By J.R. Miller
Paul has given us many lessons in friendship. He himself had a genius for friendship, and no one can study him in his relation to his friends without finding much that is beautiful enough to be followed. In one of his epistles, for example, he reveals the nature of his wishes for his friends in a very striking sentence. He writes that he longs to see them, that he may impart unto them some spiritual gift. One suggestion from the character of this longing is that the truest Christian friendship desires, not to receive--but to give. Paul wished to see his friends, not to be refreshed, encouraged, and strengthened himself, by their love--but that he might impart gifts of enriching to them. Always the attitude of true friendship is the same--the longing to do something for our friend, to be of use to him, to be of help to him--rather than the desire to get something from him, to be helped by him.
Another suggestion from Paul's longing is that the very heart of true Christian friendship, is helpfulness. We begin to be like Christ only when we begin to desire to do others good. The world's ideal is, "Every man for himself!" but Christ set a new standard for his followers. We are to look upon everyone we meet with the question in our hearts, "What can I do for this man? How can I serve him? In what way can I do him good, help him, comfort him, strengthen him?"
We are always to hold ourselves ready to show the kindness of love to every human being that crosses our path. He may not need us--but then he may--and if he does, we must not fail to give him the help he needs. We do not know how many of those whom we meet any day, do need us. There may be none of the great crying needs which kindle compassion in all human breasts. We may go for years and come upon no one lying wounded by the wayside. But there are needs just as real as these, and perhaps quite as tragic. There are hearts that are discouraged, needing cheer, that they faint not. There are people who are tempted, wavering, and ready to fall. There are those who are carrying a burden of sorrow, crying out for comfort. There are those who are hungry for love.
There always are opportunities for helping, and the world needs nothing more than men and women who are ready to respond to each call for love's gentle ministry.
A pleasant story is told of Wendell Phillips, the great orator. He was passionately devoted to his invalid wife. One night after he had delivered a lecture in a suburban town, his friends urged him not to return home until morning. "The last train has gone," they said, "and you will have to go in a carriage. It will mean twelve miles of cold riding through rain and sleet." "Ah, yes," he replied, cheerily, "but at the end of the ride I shall see my dear wife."
Christianity exalts every good thing of life--and nothing more than its friendships. The ministry to which our Master calls everyone of us, is a ministry of personal helpfulness. It is not always easy. It may mean utter forgetfulness of SELF. But the lower its condescension, the diviner it is.
There is a beautiful story of the boyhood of Agassiz. The family lived in Switzerland. One day Louis and a younger brother were crossing a lake near their home, and came to a crack in the ice which the smaller boy could not leap over. The older one then laid himself down across the crack, making a bridge of his body, and his brother climbed over on him. There is need all the while for human bridges over gaps and yawning crevices, and let no one say that this is asking too much even of love.
We remember that the Master said that he was 'the way'--a bridge, that he laid his precious life across the great impassable chasm between sin and heaven, that men might walk over on him, from death to life! If it was fit that the Master should make of himself such a bridge--can any service we may be called to do in helping others be too costly, too humbling? The new friendship in which the Master leads us, is known by its ministry of helpfulness. Selfishness is always most undivine. The love that heaven inspires serves, and serves unto the uttermost. Christ himself had no other errand to this world--but to help people. He did it in the largest way--in giving his life. He did it continually in countless little and great ways along his years.
We should go out every morning with a longing like this in our hearts:
"What can I do today?
Not gold, or ease, or power, or love, to gain,
Or pleasure gay;
But to impart
Joy to some stricken heart;
To send some heaven-born rays
Of hope, some sad, despairing
Soul to cheer;
To lift some weighing doubts;
Make truth more clear;
Dispel some dawning fear;
To lull some pain;
Bring to the fold again
}Some lamb astray;
To brighten life for some one.
Now and here
This let me do today."
Paul's longing suggests also that we should seek to help our friends in the best and highest ways. He wished to impart to them some spiritual gift. There are many things we can do for others. We may help them in temporal ways. If they are poor, we may pay their rent, or provide fuel for their fires, or bread for their hunger. But there are better things than these which we can do. No doubt sometimes a loaf of bread is better than a tract or even a gospel; or, rather, the loaf must go first to prepare the way for the tract and the gospel. Whatever we do first, however, for a friend or a neighbor--we must not be content until we have sought to impart to him some spiritual gift, some heavenly blessing.
