The Focus of Genuine Friendship
Maintaining spiritual friends during dark days–2 Timothy 1:3 to 5
The earliest friend I can remember was Rodney Pang–a super genius Asian who taught me to play chess. Then there was super cool Mike Kessler and super smart nerd Richard Levi. There were a few girlfriends in high school. Once the Lord saved me, I was friends with Glen Tinklinberg, who drove me around the western United States and Dave Earnessy who taught me to spit fire.
Mentors were my next friends. Stan Leonard showed me what discipleship was. Tim Jack modeled student ministry and John MacArthur mentored me in preaching, leadership, shepherding, the church, family and more. Since then, I have experienced close friends who shocked me with their betrayal. Fellow elders and pastors here at FBC have grown to be the closest friends. And of course the bestest, longest, cutest friend I have ever known, Jean–and my boys and their girls.
You all have similar tales–why? The drive for genuine friendship is intense. You know some who married for friendship, only to experience a deep loneliness. You know students who compromised with sex to fill the lack of friendship. You know men who compromised their convictions in order to belong to a crew of friends.
Maybe you’ve sacrificed for friends, sinned with friends, or messed up over friends. The hope for genuine friendships is a powerful motivation in our hearts. So what is a true friend? What are the qualities which define strong friendships? And while considering friendships, add what is necessary for effective discipleship, a spiritual family and a Christian crew? What are some necessary qualities merely to maintain healthy relationships?
Paul answers that question as he opens his final letter to Timothy in verses 3 to 5. Turn in your Bibles to 2 Timothy and follow along in your outline. Paul is in a dark, dank, unsanitary prison cell–why? Nero sought to redo the city of Rome by burning down the ugly sections. The fire got out of control and burned some of the best parts of the city. Too many people knew the fire was intentionally set, so to deflect the blame, Nero blamed the fire on Christians and persecution began.
Under this attack, Paul was arrested. By the time Paul writes his final letter, Paul’s last will and testament, written to his son, Timothy–Paul has already been tried in Rome. Though alone, Paul offered an excellent defense. But sadly, the deck is already stacked. Paul knows he will die soon. So in 2 Timothy, Paul charges his most loyal apostolic assistant and closest friend Timothy to depend upon the Spirit to be bold and courageous in the midst of hostility and don’t get sidetracked, but prioritize the most important ministry.
Paul is very close to Timothy. They’re friends, cemented together through salvation as family. So as Paul opens this letter, he displays some essential qualities of spiritual relationships. Why? Because Christian friendships require spiritual commitments. As I read verses 3 to 5, observe how Paul describes some commitments of spiritual friendships. It is a person who focuses on the Father, friends (others), faith and family. Do you see it?
Let’s read, “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, 4 longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.”
As Paul writes to Timothy, he pours out his genuine love for his friend. In doing so, Paul demonstrates the qualities of a true spiritual friend and proves that Christian friendships require spiritual commitments. What kind of responsibilities are underneath all healthy relationships?
#1 Focusing on God the Father Verse 3
Get this straight, Christian–after his official greeting in verses 1 to 2, Paul proves that healthy, spiritual friendships do not begin horizontally with others. They begin vertically with God the Father. Strength and health in marriage, in parenting and in friendships comes from God alone. The first thing to fix your friendship is not to talk to your friend horizontally, but the first step to fixing your relationship is to talk to God vertically.
That is why in verse 3, Paul focuses on two things–your dedication to God and your dialogue with God. Focus on God the Father first.
First with DEDICATION
Friendships begin with expressing thanks. Verse 3 is direct—“I thank God.” Spiritual health in friendships begins by giving thanks to God for your friend. Paul says, “I am thankful for what God has done for me through you, Timothy.” Here Paul is in a disgusting and dangerous prison cell, yet he rejoices the Lord had given him the privilege of knowing, discipling and ministering with Timothy.
Paul was not bitter or resentful. There was no trace of anger toward an unjust, unfair, and unlawful government–Paul is merely thankful for the memories of his closest friend. Paul uses a strange construction to express thanks to God for his friend. Paul uses a verb, “I continually have.” Then Paul combines this factual, ongoing verb with a noun meaning favor. Paul says, “As I think about my friend, I continually have thanks to God.”
This is simple–who is in total control? God is. Who gave you your friends and fellow workers in ministry? God did. Therefore, thank God for your friends and fellow workers He’s given you. Give God thanks for how they’ve blessed you. Healthy friendships are encouraging friendships. Solid friends encourage each other.
