The Easter story in four paintings: #2 Christ is known through his word

I’m telling the story of Easter in four paintings. The story our first painting highlighted our culture’s loss of transcendence. But we said the Emmaus story suggests two ways in which Christ may yet be known in our world. Here’s the first … 

The second painting is by James Janknegt is a contemporary Catholic artist from the Unites States. The key thing about his painting is the way he captures the connection to the Bible story in bubbles depicting Moses raising the bronze snake, Jonah being thrown to the whale and so on. Jesus is known through his word, through the message of the Bible.

In Luke 24 we’re told three stories that all take place on the same day: early morning at the tomb, afternoon on the way to Emmaus and in the evening in Jerusalem. And all three stories have a similar pattern:

  • People are bewildered, disappointed and fearful (4-5, 18, 21-22, 37)
  • People are rebuked (5-6, 25, 38-39)
  • People are taught Christ’s words or the Scriptures (6, 8, 27, 44-45)
  • People are taught that the Christ must suffer and die (7, 26, 46)
  • The result is they go and tell others (9, 33, 47-48)

The message of these three stories is the same: the disciples should not have been bewildered or disappointed because they should have realised from the words of Jesus and from the Scriptures that Jesus had to suffer and die.

Here are the angels at the tomb. And the women come along, confused and bewildered by the empty tomb. You might have expected the angels to say, ‘You foolish humans, you haven’t got a clue have you. We could tell you and thing or two. We’ve seen his heavenly glory. We’ve followed the story. Let us tell you what happened.’ But no, what do the angels do? They remind them of Jesus’ words.

Here is Jesus himself, the Word incarnate, freshly risen from the grave. Surely he would simply speak and the world would listen. But instead he conducts a Bible study. The Risen Christ on that first Easter Day made himself known through the Scriptures. And we can make him known in the same way. Only the exposition of the word will cause people to say: ‘were not our hearts burning within us’ (32)

No-one in the Easter story has a clue what’s going on until Jesus explains it from the Bible. No amount of human wisdom or philosophy or contemplation will tell you the meaning of the Jesus’ resurrection apart from the Bible.

In Luke 16 Jesus tells the story of a beggar called Lazarus who lives at the gate of a rich man. When they die Lazarus goes to heaven with Abraham while the rich man goes to hell. The rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus with water to cool his pain. When he is refused, he makes a second request. He asks Lazarus to be sent to his brothers to warn of God’s judgment. Abraham replies: ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’ (16:31). In other words, God’s word is enough. God’s word is all we need. Nothing else will persuade us if God’s word does not persuade us – not even apparitions of the dead.

When we get to Luke 24 we read of someone who has come back from the dead – just as the rich man requested (16:30). But what he does is proclaim the word of God. Look at verse 31: ‘Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.’ Jesus disappears, but his word remains. This is Luke’s message to us.

How do we make Christ known? Through the Bible.

This material is adapted and expanded from a chapter in my book, A Meal with JesusA Meal with Jesus is available here from and

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The Easter story in four paintings: #1 Our loss of transcendence

I want to tell the Emmaus story of Luke 24 in four paintings. Here’s the first …

The Spanish artist Diego Velázquez depicted this scene in 1618 in a painting called “Kitchen Maid with the Supper of Emmaus”. Jesus and the disciples are portrayed in the top left corner. But the picture focuses all our attention on the kitchen maid. The astonished look on her face as she overhears their conversations suggests she has just realised that a dead man has eaten her food!

The meal is hinted at, but it is all washed and tided away. The central item is a piece of rag. The supernatural world has collided with the ordinary world. That’s what happens as a result of the first Easter. God’s coming world invades our dying world.

One of our problems is that we know the end of Easter story so well. We know that Jesus is risen. And so we find it hard to enter into the disappointment, grief and loss of the disciples on the Emmaus road. ‘We had hoped,’ they say.

Yet many people today are following their own version of the Emmaus road. They are walking in disappointment. They are walking away from hope. For many this involves walking away from the church.

It’s striking that Jesus does not begin with a resurrection pronouncement. He begins with a question: ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’ (17) Luke captures the drama of it. ‘They stood still, their faces downcast’ (17) They’re walking along the road, but they have to stop, stand still, pause before they can begin.

