Pastor Karen Gibson: Friendship, love and self-sufficiency
January 20, 2012
I had just finished sending an email asking someone for forgiveness.
The reason I had to ask for forgiveness was because of my weakness in thinking I don't need help.
Why is it we become so independent and prideful that we exclude others from our lives, and would rather live in this world by ourselves?
It's almost like we don't like to share. We don't want to share the recognition, joy, or blessing of whatever God has given us with anyone else.
As children we were all taught to learn and develop independence. Dressing ourselves, feeding ourselves, walking, and tying our shoes were some of the activities we were taught to do.
That familiar comment by the child, "I can do it myself," echoes through my mind as I might have attempted to assist one of our children.
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As parents, we thought it was wonderful when our children learned to conquer these tasks on their own, it was another milestone.
And so somewhere along the way we fail to regress and realize it's OK to ask for help or to receive help from others when it's offered.
Perhaps that's why it's so hard to surrender ourselves to God, because we have learned to be self-sufficient.
John Fitzgerald wrote an article in Interpretation in July 2007 titled "Christian Friendship: John, Paul, and the Philippians."
He points out some of the ways John talks about love in the Fourth Gospel with such verses as "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12) and he goes on by quoting John 15:13-15, which talks about laying down one's life for one's friends.
Fitzgerald explains "Jesus' death in John is a death for his friends."
"A friend is someone who is so trustworthy that you may confidently disclose to that individual your most guarded secrets," Fitzgerald wrote. "Here, however, there is an important shift in the relationship of friendship to full disclosure."
Full disclosure is the type of relationship John reveals in the Fourth Gospel about Jesus in his relationship with the disciples.
Paul, on the other hand, in his letters does not use words that indicate the word "friendship" (philia) or the word "friend" (philos).
However, as Paul writes to the church at Philippi, he indicates his appreciation of their concern for him in Philippians 4:10a NRSV.
"I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me."
But, he reassures them in 4:11b "for I have learned to be content with whatever I have."
This is "Paul's denial of need and assertion of self-sufficiency."
The word philia is related to autarkeia (self-sufficiency),and even though this logic had moral values, Paul departed from anything but a self-sufficiency in God. Paul is able to attribute to God "the role that others assign to virtue and human friendship."
Fitzgerald concludes with "one of Cicero's descriptions of the paradoxes of friendship: 'Wherefore friends, though absent, are at hand; though in need, yet abound; though weak, are strong; and — harder saying still — though dead, are yet alive" (Amic.23).
That Paul was still strong whenever he was weak (2 Cor 12:10) was due to God's friendship with him.
To imitate the kind of self-sufficiency that Paul was able to practice calls for learning how to ask for help.