About a year and a half ago, I attended a young adults summer retreat hosted by Redlands Protestant Reformed Church. During that retreat, Rev. Vander Wal spoke to us, warning us not to give in to the temptation to use our God-given talents for ourselves and our glory. Prof. Gritters also gave a speech, instructing us about how we young adults should be seeking to serve the church in specific ways. At the end of his speech, Prof. Gritters asked if somebody would volunteer to email us all later in the year to remind us of how we need to be serving the church. I’m afraid that nobody has reminded us all, and if they have, I must have overlooked the reminder. In either circumstance, I am writing to give us this reminder with an added perspective of our friendships. I also want to include the young people of our denomination in this reminder because friends are very important to us as young adults and young people (which is a good thing). Also, it won’t be long and you young people will be young adults, and this reminder is applicable to both young adults and young people. So I want to remind us of what our friendships should be like and how we young people and young adults need to be serving the church and not ourselves.
Let’s look at Jonathan and David who show us what a real friendship should be like. The first thing we hear about Jonathan and David’s friendship is that “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (I Sam. 18:1). The first part of this passage can also be translated as “the life of Jonathan was bound up with the life of David.”1 Immediately, these two young guys became friends who would stick closer than brothers, brothers born for adversity (Prov. 18:24, 17:17). These two knit-together hearts were bound by God.
While it cannot be doubted that David and Jonathan’s hearts were knit by none other than God, we should also notice when and how God bound their hearts. David had just finished defeating Goliath in front of Israel and the Philistines, and now he sat in the presence of King Saul. Saul asked him, “Whose son art thou, thou young man?” and David responded with, “I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” Now, notice what happened next. “…when he [David] had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David” (I Sam. 17:58-18:1) In the instant that came immediately after David finished speaking, Jonathan not only had taken a liking to David, but his life was immediately bound up with David’s life. Amazing! Why did this happen after David spoke? What was so special about David simply identifying himself so that immediately Jonathan’s soul was knit with David’s after David spoke?
It wasn’t necessarily what David said but the manner in which he answered Saul that caught Jonathan’s attention. There was evidently something special about David. What was so special about David was his godly character that radiated from his heart to all those around. When he spoke before King Saul, General Abner, and Jonathan, his godly character was all over him. Jonathan’s attention was probably also caught by the common interest that could only be shared by two young but brave warriors—battle tactics, equipment, training, etc. However, it was Jonathan and David’s godly character, which immediately bound their lives and souls together, that was central to their friendship.
Let’s compare our friendships with Jonathan and David’s friendship. What is the basis of our friendships? We probably have friends “in the church” and we date within the PR church just like our parents told us because we’re brought up with the same doctrines. But is that faith, that common godliness, the center of our friendships and dating relationship? Read I Samuel 18:1-4, 19:1-6, and all of chapter 20. Whether David had joyful circumstances or hard afflictions, Jonathan was always bringing David to God. I know that there are different levels of relationships—our date, our closest friend(s), other not-as-close friends that we just don’t see as often. We probably don’t talk much about “the deep stuff” with some of our not-as-close friends and therefore don’t speak much about our common faith with them. But do our close friends’ or boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s godly character cause a certain bond between us because we share the same faith, just like Jonathan and David’s friendship?
A very good way to gauge what really is the basis of our friendships is what we talk about. I am aware that God never commands us to have a Bible study or to engage in a deep discussion about something like the theology of worship, every time we go out with our friends. In fact, I think that God doesn’t want our faces to be always frowning in deep thought when we’re with our friends. Leave that for when the time calls for it. Let’s go to Bible study, meeting our Father over His Word night and day, crying with our friends who are crying, and encouraging them with the Word. Let’s have fun, laugh it up, keeping it light, keeping it real (i.e., be genuine, be real). God wants us to enjoy being around each other, doing all these things at the right time and in the right way. He is not opposed to us busting a gut over something that is truly funny (Eccl. 3:1, 4). But my question to myself and to all my fellow young people and young adults is this: what are you and I talking about and laughing at when we are with our friends?