Jesus gives them space to tell their story, to share their pain, to speak their disappointment. We may need to do that as well. The more we understand people’s struggles, the more our message of resurrection will connect with them.

But it’s not just individuals who are walking their version of the Emmaus road. Our world is between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. “We had hoped,” our culture says. Our world used to be full of hope, full of visions of progress – capitalism, socialism, scientific progress, liberalism. All shared a common sense that history was an onwards, upward march (all distorted forms of Christian hope). But our postmodern world has a strong sense that progress comes at a cost: poverty, terrorism, pollution, social fragmentation. ‘We had hoped.’ But now hope is disappearing.

We increasingly live in a world in which the Bible story seems out of place. People are not interested in our message. Christianity is passé. People today no longer think they need God. We’ve written God out of the European story. He didn’t create the world and he won’t bring it to an end. God is part of our history, but not part of our future. We’ve grown up and no longer need the faith in God that primitive people or children need. We can live without God. Our culture is on the Emmaus road, heading away from Jerusalem.

What’s interesting about Velázquez’s painting is that sometime after it was finished, the painting was altered by its new owner. A few centimetres were cut from the left-hand margin (so that one of the disciples is missing) and the Emmaus scene was covered over. The original version was only rediscovered in 1933 when the painting was cleaned.

Not only that, but I can show you what it used to look because there’s a second version without any reference to the Emmaus story. We don’t know whether it was by Velázquez himself or someone copying him, but the second version has edited out the Easter story.

Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Picture #1. Our world has lost transcendence

It’s a symbol of our culture. This is what we’ve done. Our culture has removed the divine. We’ve edited out transcendence. And what are we left with? Rags! In Velázquez’s original painting there is a wonderful collision of eternity and time that transforms everyday life. The rag is elevated. It has just been used to serve God. all of life, everyday life, is full of God’s glory.

But when you take away transcendence, when you edit Jesus out of the picture, you’re just left with rags.

Christ is hidden in our world. He has ascended into heaven to receive all authority and glory. But we don’t yet see that reality on this earth. Colossians 3:3-4 says: ‘For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.’ The return of Christ is more often described in the New Testament as a manifestation. The reign of Christ is now hidden. But one day it will be revealed. All the earth will see his glory and every knee will bow.

In a world in which Christ is hidden, how is he known? The story provides two answers – each of which will be represented by another painting.

This material is adapted and expanded from a chapter in my book, A Meal with Jesus. A Meal with Jesus is available here from and

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Explore the Reformation in your daily devotions

A review of 90 Days in Genesis, Exodus, Psalms & Galatians: Explore by the Book with Calvin, Luther, Bullinger & Cranmer, edited by Lee Gatiss (The Good Book Company).

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Last year I published Why the Reformation Still Matters with Mike Reeves and in June I have another, shorter introduction to the Reformation coming out from IVP entitled Rediscovering Joy: The Dynamic Power of the Reformation in Galatians.

Meanwhile my wife and I are half way through 90 Days in Genesis, Exodus, Psalms & Galatians. This follows the pattern of the Good Book Company’s Explore notes. Each day there is a reading with notes based on a work by a leading Reformer. The editor, Lee Gatiss, has made some lights edits of the test to avoid archaic language as well as adding reflection questions, application and prayer idea (although to be honest we have been ignoring most of these). The result are genuinely helpful devotional readings in bite-sized portions that also give you a flavour of Reformation theology. I highly recommend it, whether nor not you read them 2017.

90 Days in Genesis, Exodus, Psalms & Galatians is available from and The


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Crosslands Press Release

Launching today (3rd April 2017), Crosslands aims to provide excellent in-context theological training and resources for churches and church leaders in the UK, Europe and 10:40 window in order to:
  • Make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ;
  • Equip Christians and Christian leaders in partnership with local missional churches;
  • Nurture a culture of multiplication and church planting; and
  • Invest in the next generation of missionary theologians.

Formerly operating as the Acts 29 Oak Hill Academy, we are passionate to see the cross of Christ reigning over these lands and our students crossing-lands for the gospel.

There are many good theological institutions in the UK and Europe already; we praise God for the work that they do.  However, Crosslands is a new kind of organisation, a Flexicademy™ that offers flexible learning and rigorous training, leaning on the extensive church planting experience of Acts 29 and the exceptional theological training expertise of Oak Hill.