Is it this higher thought of friendship, that we must put into our conception of what belongs to the mission of friendship. We should not forget that if we are Christians; we represent Christ in this world. He would reach other lives through us. He would pour his grace into other hearts through our hearts. In all this world there is no other privilege more sacred, than that of being a friend to another person. When God sends us to someone in this holy way--we should lift up our hearts in reverent and grateful recognition of the honor conferred upon us. We should think also of the responsibility which this trust puts upon us. We stand in Christ's place, to the life that looks to us in love and confidence, and waits for the help we are to bring, the comfort we are to minister, the blessing we are to impart.
But if you are the friend thus sent from God to another, think what it will mean to fulfill the sacred place. What are you going to be as a friend, to the one who looks to you with hungry heart for strength, for encouragement, for inspiration, for help? What have you to give that will make the life richer? What touches of beauty are you going to put upon the soul that is nestling in the shadow of your friendship?
It is very sure that merely worldly ease and comfort are not the best things we can seek for our friends. It is natural that we should want to shield them from hardship, burden-bearing, and sorrow. But in the very tenderness of our love, we may rob them of the best possibilities of their lives. When God would bless us most largely in a spiritual way--he does not give us all ease and luxury. He knows that the room must be darkened sometimes, if we are to learn to sing the new, sweet song; and that before we will accept heavenly good things, it may be necessary that our hands shall be emptied of absorbing earthly things.
One of the first duties of friendship is prayer. Perhaps most of us do pray for those we love when they are sick or in great trouble. But what do we ask for them then? Probably we pray that they may recover from their sickness, or be comforted in their trouble. But are these love's best intercessions? When our friends are sick, it is right for us to pray that they may get well--but that should not be our only request for them. The sickness has a mission from God--something it was sent to do in them and for them. It would be a great misfortune, therefore, if they should recover from their illness, and get out into the busy world again, and miss receiving the blessing which the illness was commissioned to bear to them. While then we pray for the curing of our friends, that they may return to their duties--we should also ask that the will of God in their sickness may be done in them!
Then if we pray for our friends who are in sorrow, what should we ask for them? The sorrow also comes as God's messenger, bringing gifts of love. The best blessings of life lie beyond experiences of pain--and we cannot get the blessings, without passing through the experiences. We should plead that our friends may not miss receiving the gifts which the messenger, sorrow, holds in his hands for them. It would be very sad if pain or grief should come into a life and pass--leaving no blessing, no enriching.
But not only when they are sick or in sorrow should we pray for our friends--they probably need our prayers far more--when they are in health and joy and prosperity!
"When you see me growing rich," wrote a good man to a friend, "pray for my soul!" We may all say to those who love us and watch over our lives, "When I am very happy and very prosperous, and when all things are bringing me joy--pray for me!" So we should never fail to pray for our friends, to beseech of God the best things for their lives. Their greatest danger is not sickness, nor bereavement, nor loss of money, nor pain--but, lest they forget God.
Thus should we exalt the aims and goals of our friendships. It is not enough to seek to give pleasure to those we love, to make them happier; we should endeavor also to impart to them enduring good. And not only to our personal friends should we seek thus to do good--but to all whose lives we touch. Everyone who meets us should be the better for it, taking from us some inspiration and uplifting.
We are debtors to all men--we owe love and love's service to everyone. God sends us to carry blessing to each person we meet. It may be a lowly one who stands before us tomorrow, one who is unworthy, one who has sinned; it may be an enemy, one who yesterday wronged us, spoke bitter things of us, tried to injure us. This does not matter. We are sent from God with something for this very person, whoever or whatever he may be. The love of Christ in us says to this man, "I long to impart unto you some spiritual gift!" We dare not refuse this ministry of love to any being under heaven. Then we do not know how sorely he needs us, how hungry he is for love, in how great peril he is this very moment--sent to us perhaps as a refuge, that we may be the bosom of Christ to him, that he may be saved by a word, a look, a kindness, a prayer, of ours.