Timothy knew Paul was not flattering him. Flattery is when my Nana said to me, “You are the smartest boy in the world,” when I had just flunked lunch. Paul had too much integrity to lie to Timothy. They knew each other well and Paul spoke from the heart. Paul continually thanking God for Timothy meant a great deal to Timothy, his friend.
In marriages, families and relationships it is popular to rip, tear, be sarcastic and insult. But healthy relationships thrive on encouragement and thanks to God. So then how do you know you’re really thankful to God for the people in your life? This thankful dedication to God over friends is demonstrated by . . .
1 Wholehearted and continual offering of your entire LIFE
In the midst of incredible misery, with integrity of heart, Paul adds this in verse 3, “I thank God, whom I serve.” Whom I serve is unique–it’s latreo, the word for worship. Paul uses the same word, serve, in Philippians 3:3, “This way for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” So Paul says, “I thank God, whom I worship.”
The idea is of thanking God whom I serve, whom I worship, giving God my all. I thank the God I bow down to–I thank the God I surrender myself to. The New Testament clarifies worship. John 4 tells you God actually seeks worshipers. Romans 12 clarifies that worship is not merely singing praise, but giving your entire life 24/7–seven days a week, as an offering to God. Worship is you offering yourself fully, completely and continually to God.
Romans 12:1, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” That’s the same root word in 2 Timothy 1:3–to truly worship, you continually offer yourself to God. All of you is given to Him. It is errant theology which says, “I have rededicated my life to Christ.” It is correct theology to say, “I recommit my heart to Christ all day long.”
Paul is thankful to God for Timothy. And it is this God Paul has given his entire life to. Listen, Paul is a spiritual friend to Timothy because Paul is a godly man, completely sold out as a living sacrifice to Christ. You can’t be a spiritual friend if you are not spiritual. Your heart must belong to Christ. You give all of you for all of Him.
I know a lot of people, but those I consider my friends are sold out to Christ. Genuine Christian relationships begin with two people who are sold out to Christ, meaning they are functioning Christians. There are no permanently carnal Christians. There is no such thing as a lukewarm Christian. When you come to Christ, you are all in. In Luke 9:23 Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
True Christians follow Christ. Like poker, you’re all in–you hold nothing back but offer Him everything. And you don’t fool yourself–you know you’re all in when you look at your calendar and budget and see significant amount of time, money and service given to Christ. And most importantly, as you examine yourself, you recognize that your heart wants to obey God’s Word, is willing to do anything for Christ and worships Him by offering your all.
Paul’s words here are impactful. Here he is, waiting to die for Christ in a filthy prison cell, yet he says, “I focus on God whom I’ve given every aspect of my life to, and continually give thanks to Him concerning you, Tim. I thank God, whom I serve and . . .”
2 Genuinely living a life of INTEGRITY
Next, Paul adds verse 3, “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience.” No believer can completely know their own heart, but you can have a clear conscience. God gives all human beings a conscience–it’s an internal moral signal engine pointing out what is right and what is wrong. Back in 1 Timothy 1:5, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Then in 3:9, “But holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”
Ongoing unrepentant, defiant sin is what ruins the conscience. As you ignore sin in your life, it’s like tossing your iPhone in water, or throwing sand in the gears of your watch–it ruins your sensitivity to sin and hardens your heart. First Timothy 1:19 says, “Keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.” Then 4:2 says, “By means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.”
To continually reject God’s truth causes the conscience to become progressively less sensitive to sin, as if covered by layers of unspiritual scar tissue. The conscience was important to the Apostle Paul, and he dogmatically tells us that maintaining a clean conscience is God’s will for you. Paul worships with a clean conscience, because God alone through Jesus Christ has washed Paul completely clean. And Paul maintains a clean conscience by confessing sin and repenting of sin as it occurs in his life.
Paul tells his intimate friend, Timothy, that the life offered to Christ that no one sees, and the ministry Paul gives Christ that no one observes–his life of holiness few are aware of and his unique friendship with Timothy are all sincere. Paul lives with integrity. What Paul is on the inside, he is on the outside. What Paul does in private is the same He does in public. Complete integrity–nothing hidden. A clean conscience, no undealt with sin.
Kent Hughes says with Paul, “There is no guilt, no weight of unresolved sins, nothing to confess. He has been true to the gospel and his calling. He was not sinless, but he was blameless, and he was faithful.” All the blame and accusation of Paul’s arrest has nothing to do with criminal activity, unethical behavior or foolishness–whatever others may say. Paul’s jail time only has to do with unjust blame and unrighteous persecution by the Roman government.