Steve Timmis, CEO of Acts 29 said: “The launch of Crosslands is exciting, timely and strategic.  Exciting because we want Christians to be stirred for Christ as a result of theological education.  Timely as Crosslands equips for mission those who can’t train at great institutions like Oak Hill for all sorts of reasons.  And it’s strategic because it will connect people for gospel collaboration in the UK, Europe and 10:40 window.”

Dan Strange, Acting Principal of Oak Hill Theological College said: “In our too-often fractured evangelical sub-culture, it’s been a really encouraging and positive experience to be partnering with Steve Timmis, Tim Chester and the rest of the Acts 29 team. We are very different organisations but share the same vision and values for the kind of gospel training that Crosslands will provide”.

For aspiring leaders, ordinary congregation members and even new Christians, Crosslands wants to serve you with gospel training when and where you need it.

Crosslands™ is registered as a UK charity, number 1167211 with hubs in the English Midlands and Dublin.
It offers a three-year seminary-level theological education for aspiring church planters, assistant leaders, apprentices and even those already in ministry out of hubs in the English Midlands and Dublin.  Currently there are 45 students on the course, with plans to open hubs in French- and German-speaking Europe soon to meet demand for next year.
Its foundation-level courses for congregation members, small group leaders, interns and elders are available through its partner Biblemesh in English and are currently being translated and contextualised into ten European languages to serve the 400+ students currently being trained.
Entry-level courses for new Christians are being produced this year.
Acts 29 is a diverse, global family of church-planting churches, characterized by theological clarity, cultural engagement and missional innovation.
Oak Hill Theological College is a long-established UK provider of full-time and part-time residential accredited evangelical theological training for Anglican and Independent churches, mission, and youth and children’s work.

When Christians annoy you #3: remember Christ died for us

In our first two posts on how to respond when other Christians annoy you, based on Romans 14-15, we saw that we’re to remember Christ died for them and Christ died for us. In this final post we consider the importance of remembering that Christ died for us.

3. Remember Christ died for us (Romans 15:7-13)

The church in Rome was probably planted by, and among, the Jewish Diaspora. Then the Jews, including Jewish Christians, were forced to leave Rome. We know this from Acts 18:1-2: ‘After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.’ Overnight a Jewish-dominated church became a Gentile-dominated church.

But when Claudius died his decrees died with him. So at that point Jews (like Priscilla and Aquila) could return to Rome. Again, we know this because in Romans 16:3 Paul says: ‘Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus.’ In other words, by this point Priscilla and Aquila are back in Rome.

Now, can you imagine what conflicts this might create? A Jewish-dominated church suddenly becomes a Gentile-dominated church. And then all the Jews come back. Actually we don’t have to speculate. We know what they were arguing about. We know there were tensions over eating meat offered to idols and observing the Jewish Sabbath.

So how does Paul respond? Look at verses 7-9a: ‘Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.’

Christ became human, became a servant, died on the cross for the Jews – to rescue the Jews, to fulfil God’s promises to the Jews, to redeem the Jews so they could be his people again.

But Christ also became human, became a servant, died on the cross for the Gentiles – so the Gentiles might receive mercy, so the Gentiles might become God’s people, so the Gentiles might join the Jews in praising God.

Look how Paul continues in verses 9b-12:

As it is written:

(And, by the way, is Paul’s way of saying, ‘I didn’t invent this. This has been God’s plan all along.’)

     ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name.’
Again, it says,
‘Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.’
And again,
‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.’
And again, Isaiah says,
‘The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.’

God’s plan has always been that through the death of Jesus Jew ad Gentile would come together to form one people of God, one choir singing God’s praises.

And not just Jew and Gentile, but people from every ethnic, social, economic background are brought together through the death of Christ. Christ died for us, to create us as God’s people, to break down divisions.

Christ didn’t die to create a divided church with Christians fighting one another. He died to create a united church with Christians singing with one another – with all our diverse voices coming together in harmony:

  • together glorying God for his mercy (verse 9).
  • together singing the praise of his name (verse 10).
  • together finding hope in the reign of Jesus (verse 12).

Instead of moving apart through arguments, we’re to come together in worship.

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The launch of Crosslands

Today see the launch of Crosslands – gospel training when and where you need it.

