Two of the most wonderful consolations in a sin-sick and decayed world are friendship and family. The only thing that was declared not to be good before the Fall was that man would be alone (Gen.2:18). Hence the vast majority of people were designed for marriage, although remaining single for the sake of God’s kingdom can be equally worthwhile (Matt. 19:12).
Psalm 68:6 says that “God sets the solitary (or the lonely, NIV) in a home (ESV) or in families (NKJV, NIV)”. Two are better than one because if one falls, the other can lift him up (Eccles. 4:9-12). To isolate oneself and to seek one’s own desire is to break out against all sound judgment (Prov.18:1). One of the images that the Bible uses to describe the redeemed people of Christ is that of the bride (e.g. Rev.21:1; 22:17).
Many companions may prove useless in the day of trouble, while one friend will provide us with welcome support (Prov. 18:24). When Paul was deserted and left alone at his first defence, he was pained indeed, although not bitter (2 Tim.4:16). How comforted was David in all his troubles by the self-sacrificing friendship of Jonathan (1 Sam.18 and 20)! There are those who like being around the prodigal while he has plenty of money to spend on the good times (Prov. 18:6-7; Luke 15:13-16), but that only lasts as long as the cash and splash. In contrast, a true friend’s counsel is sweet even when it hurts (Prov. 27:6, 9). Derek Kidner has good reason to comment that true friendship is both “reassuring and bracing”.
Yet this can all be distorted in a fallen world – as we have already seen – and not only in that we as husbands, wives, children and friends fail to be what we ought to be. The distortion can be more subtle than outright lying, fighting, or unfaithfulness. In dealing with friends or with family, it is all too common for people to be either too hard or too soft. Our judgment is easily distorted.
At Gibeah in Benjamin there occurred a dreadful outrage when the concubine of a Levite was gang-raped and murdered (Judges 19). To exact revenge, the less than sensitive Levite cut up her body and sent it throughout the twelve tribes of Israel in order to rally them to punish the vile offenders. Matters became worse when the tribe of Benjamin refused to give up the perpetrators from Gibeah (Judg. 20:13) and even went to war against their fellow Israelites. As a result, the tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out. However, our concern is why the tribe of Benjamin rallied around the thugs of Gibeah. Clearly, it was a form of misguided tribalism, of defending the indefensible simply because there was a shared connection. It is a case of my team, right or wrong – or my country, or my denomination, or my friends or my family.
Such a response can be illustrated again and again throughout history. As Robert Steel lay dying in October 1893 he called for his ministerial colleague, James Cosh, telling him, not altogether accurately: “You and I, dear brother, have been long associated together in many things; and there has never been any difference between us.” In reality, Steel had sought, with some hiccoughs, to witness to the authority of Scripture at all times, while Cosh was a committed liberal who rejoiced in biblical criticism.
Something similar was seen in 1914 when James Orr, who had written for The Fundamentals, recommended Samuel Angus to the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales in the following terms: “I know from himself and his writings that his theological standpoint is that of evangelical Christianity in his acceptance of the great cardinal doctrines of the Divinity of Christ, the Incarnation and the Atonement.” Admittedly, Angus was not as theologically deviant then as he became in the 1920s, but already his doctrinal beliefs contradicted the commendation of Orr. The two men were friends, and this clouded Orr’s judgment.
The distortion can also go the other way, especially in families. We can demand a level of sanctification from family members which may well be unfair, and which, at any rate, we do not demand of our circle of friends. The solution to this problem would appear to lie in the notion of “loving in Christ”. For example, Jesus declares: “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt.10:37). Only in Christ can we view anything clearly, including friends and family.