Paul’s dedication to God is genuine. Paul is the real deal. Paul’s relationship to Timothy is not pretend. Paul lives for Christ when no one is watching–all the time. David said the same thing in Psalm 101:2b, “I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.” When no one is watching, I live for Christ.
Listen, if you want to enjoy a genuine friendship, it starts with a sincere relationship with God. In order to maintain a true friend, you don’t have to be perfect, but you have to live with a level of integrity. If you don’t live with integrity before God, you will not live with integrity before men, cause God knows everything. And if you’re not seeking to please God who sees every aspect of your life, inside and out, then there is no way you will live with integrity before others who don’t.
Healthy relationships are based on trust and respect. You can love someone you trust and you can love someone you respect. But without integrity, there is no trust nor respect. Paul thanks God for Timothy with a clear conscience because of his life of integrity, because Christian friendships require spiritual commitments.
Thirdly, being DEVOTED to the Lord means you will
Sincerely following the pattern of God’s people, “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did.” With sincere integrity, Paul continually thanks God for Timothy, just the way Paul’s ancestry did. Timothy had a believing mom and grandma, Paul did not. But Paul had a history of epic believers in his Jewish lineage.
There are two main possibilities as to what Paul means by “the way my forefathers did.” Some say forefathers refers to the other apostles, the older ones, the ones in the gospels. After all, Paul just referred to himself as an apostle in verse 1, so he may be referring to the apostles who went before him, who set the stage and now rejoice in Heaven. Paul was late as an apostle, but a key apostle and a part of the foundation of the Church.
But “the way my forefathers did” is most likely option 2, referring to the heroes of the Old Testament–Abraham, Jacob, Daniel and David, who also gave thanks to God and lived lives of integrity. John Calvin points out Paul’s heritage does come from idolatry or polytheism, but his heritage streams into the river of those who worship the one true God. It flows from those who lived according to the Scripture and sought to please Yahweh 24/7.
Don’t forget, Paul is writing Timothy who is at Ephesus and there are a lot of attacks on the Church there–new ideas, new hip preachers, new techniques, new heresies. So Paul reminds Timothy the key is not the new, but the old. Don’t be looking to do things differently, look to be doing all things biblically, “the way my forefathers did.” Don’t look for new ideas, turn your focus to old truth–not man’s ideas, but God’s revealed Word.
You don’t discover God’s will in blogs or books, but by following God’s living Word. Do things according to the way my forefathers did. Impactful relationships begin with a life which is dedicated to God as a living sacrifice and a life which focuses first on God and His Word, next on others and lastly you. The main key to relationships is first, an honest dedication to God. Then Paul adds . . .
Second with DIALOG
“I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day” (verse 3). Dialog with God. It sounds a little redundant, but it’s not. Why does Paul say “constantly remember you”, then, “night and day”? I “constantly remember you” is praying without ceasing throughout the day. Then, “in my prayers night and day” is scheduled AM and PM times of praying.
Paul prayed for Timothy throughout the day and had scheduled times of prayer each day. Paul’s heart was sold out to Christ first above all and first in all things. Therefore prayer became the expression of that heart of a commitment, so every free moment in his mind gave Paul another opportunity to pray for Timothy. Plus scheduled times of prayer included Timothy on Paul’s list of prayer items. What was Paul doing for his friend? Prayer.
Prayer is relationship with the Father, because of the Son, through the Spirit. Prayer is not getting God to do what you want, but lining yourself up with what He wants. Prayer is an intimacy with God which creates an intimacy with a spouse, friend or fellow minister. Remember, Christian friendships require spiritual commitments. A true friend, a godly relationship, and a healthy marriage include prayer for others.
The greater the affection, the more intense the commitment to pray. The greater the intensity in prayer results in the greater intimacy of relationship. If your friend is not on your prayer list, or your future spouse, your children, your children’s future spouse, your spouse, your brothers and sisters you serve with, your elders, your church friends, your ministry leaders and their spouses, then you are not a very good friend.
Paul is telling Timothy he prays for him all the time–not out of duty, but out of affection. You ask, “How do you know that, Chris?” Because Paul tells us in verse 4 and point number two.