In 2005 we started what became Porterbrook Training and the Porterbrook Seminary to provide Reformed, missional training for church leaders, church planters and church members.

In 2015 the Acts 29 church planting network and Oak Hill theological college came together in partnership to deepen and expand this ministry. So for the past two years we’ve been temporarily known as the Acts 29 Oak Hill Academy. But today we’re launching with a new name and a new website

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When Christians annoy you #2: remember Christ died for you

In our first post on how to respond when other Christians annoy you, based on Romans 14-15, we saw that we’re to remember Christ died for them. In this second post we see the importance of remembering that Christ died for you.

2. Remember Christ died for you (Romans 15:1-6)

Look at verses 1-2: ‘We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up.’

Do you think you’re a strong Christian? Do you think you’re a mature believer? A strong Christian does not go round pointing out other people’s faults. (Actually that’s how weak Christians try to make themselves look strong.)

Here’s the measure of maturity: bearing with and building up. Verse 1: ‘We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak.’ Verse 2: ‘Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up.’

The key thing is we don’t live to please ourselves. We bear with others instead of pleasing ourselves – verse 1. And we please others by building them up – verse 2. In any interaction with people we need to think, ‘My goal here is not to please myself. My goal is to please them, that is, to help them find pleasure, true joy in Christ.’ In Philippians 1:25 Paul summarises the goal of his ministry: ‘I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.’

And what keeps us focused on this is remembering that Christ died for us. Look at verse 3: ‘For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”’ When we tempted to dish out insults – either with our words or in our minds – remember that Christ chose to receive insults. Christ bore in concentrated form all the hatred of humanity. And he did that for you. Is it now too much to ask you to put up with the frustrations your brother or sister causes you?

So Christ is to be our inspiration and our model. Look at verse 5: ‘May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.’

Paul’s prayer is that we might have the same attitude as Jesus. And what is that attitude? Don’t please yourself. Build others up. Fight for their joy in Christ.

In the final post in this series we’ll look at the importance of remembering Christ died for us.

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When Christians annoy you #1: remember Christ died for them

Today is the first post in a series of three on how to respond when other Christians annoy you.

In Romans 14:1 Paul talks about ‘disputable matters’ – issues that are not central. In Rome those presenting issues included whether Christians could eat meat which had previously been offered to idols and whether they should observance a Jewish-style day of Sabbath. Paul has his own view of those issues, but he’s more concerned that the church should accept the diversity within the congregations. Modern disputable matters include things like baptism, charismatic issues, worship styles.

But I think it will help us apply this passage to ourselves and our church if we think of it in these terms: What do you do when someone in the congregation frustrates you? This will help us bring home the truths in this passage. Because that happens, doesn’t it! We do frustrate one another. Different priorities, different personalities, different parenting styles, different political views – and that’s just the Ps. Or never mind explicit differences. We frustrate one another in the day-to-day rubbing up against one another. Sometimes we feel let down. Sometimes we feel jealous. Maybe someone is invited over for a meal and we feel left out. What do you do when someone in the congregation frustrates you?

Our frustration is a form of judging. We convene the court, appoint ourselves as judge and come to our verdict. It all takes place in our heads, but that’s what we’re doing. Look at verse 10: ‘You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?’ Or look at verse 13: ‘Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.’ Stop passing judgment.

But how can we do this? How can we check ourselves when we feel frustrated? How can we stop being judgmental? After all, we don’t normally decide to be judgmental. Nobody says, ‘I think in this situation, I’m going to be judgmental.’ No, we slip into it. It’s not something we can simply un-decide to do. It’s more visceral than that. It’s a gut response. But neither are we victims. There are some things we can do when we find ourselves feeling frustrated.

1. Remember Christ died for them (14:13-23)

Look at verse 15: ‘If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.’ Paul didn’t need to add that. He could have said, ‘Do not destroy someone by your eating.’ That would have been sufficient. So this is a deliberate, significant addition. This person who frustrates you is someone for whom Christ died.

Here’s the logic of Paul’s argument. Look at verse 14: ‘I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.’ In other words, meat is neither clean nor unclean. Eating it doesn’t bring you nearer to God and it doesn’t move you further from God. It’s not an act of obedience and it’s not an act of disobedience. But if you think it’s unclean then in a sense it becomes unclean for you. Why? Because if you think it’s an act of disobedience then by doing it you’re choosing to disobey God.

