesus) is perfect.  Friends have offended us, left us, and betrayed us.  In fact, that sounds like a pretty good summary of Jesus’ last 24 hours before His crucifixion.  Even well-meaning friends sometimes make things worse, instead of better, even when they are trying to help.
  • Today, our lesson is from the book of Job.  We’ll start in chapter 16, and if you can hold the phone (or put it on speaker) while turning to that passage in your Bible, I encourage you to do so.
  • We probably know this story.  Satan challenged God with the claim that Job only feared and obeyed God because God had blessed and protected Job.  So, God allowed Job’s possessions to be taken or destroyed, his children to be killed, and Job’s body to be broken with painful sickness.
  • I doubt that any of us have endured as much loss as Job, but that doesn’t mean we can’t relate to loss and pain.  If you need to know that you’re not alone when bad times arrive, the book of Job is one place to start.
  • Anyway, some friends of Job’s came to visit him, and after sitting with him for a while, they started to lecture him.  They suggested that Job was suffering because he had done something wrong, that this was all punishment for sin.
  • We can be quick to condemn Job’s friends, but I suppose that they might have genuinely meant to help him.  Some people – both then and today – truly believe that suffering is directly correlated to sin (meaning if you sin, you suffer; and if you suffer, you must have sinned).  While many sins have consequences for the sinner, the one-to-one relationship between personal sin and personal suffering is clearly refuted in the Bible; in fact, Jesus directly answered a question on that topic, in John 9:1-3.
  • However, if these friends truly believed this myth, then they may have actually thought that they were helping Job as they called on him to repent.  (Side lesson: As you try to help friends, especially those going through tough times, spend plenty of time with God and His Word, to be sure that you’re actually helping!)

Job 16:1-5, “True Friends Empathize”

  • After four speeches (total) from three friends, Job takes an opportunity to speak (one of a number of replies that he makes throughout this book).  Let’s read the first 5 verses from Job chapter 16.
  • Verse 1: If you can, I encourage you to read all of the book of Job over the next few weeks.  The conversations between Job and his friends are blunt and frank, and God’s conclusion at the end is spectacular.  However, whether Job is a literal transcript or just a recounting of the general conversations among the various parties, it seems that Job and his friends actually paused to listen to each other.  I don’t see them interrupting each time the other says something that they don’t like.  Perhaps this ancient culture was better at the art of conversation, or these guys just didn’t have anything else to do, but I think that we could learn something from this short verse.
  • Verse 2-3: Ever have a friend tell you something that you already know?  Some friends take a lot of time telling us things that we are already aware of.  We nod, and try to speed them along, or gently point out that we know this story already.  Still, some seem determined to tell the same thing, in detail, time and time again.  (My family would probably put me in this camp!)  Job is calling out his friends on this.  He understands what they are saying, and – if I could paraphrase – basically asks them, “What is your problem?”
  • Verses 4-5: We can understand the idea of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, especially when they have problems.  Job offers to trade places in the other direction, though, and suggests that if the roles were reversed, he would not be lecturing his friends if they were the ones suffering.
  • I know that comforting someone in a bad situation is difficult.  Years ago, a friend of mine was in a car accident, leaving her with a brain injury that made it hard for her to speak.  I visited her, and did my best to carry on a conversation with her, but it was difficult.  Still, I’m glad that I had that opportunity to do so.
  • When we are in the situation of spending time with those who are suffering, we really need to think about how our words might feel to our recipient.  To help us choose our words carefully, we can pause and ask the Holy Spirit for help.  And, we can imagine a time when we dealt with something similar, and consider what impact the words that we are about to say would have had on us at that time.  Or, maybe we decide that it’s not the right time to say anything at all; sometimes just being quiet is the best approach (more on that later).

Job 16:15-21, “True Friends Affirm”

  • In verses 6-14, Job calls out to God and laments about his current situation.  He blames God for his condition (fairly graphically).
  • Let’s jump down to verse 15, though.
  • Verses 15-16: Job recounts his condition.  If, as his friends suggested, this was because he had done something so terrible that justified his current condition (although remember, personal sin and personal suffering are not always directly related), he has clearly shown the traditional signs of wearing sackcloth and having dust on his head.  If you are bowing down with your forehead in the dirt, you can’t get much more humble than that.
  • Verse 17-18: Still, Job insists that he is righteous.  In this conversation, only he and God truly know his heart.  While Job and his friends don’t know the heavenly context of what is going on (which we get to see from the first couple of chapters in the book), even God said that Job was doing the right things (see Job 1:8).
  • Verse 18 might seem a little unusual, but consider Genesis 4:9-10.  Just as the blood of Abel in the ground attested to Cain’s murder, it seems that Job is either 1) crying out for the earth to show where he has shed blood (“prove it!”) [Henry], or 2) asking that the earth cry out for his innocent blood that is being shed [Asbury].
  • Verses 19-21: This is an interesting passage.  Job talks about a “witness in heaven”.  There are multiple possible interpretations here: In one scenario, God knows Job’s heart, and that Job hasn’t done something terrible to directly earn this suffering.  Here, God is the “witness in heaven”, and Job may be pleading for himself, since his friends aren’t doing much of that.  In another viewpoint, this verse mirrors what we learn in the New Testament about a heavenly intercessor.  Regardless of which of these interpretations Job meant, though, we have the privilege in this era to have the Holy Spirit as our advocate (John 14:25-27) who stands up for us, and our intercessor (Romans 8:26-27) who facilitates a discussion between us and God.