#2 Focusing on your FRIEND Verse 4
Here is true affection in verse 44, “longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.” You forgot where Paul is–he’s rotting in a horribly disgusting jail cell in Rome. So Paul says, “This really stinks, Tim–please pray that I get outta here!” No, he doesn’t. Paul focuses on Timothy and his affection for his friend. Paul’s eyes are not on himself or his circumstances, but on his friend. Paul is others oriented.
Paul actually reveals three truths about genuine spiritual friends–do you see them? And by the way, those of you thinking that I might be missing the author’s intended meaning here, carefully listen to Paul’s words of friendship in verse 4. “Longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.”
1-Healthy friendships enjoy each other so much, they desire to GET TIME TOGETHER. Paul says, “longing to see you”–this is expressing genuine affection and a strong desire to enjoy face-to-face time with Timothy. True friends want time together. Spiritual friends care for each other and want time to express it face-to-face.
2-Healthy friendships recall sweet memories and continue to MAKE MEMORIES. Paul adds, “even as I recall your tears.” We don’t know what moment this is referring to. Was this Paul’s emotional farewell to the Ephesus elders in Acts 20:37, “they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him”? Or was it when Paul was savagely arrested this second time and taken to his now cruel Roman cell? Or was it simply when Paul and Timothy parted ways for the last time?
We don’t know–but it was a sweet remembrance for Paul to recall. Paul remembers Timothy’s genuine affection for him, proven by Timothy’s tears. Because of shared ministry, spiritual friends have built sweet memories. And the result?
3-Healthy friendships are BLESSED BY GENUINE JOY. Paul concludes verse 4 with, “so that I may be filled with joy.” The passive voice of the verb filled tells us God is the one who fills with joy. When friends are truly healthy, they are first centered on God Himself–verse 3, there will be a strong desire to enjoy time together and a sweet recalling of time previously spent and verse 4, the result will be God causing joy in your heart because of this friend.
Like the filling of the Spirit which results in the fruit of the Spirit, which includes joy, this dependent thankfulness to Christ for faithful friends can result in a saturation of joy. Joy is an internal delight in God and a fullness from God in the heart of a believer knowing everything is certain with Christ and eternity. Joy is deep.
God will fill you with joy over genuine spiritual friends. I have friends like that–I hope you do as well, because God blesses spiritual relationships, “so that I may be filled with joy.” So that indicates purpose–God says one of the purposes of spiritual friends and close relationships in ministry, marriage and family is this . . . joy.
Even though Paul is currently trapped in the worst place on the planet—notice Paul doesn’t talk about himself. Paul focuses on Timothy, because Paul is others oriented. Like Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Paul thought about others. What is the source of J.O.Y.? Jesus, Others, then You. One key to great relationships is to be others focused and not self-focused. And what was the context which created the verse 4 longing, tears and joy? Well, they didn’t sit around, light candles, hold hands and quietly sing, “Kumbaya, my Lord”.
The context was ministry for Christ–proclaiming Christ to the lost and teaching Christ to the saved, cooperating with the Holy Spirit by doing all they could to establish churches. One pastor said, “The truly blessed friendship ‘statuette’ is formed by the clay of dedication to Christ in the oven heat of ministry.” The only way Christ is central in your friendship is for you to serve like Christ.
You all know of the unique bond soldiers who’ve been in battle together can experience. Believers in the work and war of ministry can build a similar bond of friendship. And Paul and Timothy have a lot of miles of ministry on their life odometer. They had fought many battles and built many sweet memories of mutual ministry. Christian friendships require the spiritual commitments of ministry for Christ. Focusing on the Father, your friend, then finally Paul turns his attention to . . .
#3 Focusing on their FAITH and FAMILY Verse 5
Read verse 5, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well” (verse 5). Paul says to Tim in verse 5, I find myself thinking about your faith and your family. One of the keys to a healthy relationship, whether a relationship to Christ, your spouse, or a friend is remembering.
It’s crucial to recall the events you’ve shared together as friends–the qualities you have seen in each other’s lives, the unique ministry you’ve participated in together. Again, Paul now focuses on Timothy’s faith and Timothy’s family. Paul is lasering in on Timothy’s heart for Christ and his Christ-honoring heritage at home.
Look carefully at how Paul encourages his disciple in verse 5, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you.” Sincere is a compound word composed of a negative prefix attached to the Greek word for hypocrite. Paul says, “I am mindful of the no-hypocritical faith you live out, Tim.” Timothy’s faith was authentic, genuine, unpretentious–no pretending, no faking it.
