The other day I was watching one of those amazing Planet Earth documentaries produced by the BBC which captures incredible footage of the oceanic white tip shark. After the documentary, they show how they got this incredible footage; the days they spent on the boat hunting for the sharks; how they chummed the water to attract them, diving into the water without air tanks or protection; and relying only on observation, nerves and experience. At several points, the sharks got so close they were literally bumping into the cameras. I was amazed that no one was attacked or killed! What impressed me even more was their courage, how they watched out for one another; and when it became too intense their willingness to say “Let’s get out of here!”
The Apostle Paul understood the gift of deep friendship. Writing from a prison in Rome to the church at Philippi, Paul mentions two dear friends, Timothy and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2: 19-30). Here he shares four things that can help us to be ‘friends beneath the surface’. The principle of investment: Like Paul, we must invest time in our friendships (19). “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you.” Sir William Ramsay estimated that if a courier were to travel from Rome to Philippi—assuming he went by sea across the Adriatic and then traveled on foot—it would take from 6 to 8 weeks [St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, 1982]. For Paul to send a letter and then receive news of the Philippian Church it took time, energy, and patience. For us today, that investment can begin with a simple phone call, a quick note, or an hour for breakfast or coffee. They key is to begin.
The second friendship principle that Paul reveals here is that of shared interests: As Paul considered the human resources he had available it was clear that only Timothy truly shared his priorities and concerns. “I have no one like him (lit. of the same soul) who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (20). Our closest friends will be those with whom we share common interests and goals.
Third, Paul models honesty in friendship (25-28). Paul continues, “Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus – my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need…..” Paul speaks of Epaphroditus as the minister to his need. Paul knew that “no man is an island.” He was quite willing to say how much he appreciated the encouragement Epaphroditus brought him while in prison. True friends can be honest with one another about their needs.
Finally, Paul reminds us of the honor principle. Regarding Epaphroditus, Paul says: “Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people because he came close to death for the work of Christ…" (29). Friends honor one another. Paul was filled with gratitude for his co-worker and fellow soldier Epaphroditus who risked his life to help him; and his words model how we should “outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12: 10).
Those guys filming the oceanic white tip shark were not just co-workers on a fishing expedition, these were friends beneath the surface - literally: sharing a common passion, risking their lives together for a great adventure; and honoring the heroism required to film these majestic and very dangerous predators. Jesus said, "No one has greater love than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). He laid down his life for us whom he calls his friends and followers. His was and continues to be the model of true friendship. If we are to thrive as a Christian community here in this busy city, we must continue to grow as friends. And if we want to share our faith in any meaningful way with others, friendship must be the starting point. I need friends like Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus - but more importantly, I want to be that kind of friend. How about you?