I would be dishonest with myself and you all if I thought I was nit-picking the little things. I fear for us, young people and young adults, because the “little things” have added up. We are consistently talking about the wrong things; our conversations are suddenly taking those quick twists and we delve into some sinful and empty subject. We are gossiping about other people’s sinfulness and foolishness, whether that be from our own life or from watching our TV or computer screen. We’re eagerly throwing it out and around to anyone who will “get a load of this” juicy bit of news. Worse yet, by all our laughing and talking about these things, we’re enjoying exactly what Satan wants us to enjoy—wickedness. And to top it all, plenty of our conversation is littered with profaning the name of God, cursing and swearing, and filthy words. We’re laughing at and enjoying sin, and we’re loving it. The problem isn’t that we’re laughing or talking; the problem is what we’re laughing at and talking about. I know I’ve been guilty of all these things time and again. My friends, we have messed up. You’ve messed up, I’ve messed up.
It would be easy for us to make excuses for our sins like, “Yeah, wow, my friends and I, we’re just talking, and suddenly the conversation takes a turn and we’re on some topic that’s, well,…pretty worthless.” Or, “Man, the things I watch on the TV screen and the ‘innocent’ magazines I read they just so deceptively twist my idea of what is truly funny and what is really important.” Or, “You know, I just have been hooked on watching this TV show, and because it was just ‘my kind of show,’ I let all the other bad stuff get into my mind. I know I gotta stop.” We kind of blame our sins on ourselves, but mostly on what “just gets thrown at us, you know!” We think we’re kind of helpless, and we like it that way. But you and I can’t make those types of excuses and expect to change. We need to be honest with ourselves.
The root of this problem isn’t with this sinful world or the devil. No doubt they are our “mortal enemies” who attack our sinful natures day in and day out, presenting tons of opportunities for us to feed our flesh. But we can’t blame others, not even our enemies. Our root problem lies in ourselves—our selfishness (look up LD 52, Q&A 127). We need to look inside our hearts and do some serious self-examination. The first thing I find when I look at my own heart is my own selfishness. Only the Lord knows how deep my selfishness lies! I’ve gone to somebody’s house or whatever the place thinking that this time is “my” time and I’ve failed to even think of serving God and my neighbor, even the very neighbor I call “best friend.” We’ve gone with our friends to gain whatever we can in the sight of men, and we certainly don’t go with the proper mindset of seeking to serve and enjoying the joy of others. We’ve gone out on dates or out with our friends with the goal of me, myself, and I. We’ve forgotten that we must first deny “self’ before we can take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24). The vain and sinful things we laugh at and talk about are just our selfishness that has crept to the surface, from our hearts to our mouths.
Now our selfishness is leaving a wide-open way for the world’s and the devil’s weapons to continuously be unleashed upon us. We’re hurting ourselves, but the consequences for our selfishness don’t stop there. Those consequences impact our friends so much so that to the extent in which we selfishly seek ourselves we also persecute our friends. Imagine that! By not encouraging holiness in each other while enjoying sin, we’re openly persecuting our friends! (James 4:1-3). We’re causing them to sin, and we’re definitely not seeking their good. Further yet,…well, it’s too painful to think of the kind of witness we’re spreading to our neighbors around us.
However, I would also be deceiving myself and you all if I didn’t tell you that we have every reason to hope even though we’ve been selfishly seeking ourselves, persecuting our friends, and destroying the glory and name of God. That reason is Christ’s humiliation and the power He gave to us described in Philippians 2:5-7a. This passage seems to be one of the best places in the Bible to help us to begin chiseling at our selfishness. The passage reads, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant….” Paul is pointing to Christ to show us young people and young adults the kind of mind, the kind of heart-attitude, we should have. He washed our feet by making “himself of no reputation,” meaning that He “emptied Himself.”2 Our King Jesus, who is fully and holy God, having every blessing and possessing every piece of creation, took it upon Himself to empty Himself of everything that was His in heaven to come to earth to serve us. We can’t understand the depths of that grace and mercy! The Son of God came down to wash our feet, even us young people and young adults! He left the perfect fellowship He had in God Himself, and He forsook His throne as the Son in Heaven to take on our flesh and triumph over our sins. And He did it all by emptying Himself and washing our feet, going the whole way to the cross. And now Paul can say, “Let this mind be in you,” because Jesus Christ merited for us this powerful gift of a self-emptying mind by His own self-emptying life.