The same word is used in the New Testament to describe genuine love or wisdom without hypocrisy. “Timothy, I know you’re born again. I have watched Christ manifest Himself through you. I know you follow Christ in private and public.” Paul makes himself clear by stating, “the sincere faith within you.” Timothy’s faith is enabled by His regeneration. After being born again, Timothy was given the gift of faith so that he could depend on Christ for salvation.
Listen friends, you don’t have faith first, followed by being born again. You are born again internally, then you respond by faith. Dead men don’t respond. That is why 1 Peter says God caused you to be born again–God did it for you. You must be made alive by God in order to submit to Christ—salvation is the work of God.
John 3:3, “Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And since faith is a gift from God, Timothy’s faith would continue to enable him to depend on Christ, believe Christ and serve Christ, even though living for Christ would now be more difficult under persecution in the empire.
This faith not only resided in Timothy, but also in his family. His physical dad was not a believer, but his mom and grandma were. They probably responded to the Gospel message from Paul and Barnabus during the first missionary journey in Acts 13 and following, after which they raised Timothy in the Scriptures. God mercifully chose, then called, Timothy–and he responded by faith to a salvation only found in Christ.
Later, in 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul tells you what part these godly women played in his salvation. “And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Grandma and mom demonstrate a key component to parenting–live by faith, not fear.
That’s a big deal, because there was more to be afraid of under Rome than in the USA. There was more immorality, more false religion, more false philosophies, and more error. But these women chose to follow the Scripture and believe God by faith in Christ. There is a big difference in living by faith and living by fear–and that difference will impact your children for their spiritual good or for their spiritual harm.
Faith or fear–which one is it going to be? For Timothy it will be faith. Paul concludes verse 5 with, “and I am sure that it is in you as well.” Paul says to Timothy, “There is continuity in your life. Your faith touched every aspect of your life–it was sincere, not hypocritical. And that same faith was seen in your mom and grandma.” So Paul says, “It will continue in you, Timothy, even now, as living by faith in Christ will cost me my life and living by faith may cost you your life as well.”
Are you going to live by faith or fear? Paul is exhorting Timothy, live by faith. True friendships exhort each other to live for Christ, no matter what the cost. Real spiritual relationships live by faith, not fear. Are you a true friend? Christian friendships require these spiritual commitments–so take this home.
1 What you REMEMBER about your friend is crucial to your friendship
Do you notice the amount of remembering Paul does in just these three verses? Read it again in verses 3 to 5, “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, 4 longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.”
Every verse today described Paul remembering, recalling, being mindful. What you think about people defines your relationship. Even in marriage if you focus on all the tweaky little things that annoy you, then you’ll live discontent, agitated and frustrated. But if you remember all their strengths, gifts, their love for the Lord, the way they bless others and the way they encourage you–life becomes content, sweet and encouraging. It’s the same with friends and fellow ministers. What you think about your friend is a key to maintaining a healthy friendship.
2 Never minimize the impact of a godly FAMILY
Timothy’s heritage had a huge impact on his salvation, sanctification and ministry. Parents, stop living in fear. Live a sincere faith in every aspect of life. Make certain you do not live one way at church, another with friends and another at home. Live for Christ without hypocrisy in every place in front of your children. Saturate your home in God’s Word with instruction and most importantly, modeling. For nothing can compete with the impact of a godly marriage, a Christ-like mom and a Spirit-filled Word-saturated dad.
3 DISCIPLESHIP is intentional relationships for the purpose of growth in Christ
The impact Paul has had on Timothy demonstrates the power of discipleship as a means of grace for God to make you more like Christ. If this church is your home, you are in a church that values discipleship as a key tool in your growth. If you remain here this year, it is time now for you to begin meeting with a group focused on discipleship.
4 True Christians are those who WORSHIP
Worship is you offering all of yourself to God. It is offering all of you for all of Him. There are some here who prayed a prayer to Jesus once. You’ve attended churches. You’ve even served in ministry–but you’re still headed for the worst moment of existence–that day you stand before Christ and He says to you, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
You were lied to. Someone said, “Just accept Jesus in your heart.” But it’s not up to you. God must save you, change your heart so you can repent of sin and offer your life in faith. God must transform you so you will want to follow Him and want to obey Him. Are you a true believer? Have you worshipped, exchanging all that you are for all that He is? Ask Christ to open your heart and save you today.
5 You say, “Chris, my faith is sluggish, my heart is cooling, I need to fire up my heart for Christ. The answer–make certain you come next week for verse 6 and following.