Yesterday morning, while riding the subway to work, I read a small portion of scripture that I reflected upon for the greater part of the day. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” As I considered the implications of this little verse, I thought about relationships and commitment. Consider the words of Jesus in John 10:11 when he said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The good shepherd stands in contrast to the hireling who abandons his commitment to others when trouble strikes. In his lecture, The Hireling and the True Shepherd Robert Murray McCheyne explains how this counterfeit shepherd is motivated by his own honor, ease, fame, and love of self. The physical or spiritual safety of those for whom he is responsible is the last thing on his mind. Here, in this scripture, is a picture of the kind of resolute and steadfast loyalty that only true biblical commitment can offer. It is the unwavering and unshakeable devotion of a faithful God who has entered covenant with an unfaithful people in ages past, and who has sworn, on His own Holy name, that He will never change His mind. “Great is thy Faithfulness” is the saints sweetest praise and the inevitable testimony of any true child of God.
Apply now this thinking to our interpersonal relations. We all have those relationships that seem to carry with them more trouble than they are worth. Months, sometimes years go by and it would seem as if all of our investments and sacrifices are in vain. The temptation to throw our hands in the air and just move on to a more worthwhile endeavor is ever before us. Yet, if you are a Christian, you know that your life is not your own. Not only do we belong to Christ, but we belong to each other. We are, in a very deep and real way, bound to those relationships that God has providentially put in our lives. In a sense, we are all shepherds.
Now, just to be clear, I am by no means talking about remaining steadfast to something that God has rejected in His revealed Word. There are situations that, should we remain (physically or emotionally), we can be sure God will not bless. Even if there were some buried virtue in that, apart from faith in Christ, it is destined to be burned up. But, I am not talking about that. I think John MacArthur hit the nail on the head when he said, “Love apart from truth is hypocritical sentimentality.” What I am specifically referring to is how we treat other earthen vessels of clay who, like us, are fragile works of God in the making. How do we respond when someone fails to live up to our expectations? How do we treat them when they stumble and sin, and as a consequence invite troubles of all kinds into their world — and even ours? How do we respond when they, to put it bluntly, do stupid things that prove to be an added burden and even expense to others around them? How about when they do it not just once or twice, but Lord have mercy, over and over and over and over? Lately, I have come to see that some folks really are like the horse or the mule, who with bit and bridle, have to be controlled (Psalms 32:9). In light of this, I ask, how would our relationships within the body be different if we, quietly but relentlessly, extended unyielding grace and stubborn faithfulness to people who appear to be failures? How would our churches be different? How about our marriages? Our children?
My husband shared with me this morning the miracle of the five loaves and the two fish from the Gospel of John this morning. I hate to sound cliché-ish but it is true: “Little is much in God’s hand.” Even if we end up bringing God nothing — save our faith in God, as it relates to these trouble laden and seemingly hopeless situations, would God not perform a miracle and be glorified?
The ultimate friend is Jesus “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:3). There are people who cannot see this, but the truth is nevertheless the truth: The greatest adversity that anyone will ever face, is an eternity without Christ. Trouble? Please. We don’t even know what trouble is! One glimpse of the hell-fire that is the sure destiny of anyone who rejects the atoning blood of Jesus will make any earthly trouble, no matter how great or weighty, pale in comparison. Beyond having been rescued from this terrible, but no less justified wrath, no Christian can ever say that God saved them and then walked away. On the contrary, every blood washed saint knows the comforting presence and assuring whispers of God in the blackest night seasons of the soul. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” “Fear not for I have redeemed you.” Our good shepherd carries us through thorny and treacherous country, leaving tokens of goodness and mercy every place these weary feet travel.
With this model of faithfulness before us may we, by faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, remain resolute and faithful to those in our lives who disappoint us, bring us heartache, and are, for all intents and purposes, in big trouble. I believe this kind of sacrifice and worship will be acceptable and pleasing to Him.