Job 6:12-17, “True Friends are Kind and Dependable”

  • Let’s go back earlier in the book of Job, to chapter 6.  As his friends were lecturing him, Job had the opportunity to reply periodically.  After 2 chapters of hearing from Eliphaz, Job speaks.
  • He starts this reply (earlier in chapter 6) by crying out to God, and basically asking that God would let him die, so that he can pass on knowing that he remained faithful to God.
  • Picking up in verse 12, Job acknowledges his limits.
  • Verses 12-13: Job admits that he has come to the point where he has run out of his own energy, his own hope, and his own strength.  At times, we may reach those same limits.  When we do, we can look to God as the source of our ability to go on, like Paul was instructed to do in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.
  • Verses 14-17: However, having just made some pretty frank statements to God, Job turns to his friends.  He likens them to streams that “overflow” sometimes, and “stop flowing” at others.  If you’ve ever seen a “gully-washer”, where a rainstorm causes a creek to churn with water, but also seen that same valley dry up in the heat, you can imagine this scenario.  In the following verses, Job compares his friends to these streams that disappoint travelers looking for water in them.  Here, the problem isn’t about consistency or convenience, but rather about survival for those who need water.  When Job needed refreshment and encouragement, his friends brought him neither.  Job doesn’t mince words, likening their lack of kindness (in verse 14) to disrespect for God.

Action

So, what does this mean with regards to being a good friend?

[From the Lookout, p.79]

  • From the first passage, we find that Job’s friends didn’t do a very good job of putting themselves into his shoes (or sandals).  Job offers to trade places with them, so that they could understand how he feels, and he could show them what he needs while he is hurting – what it looks like to be a good friend to someone who is suffering.  We can empathize with those who are hurting, even if we can’t fully understand what they are going through.
  • Job’s friends seemed to focus on what he should do to fix this situation.  (Do you wonder if Job’s friends were husbands, who had to fix everything?).  Unlike that, we can affirm friends who are in tough situations.  We can remind them that we love them, and that we will remain their friends, even through the tough times.  We can re-affirm that our friends have value – to us, to society, and to God – even when they are suffering.
  • And, we can be kind and dependable.  To the credit of Job’s friends, they did come to visit him, once they heard of his situation.  They also stuck around (even if they were unhelpful), so we might say that they were dependable.  However, they seem to have missed the “be kind” part, once they got going.

[More Observations]

  • Early in the book of Job, when his friends arrive, I believe that Job 2:13 recounts the best thing that they did for him: they sat in silence with him for 7 days.  Even if we can’t give others hugs and handshakes these days, sometimes just sitting in the same room with someone, listening to them cry on the phone, or spending time watching a TV show or movie with them is what they need when they are hurting.  (I know of a couple who used to watch TV shows “together” via the phone, while the husband was traveling for work.)
  • Like Job, many of our friends aren’t looking for a lecture.  Friendship – and, in fact, living as a follower of Jesus – includes comforting others (2 Corinthians 1:3-6).  God has provided comfort to us for past and present sorrows (even if they linger), and we get to pass comfort on to others, in Jesus’ name.
  • On the other hand, being a friend does not mean that we never give hard news to someone.  If a friend’s situation is truly the result of bad choices that they are making, you might need to help lovingly point this out, or even refer them to a trusted pastor or counselor to get some help.
  • We can also be the advocate or intercessor for a friend.  If you aren’t already praying for friends in need, start that right now.  In addition, though, you may need to go out and intercede with other people or organizations.  If their problem is relational, do you need to bring them and the other party together (or arrange for a pastor to do so) and help them talk through things?  If their pain is medical, do you need to sit with them and listen to what the doctors and nurses are saying, so that you know what they need to do to stay healthy when they get home?  If their suffering is spiritual, do you need to connect them with some good Bible studies or sermons?

While Job’s friends may not have been the ideal, they can teach us lessons.  May each of us be a better friend than Job’s, today!


References:

  • Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 6. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
  • Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. Volume 3, 1706.
  • Asbury Bible Commentary. Copyright © 1992 by The Zondervan Corporation.

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