The Faith of Friends

“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:5, ESV).

This verse is part of the familiar story (told in three of the four Gospels), describing how four men brought a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing. The venue was crowded with hurting people, so they knew that their only hope was to remove the roof, thatched or tiled I assume, and to lower the man into Jesus’ presence.

At first glance it seems that Jesus connects our forgiveness to our faith and this seems right to us. But upon closer examination it is significant that He connects forgiveness (and in the end, the healing of the paralyzed man) to the faith of the friends that brought him to Jesus. All three versions of this story link the forgiveness and healing to the faith of the friends, not the faith of the needy man.

The primary purpose of the inclusion of this story in the Gospels is to point out the authority of Jesus to forgive sins which was a not-so-subtle claim to being God on Jesus’ part. The religious leaders present at the time would have understood this point (and so should we).

A secondary truth, however, is the dependence of us who are in need for friends who have faith. In the Lord’s grand design each of us, at one time or another, will be dependent upon the faith of one or more Christian friends when our faith is in a weakened state. Our faith in Christ’s presence and provision may be weakened by a constant barrage of problems or heartaches; it may be weakened by trouble caused by our own sin; it may be weakened by the encroachment of age or the oppression of our enemy. But what a joy it is to have friends who care enough for us to lay us in the presence of Jesus. Without these four men, this paralyzed man might never have been healed.

It is pure speculation, but I have often wondered how the healed paralytic changed after his healing, He would no longer have to beg or be dependent on his family; his gratitude to his friends must have been (pardon the pun) “through the roof”! People who have been so radically changed by Jesus typically are bold to introduce others to Him; perhaps this man brought other needy friends to Jesus or at least pointed them to Him. Just like his friends’ faith led to his healing, now his faith could encourage someone else, maybe even lead to their healing.

Let us also not imagine that this was the only time when this formerly paralyzed man would need the faith of his friends. In times of crisis we think that once we get through THIS one, we’ll be able to handle all others, but that is not usually the case. We have an ongoing need for a community of faithful friends.

Are there Christian friends in your circle going through tough times (maybe the needy one is you!)? How many have turned away from the faith or how many Christian couples have divorced for lack of a group of supportive friends to “hold the ropes” for them? Perhaps YOU could be that one faith-filled friend who takes the lead by organizing mutual friends to pray, or even fast, for someone who just doesn’t have the strength in himself to believe that Jesus can meet him in his desperate time of need.

Proven Relationships

19 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know of his proven worth that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. 23 Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I myself also shall be coming shortly. 25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; 26 because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. (Philippians 2:19-27)

Friendship within the family of God is often deeper than friendship outside. In fact, many (myself included) find that the bonds we have in Christ are more trustworthy than even familial ones. Paul’s comment that Epaphroditus was a “fellow soldier” is a key to this phenomenon. Soldiers have to trust their lives to fellow soldiers. In that close, often intensely stressful, situation, a new definition of brotherhood is often experienced.
The two men Paul mentioned in this passage had a deep bond with the Apostle. Timothy is described as having a genuine concern for the welfare of the Philippians. Even among some of Paul’s other ministry companions, self interest reigned rather than Christian concern and integrity. Timothy was the only one who was on the same page — ministry-wise — with Paul. I wonder what the real motivation for accompanying Paul was among the others in his circle, but I will never know this side of heaven (and then I won’t be concerned about it).

Epaphroditus was also concerned about the Philippians, only in a different way. Biblical history suggests that he was one of them. He didn’t want his friends there to worry about him — even though he risked his life for the cause of Christ.

I count friendships in the Body of Christ as genuine in much the same way that Paul did. Some people are closer to me personally (as Paul was to Timothy) and I know their genuine service to Christ because we have laughed, cried, and prayed together. I have depended on them and they have not let me down. They have been a source of great encouragement to me, and I will always revel in their friendship.

There are others that I know from their service. Many of my missionary friends are among these. I know the risks they have taken for the cause of Christ. I know what sacrifices they have made materially and of their families. The writer to the Hebrews calls them, “men of whom the world is not worthy” (11:38).

May God grant that they will have the same opinion of me.