Imagine you’re a mother. You enter the room saying, ‘There’s something on the table for you.’ But, even as the words are forming in your mouth, you see your child trying to hide a half-eaten biscuit. Has that child been disobedient? In one sense, No, because you put the biscuit there for them. But in another sense, Yes, because they thought they shouldn’t eat it and yet they did.

Paul imagines a Christian who, like Paul, thinks eating meat is fine. This free Christian says, ‘It’s so annoying that we can’t meat because of your ridiculous scruples. Why don’t you just get over it. An idol is just a lump of metal. Go on – it’s fine.’ And so they pressure their brother to act against their conscience. They pressure their sister to disobey God. Not only is that leading them into sin, but it’s also deadening their conscience. (Not only that, but verses 16 seems to suggests that this kind of action will damage the reputation of the gospel.)

Look at verses 22-23: ‘So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.’  In other words, good for you if you approve of eating meat. ‘But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.’

Here’s Paul’s point. Christ died to bring us out of condemnation. That what Paul said back in 8:1: ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ So don’t lead people back into condemnation.

So when you disagree over disputable matters and indeed every time someone frustrates you: remember Christ died for them.

It’s good to have convictions. Paul is not suggesting we settle for a relativism in which anything goes. One of our emphases in this church is one pastoring one another in the context of daily life. We want to be a community that is ‘speaking the truth in love’ to one another (Ephesians 4:15). We want to be helping one grow to be more like Christ. So it’s right to exhort and to correct one another.

But Romans 14 gives us a clear test for this: Are you being constructive or destructive? Are we building people up or are we pulling them down? If you speak out of frustration then you’ll almost certainly be pulling people down. Shortly after Paul says ‘speak the truth in love’ he goes on:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.’ (Ephesians 4:29-31)

Out goes bitterness. In comes building others up. Anything else grieves the Holy Spirit.

The language of Romans 14 is very strong. Look at verse 15: ‘Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.’ Or look at verse 20: ‘Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.’ I don’t think we condemn people to hell in this way. But we unpick God’s work of sanctification in their lives. God is re-making them in the image of his Son and we’re pulling the pieces out.

Imagine a child has built a beautiful duplo or lego building. And then a sibling comes in like some mini-Godzilla and destroys it. What happens next? Some of you have had to handle the aftermath of that kind of situation on many occasions.

‘Do not destroy the work of God,’ says Paul. ‘Do not … destroy someone for whom Christ died.’ God is building something very beautiful and very precious in your brother or sister. And he is building it through the blood of his own Son. He’s building it with his own sweat and blood. Remember that next time your brother or sister frustrates you. Yes, they’re a work in progress. But make sure your contribution helps that progress rather than hinders it. Don’t destroy the work of God. Horatius Bonar said:

We are God’s workmanship says Paul in Ephesians 2:10. It pictures God as a craftsman, shaping us into the image of his Son. But we are no inanimate marble, ready to be sculptured. We are complex beings with distinct personalities, diverse histories and a great variety competing influences. This is the substance which God works and which he fashions through the course of a lifetime, without violating our will and yet without fail, into the image of his Son. (Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Holiness, Evangelical Press, 1864, 1979, 5-6.)

God is very patient in that work. Don’t be impatient with God’s timescale. God does use the church in the process. We are to challenge, exhort, encourage one another. But imagine a sculptor who picks up his chisel when he’s angry or impatient!

Next time you’re frustrated with someone remember that Christ shed his blood for them. Next time you’re tempted to say something out of frustration remember you may be destroying the work of God.

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Calvin on calling God ‘Father’

Here’s an quote from John Calvin, Institutes, 3.20.36-37.

