“Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend,
and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity.
Better is a neighbour who is near
than a brother who is far away.”
This proverb shows us where we should go when things go wrong. It is found in the second collection of Solomon’s proverbs, gathered together by Hezekiah. We can learn three points from this:
- Disaster will strike
- Our instinct when disaster strikes will be to go to a relative who may live far away.
- The correction Solomon gives is for the Christian’s emphasis to instead be to be placed on friends – best summed up as the local church.
Disaster will strike. Not if, but when. This may seem a bit of a bleak outlook at first glance. For some, disaster striking is familiar. However, for others, you may have been relatively sheltered so far and may think it will continue like this. But Solomon says, ‘When disaster strikes.’ We need to be prepared for disaster. It is a reality in outlook because we are living in a fallen world. We are all going to die. Solomon asks, ‘What do we do in the light of the fact that we are all going to die?’ We also face the death of those around us. What will you do if their death comes? Where will you turn? There are other disaster, such as accidents, divorce, storms, suicide. Solomon says, it is not if disaster strikes, but ‘when.’
What perspective do you have when disaster comes? The Lord protects and cares for us but He has never promised to make us immune from disaster. You need a plan of action for when disaster strikes. Do you think about what happens right at the start of the Bible? We sinned, the curse of the fall, death. They are painful but shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Solomon’s second assumption: we may be keener to seek out relatives far away. How far will a disaster tempt you to travel for help? Solomon detected within himself and people he observed for people to neglect the church family in favour of others. It is better to prioritise the local church. Our instinct is to neglect the local church and go to neighbours, no matter how far off.
The way we act on a crisis is much more difficult to control than we think. We need to be prepared. In Solomon’s context we would be more willing to seek help from family members who live miles and miles away, rather than the local church. Or we may prefer to go to a self-help book or a YouTube video for advice, as opposed to a church family. We need to admit our bias. We are living in a very individualistic culture, where people often feel, ‘I don’t need church.’
The correction Solomon gives: instead of forsaking the local church and travelling away, a Christian’s emphasis should be placed on ‘friends, friends of your father and neighbours.’ In other words, the local church. Church members are friends, family and neighbours. There are three terms used here by Solomon, which, when placed in the context of the Bible’s teaching on church, should be seen as descriptions of church members.
Church members are friends. One way the Bible describes church family is as a group of friends. Our culture has kidnapped the word ‘friends’ to describe people who are all the same age, tastes, people who you choose. But the Bible has a much richer definition of friends. The Bible says that in the church there should be good friendship among believers. They have a unique unity because they all love and fear the Lord, they worship together. David speaks of one of his friends as,
“A man, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God’s house we walked in the throng.
Church members are our friends because we worship together. Church members are also friends because they are meant to share possessions, food, money (Acts). Church members are friends because they are meant to serve together, to work for the Lord, which is why Paul can talk of the Philippian believers as his friends. They had a partnership in the gospel.
Church members are friends because they pray for one another. In the book of Acts we see the church family meeting together for prayer, praying out loud for each other. Think how often Paul said to church members, ‘I prayed for you.’ Church members are friends because they shouldn’t keep a record of wrongs that have been done against them. Church members are friends because of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus is the friend of sinners. We can have this relationship as friends because He first loved us.
The next description of church family which Solomon uses is ‘friend of your father.’ Solomon is saying church members are family. When you become a Christian you are adopted into the family of God. Jesus told us to pray ‘Our Father.’ We’ve heard the Lord’s Prayer so many times, we skip over these words. Jesus says we can call ‘My Father, your Father.’ He says, ‘Let’s go together, to my Father, Our Father.’ God the Father is the Father of every single member of the church. The world says ‘blood is thicker than water,’ but baptismal water is thicker than blood.
Church members are neighbours, a word especially used in the books of Moses, especially when Moses gives the law to the people, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18).
Church members are our neighbours. Our culture describes our neighbour as a person who lives next door to you or in close proximity. The Bible sometimes uses the word in that way, but it has a much broader teaching on neighbours. The core concept in the Bible is church family are neighbours. Paul writes, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25) We are all members of one body. Neighbours – begin with church members and expand from there.
Solomon is stating not to neglect the church members we have been given. We must not neglect the church in any way. There is a practical element here. Do not forsake your church family, do not take away the privilege of helping you in a disaster. If you have people near you, from your local church, don’t pursue people on the internet you have never met, don’t rely on family who live miles and miles away. Prioritise church family.
We need to be able to discriminate between those who we should contact in a disaster. Church members should be our first port of call. As a church we must be ready to do that for our church family. Don’t neglect your church family, make the most of them.
We need to cultivate and work on our church relationships, support and encourage, share joy and sorrow, lovingly rebuke, share unity and fear of the Lord, show sacrificial service to one another.
Start with the small things – asking church family to help us, to call on them. When the big disaster comes, they will help you. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to cultivate the small things now? Whatever it might be, ask your church family for help. Pray for one another. What is the spirit of your prayer meetings? Do you have a close-knit fellowship going together to the throne of grace?
Do you live peaceful lives together as church members? Do we cover our each other’s sins in a good sense? As a family, we don’t keep a record of each other’s wrongs (1 Corinthians 13). When there are sins that need to be exposed, we have a choice to cover it with love or confront it. The only way love can cover wrongs is by the blood of Jesus. Instead, we often choose to harbour it, but that is detrimental (Proverbs 10:12).
The purpose of church discipline is to lead to repentance. Ultimately, the Lord Jesus Christ came to us when we weren’t His friends. When we were still His enemies, He called us His family, He called us His friends. He died for us. He left His Father’s house, heaven, to come to us, to save us. How amazing it was the Lord Jesus didn’t forsake us. When disaster struck us, He came to save us, even when it meant leaving the Father. The Father could never have been further from His Son then when He was on the cross, when His Son became sin in order to save us. That was the extent to what He was willing to go for us. We must accept and rejoice in this gift, repent of our sins and respond accordingly. We need to take the Lord Jesus as our example and live as He lived.
So, when disaster strikes, don’t forsake our friends, family or neighbours. Prioritise Penuel Baptist Chapel family. Call on them when disaster strikes. May the Lord Jesus enable us to look to Him, as the one who ultimately left everything in order to make us friends, family and neighbours.