So, let’s empty ourselves. Let’s remember what we are on this earth for Him and His kingdom. Let’s throw out our desires for the fake satisfaction of what the devil and the world throw at us and rely only on Him for all our joy, all our life, all our laughs. “Wait,” you say, “did you just say rely on Him for all our laughs?” Yes, I did.
We want to laugh? I mean, really laugh? Then let’s live the laugh-full life of joy and love by not seeking self or the praise of men, but by seeking to serve. By always seeking to serve, we will have plenty of joyful things to laugh about. Having the mind of Christ and washing other peoples’ feet won’t make everything funny, but He does give us a joy that no man can take away (1 Cor. 2:16, John 16:22). And I know, without any doubt, that even when you don’t feel at all like smiling, singing, or laughing, when you are in the sorest of afflictions, or you are wounded and discouraged in the battle of faith, God will give you joy (see Acts 16:23-25, and 5:41). In that joy, the joy that no man can take away, you can always look up to your God in the heavens and smile knowing that your Creator is sovereign and provides you with everything you need.
So what does emptying ourselves look like for young people and young adults like us? Let’s be specific. At night, let’s let go of our favorite feeding-the-flesh movies and TV shows to serve whomever. We’re going to get our godly creative juices flowing and use whatever talents we have to glorify God and seek to serve. If we think we have nothing to do, let’s take a walk or run through creation. Chances are it’s been too long since the last time we really enjoyed God’s handiwork. After the Sunday morning service, let’s quit gorging ourselves with Sunday dinner (while deeply discussing the latest sports news) and sleeping the whole afternoon away to “catch up” on sleep. We can use that Sunday afternoon to taste heavenly fellowship with God and His people, get some physical rest, and diligently labor to enter into His spiritual rest (Heb. 4, esp. v. 11). We can visit our grandparents or other elderly people with our friends on Sunday. Let’s sing with them, talk with them, learn from them. Whether we are over 21 years old or not, let’s quit drinking too much alcohol for our belly’s sake and start drinking a little for our stomach’s sake or to enjoy God’s abundant blessings to us. And pray, Oh let’s pray! We’re going to pray to God that He would be pleased to shine His glory through us. We’re going to rely on God’s strength for selflessness and for a Christ-like, self-emptied mind. Without gaining His strength through prayer and relying on Him there is no way we can glorify God by serving Him and His church (John 15:5).
When we live with hearts full of love and empty of self, God’s glory and beauty shine through us to change ourselves and those around us by our seeking to serve. By His power of seeking to serve, He will work through us to transform our and others selfish hearts into hearts that respond to His love. We won’t make excuses for our sins any more, but we will seek the Holy Spirit to show us our sins so that we can repent quickly. We will delight in encouraging spiritual growth in our friends as Jonathan and David did, and we will be prepared for every good work (John 14:12, 7:38). Do you see what hope we have together with Christ’s self-emptying power within us? It’s not easy to see how ugly our sins are, but “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). My friends, “it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” This we recall to our minds, and therefore we have hope (Lam. 3:21-22).
1 The King James Version of the Bible. Reference Edition. Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nashville: 264 Alternative translation in the reference section.
2 Prof. Engelsrna preached a sermon on December 10, 2006 based on Phil. 2. In that sermon, he said that the phrase “made himself of no reputation” in Phil. 2:7a actually means in the Greek “emptied Himself.”