With what confidence would anyone address God as ‘Father’? Who would break forth into such rashness as to claim for himself the honour of a son of God unless we had been adopted as children of grace in Christ? He, while he is the true Son, has of himself been given us as a brother that what he has of his own by nature may become ours by benefit of adoption if we embrace this great blessing with sure faith. Accordingly, John says that power has been given to those who believe in the name of the only-begotten Son of God, that they too may become children of John (John 1:12) …

But a son cannot give himself over to the safekeeping of a stranger and an alien without at the same time complaining either of his father’s cruelty or want. Thus, if we are his sons, we cannot seek help anywhere else than from him without reproaching him for poverty, or want of means, or cruelty and excessive rigour…

But because the narrowness of our hearts cannot comprehend God’s boundless favour, not only is Christ the pledge and guarantee of our adoption, but he moves the Spirit as witness to us of the same adoption, through whom with free and full voice we may cry, ‘Abba, Father’ (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15). Therefore, whenever any hesitation shall hinder us, let us remember to ask him to correct our fearfulness, and to set before us that Spirit that he may guide us to pray boldly.

My book, co-authored with Michael Reeves, Why the Reformation Still Matters, can be bought from and

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An exercise in friendship

Here’s an exercise on friendship you might want to do on your own or with a group.

  1. Arrange the following verses from Proverbs into groups by theme.
  2. Convert each group into a principle.
  3. Identify any implications you think are particularly relevant to you.

And don’t miss the conclusion on friendship and the gospel.

Proverbs 3:27-30
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
28 Do not say to your neighbour,
‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’ –
when you already have it with you.
29 Do not plot harm against your neighbour,
who lives trustfully near you.
30 Do not accuse anyone for no reason –
when they have done you no harm.

Proverbs 12:26
The righteous choose their friends carefully,
but the way of the wicked leads them astray.

Proverbs 14:10
The poor are shunned even by their neighbours,
but the rich have many friends.

Proverbs 14:13
Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and rejoicing may end in grief.

Proverbs 16:28
A perverse person stirs up conflict,
and a gossip separates close friends.

Proverbs 17:9
Whoever would foster love covers over an offence,
but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

Proverbs 17:17
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Proverbs 18:24
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 19:4,6
Wealth attracts many friends,
but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them …
6 Many curry favour with a ruler,
and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.

Proverbs 20:19
A gossip betrays a confidence;
so avoid anyone who talks too much.

Proverbs 22:10-11
Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife;
quarrels and insults are ended.
11 One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace
will have the king for a friend.

Proverbs 22:24-25
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,
do not associate with one easily angered,
25 or you may learn their ways
and get yourself ensnared.

Proverbs 25:15
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,
and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

Proverbs 25:16-17
If you find honey, eat just enough –
too much of it, and you will vomit.
17 Seldom set foot in your neighbour’s house –
too much of you, and they will hate you.

Proverbs 25:19-20
Like a broken tooth or a lame foot
is reliance on the unfaithful in a time of trouble.
20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day,
or like vinegar poured on a wound,
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

Proverbs 26:18-19
Like a maniac shooting
flaming arrows of death
19 is one who deceives their neighbour
and says, ‘I was only joking!’

Proverbs 27:5-6
Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Proverbs 27:9-10
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of a friend
springs from their heartfelt advice.
10 Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family,
and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you –
better a neighbour nearby than a relative far away.

Proverbs 27:14
If anyone loudly blesses their neighbour early in the morning,
it will be taken as a curse.

Proverbs 27:17
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 28:23
Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favour
rather than one who has a flattering tongue.

Proverbs 29:5
Those who flatter their neighbours
are spreading nets for their feet.

Friendship and the Gospel

The principles of friendship that we see in Proverbs can leave us feeling disappointed:

  • in others
  • in ourselves

But Proverbs 18:24 gives a hint that there might be a better, truer friend: ‘One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’ And Jesus said:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: love each other. (John 15:13-17)

Jesus is the friend that lays down his life for us.

This, of course, is a gospel truism! But it is vital for healthy friendships.

If we look for fulfilment or perfection in friendships then:

  • we can choke friendship – people withdraw because they feel suffocated or feel crushed by our expectations
  • we can create corrosive jealousy – we resent their time with, or affection for, other people

We create a set of expectations (a ‘law’) and then demand that people meet our expectations.

Here’s a couple of tests:

  • Is my primary concern to give in the relationship or to get from the relationship?
  • If I’m giving in the relationship, am I trying to build obligation?

My relational longings will never be satisfied in other human beings. They can only be met in Christ.

But the good news is that they are met in Christ. And this relationship gives the security in which I can relate to others in love.


True Friendship by Vaughan Roberts – available here from and

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