II Timothy 1:15-18
You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. 16 May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. 17 On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. 18 May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.
If you are on social media and you have teens on your friends list, you’ve probably seen the letters ‘BFF’. Those letters stand for ‘Best Friends Forever.’ It is not uncommon for teens to speak in such superlative, exaggerated, hyperbolic ways. “This is the best/worst day ever!” How often haven’t we heard those words or ones like them come from the mouth of a teenager? So it’s not surprising that they attach the two superlatives—‘best’ and ‘forever’—to the word ‘friend.’
Those of us who have seen many seasons know that handing out descriptors like BFF after only a few, shorts years is arbitrary, maybe even short-sighted. A true BFF bond takes years to develop. It stands the test of time and change. Because what often happens is that, those who once regarded themselves as BFFs go their separate ways after high school—to different colleges, different cities, even different lives. People drift apart as new friendships are formed. What’s more, adversity can challenge the bond of friendship.
Adversity was nothing new to the Apostle Paul in his ministry. In one of his letters, he reports that five times he was lashed 39x, three times beaten with rods, stoned once. (II Corinthians 11:24-25) He was falsely accused by his enemies within the church. Attacks were made on his character and integrity. And he was falsely imprisoned multiple times. But through those times, he maintained friendships.
But this time was different. Imprisoned in Rome, facing the death penalty for being a ring-leader of the Christian sect (as the Romans viewed Christianity at that time), Paul’s friends were abandoning him wholesale. Either afraid of being lumped in with his punishment, or embarrassed by their disgraced leader, Paul says that everyone in the province of Asia had deserted him, including two men whom Timothy undoubtedly knew and whose desertion must’ve been especially painful for Paul to endure in his time of need—Phygelus and Hermogenes.
King David had a similar experience. He wrote in the 31st Psalm: “Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends—those who see me on the street flee from me.” (v. 11) Could David have been writing about his son Absalom’s coup? Could he have been writing about an experience we all have faced: When friends, family, even fellow Christians mock us and distance themselves from us because we have taken a controversial stand for the truth?
Have you ever gone through a moment or period of social embarrassment? Maybe bullies were picking on you. Maybe a false rumor was started about you that spread like wildfire. Maybe it was because you stood up for a controversial truth. Maybe you did something offensive, even illegal. Where were your BFFs? Were they there to defend or support you? Chances are, they dropped you off at the last bus stop in the cold, wet weather of misery. So much for BFF.
But you’ve also likely experienced the warmth of true friendship that Paul experienced from a Christian man named Onesiphorus. Here was a BFF who was not ashamed of Paul’s chains. Here was a BFF who went to a major, metropolitan area (Rome) and searched high and low for his friend—without the aid of GPS tracking, social media, the white pages, or Ccap. And he found Paul. He refreshed Paul. He encouraged Paul. He stood by Paul. He was a friend in every bodily need.
We all want a friend like Onesiphorus who is not too embarrassed with our faults/weaknesses to show us kindness, support, and friendship—someone to be there for us. But whether we have such a friend like Onesiphorus on earth or not, we know that we have the absolute BFF in Jesus.
Jesus, the most loving, compassionate person there ever was, the man who healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, the man who brought strength to frail legs, who raised the dead…surely anyone, everyone who had been touched by his love would come to his aid, right?
Sadly, no. Jesus can relate all too well to our experiences. He experienced the sting of desertion when the soldiers arrested him. “You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them…You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.” (Ps. 88:8,18)
Worse yet, he experienced the sting of betrayal. In words of prophecy, King David wrote about Judas Iscariot, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” (Ps. 41:9)
In the Passion (from the Greek word pasxo, which means to suffer) of Christ, the focus is on his suffering and death for our sins. But also present in his suffering was the sting of desertion and the sting of betrayal. What’s more, Jesus wasn’t just abandoned by his friends; he was abandoned by the One whose presence truly matters, his heavenly Father: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mt. 27:46)
And remember whom he did this for—a world of people who ‘loved darkness instead of light’ (Jn. 3:19), who have ‘no fear of God before their eyes’ (Rom. 3:18). In other words, he did this for people whom he had every right to be ashamed of and embarrassed by. Yet he stuck by us through thick and thin. He did this because he is love, and that is what love does.
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (Jn. 15:13-15)
Think about what that means for you. Jesus calls you his friend. And when Jesus speaks, he’s not trite or flippant with his words. Each word he speaks is chosen carefully and is meaningful. He is our BFF in the most absolute sense of the term.
Put into Practice
We all want a friend like Onesiphorus, but more important is being that kind of friend. Read the following Bible passages. Ask yourself how these passages teach you to be a better friend.
I Samuel 19:4 “Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly.”
Proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Genesis 14:14-16 “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.”
Job 2:11 “When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.”
Proverbs 27:6 “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”