by Matthew Henry
Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love . . . distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Romans 12.10-16.
One of the most common actions of life is that of visiting friends and cultivating friendships. The question is: do we do this in a spiritual way? as Christians we should be governed in this matter by the following rules:
First, let our friendly visits be the proofs and preservatives of brotherly love. Brotherly love is the law of Christ’s kingdom, the great lesson to be learned in His school. Mutual strangeness and distance is the cause of the decay of love, and gives Satan room to sow his tares.
Now since our lot is cast in days when it is foretold that iniquity should abound, and the love of many wax cold; perilous times in which “men shall be lovers of themselves”, it is a great service to cultivate true and hearty friendships with fellow church members. Should we be strangers to one another, we who hope to be together with the Lord? If the diseases of deceit and selfishness should
happen to harden some, we should not become hardened too. If we make ourselves warm and hospitable we shall have done our duty.
Let our friendships be the means of cultivating Christian sympathy. Christian sympathy is one branch of the command to love one another. “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with him, and if one member be honoured all the members rejoice with him.” What is love but a togetherness of souls and a mixing of interests? “Rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep.” We must therefore visit our fellow church members and see how they are. God takes pleasure in the prosperity of His .servants and so should we. (Psalm 35.27). If we are not obedient in this, but seek our own interests, envy arises, emulation and mutual jealousy.
We must want to know the problems of our friends so that we may share their afflictions, give relief, and assure them of our continued help when they are most likely to be discouraged and feel forsaken.
With this in mind Job’s friends came to visit him, when they heard of all the horrors that affected him. Nehemiah inquired after the condition of his friends with great concern, as “he sat down and wept and mourned certain days.” So let us learn to bear one another’s griefs.
Prayer and praise
Let our friendships fill us with prayer and praise. Besides the command which our Master has given us to pray to God as our Father, we also have the command “Pray for one another.” James 5.16.
We find the Apostle Paul in most of his epistles speaking of the prayers and thanksgivings he offered up to God daily on their account. It is written ‘for our learning’ that we may in like manner give thanks to God for our friends, always mentioning them by name so that we may really be serviceable to them.
When we visit friends and fellow church members we have an opportunity to pray with them and I heartily wish this was done more often, especially by ministers. And perhaps we would find this of further value if we made a rule to ourselves, that those whom we visit or have visited us, we will at night pray for and give thanks for.
Our friendly visits should also be utilised as opportunities of doing good to the souls of our friends. We should contribute what we can to the edification of others in knowledge, faith, holiness, and joy. This is a mutual duty to be studied, in giving and receiving real fellowship from those in the membership of our church. Just as steel sharpens steel, so our devotions and intentions may be sharpened by conversation. We are often commanded to exhort one another, admonish one another, teach one another, comfort one another and stir up one another to that which is good.
Much has been said and much written to strengthen real fellowship between Christians, but we are still ashamed that so much corrupt conversation goes on, and little which is good or edifying.
“And shall vain words never have an end?” (Job 16.3). Do we always have to have pointless talks which only lead to hurtful conclusions? Won’t we ever learn the art of introducing and keeping up profitable conversations of the sort that we may hear with comfort on “that day when by our own words we may be justified and by our words we must be condemned”, (Matt 12.37). And you never know when you may save a soul, or at least further a soul towards eternal life.
Now I acknowledge that our conversations cannot be entirely channelled into this cause. Allowance must be made for a great deal of common talk, but even in this there should be the air of grace. If it appears that we choose our words and are afraid of offending, if our talk is ruled by kindness, if we always speak of God with reverence, and if we speak of everyday affairs in a godly way then God will be honoured, our Christian profession will be appreciated and those we talk with will know that God is with us. Our speech, then, though not always of grace, should always be with grace.
Let our friendly visits be utilised as opportunities of improving our own lives and progress. Those who cannot be teachers must be glad learners, and should visit those who are knowing and gracious, with this in mind. When Paul planned a visit to his friends at Rome he said, “I long to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you and that I may be comforted together with you.”
What we hear from the friends we visit that is instructive, and what we see in them that is praiseworthy, we should take notice of and store it up, that it may be ready for our use when the occasion arises. Some rules of conduct we should gather up for our own use out of every visit. A wise man will hear and increase learning and a man of understanding will attain wise counsels (Proverbs 1.5).
Hold before you the example of the Lord Jesus, and as He was so let us be in this world, walking as He walked. Let us make visits as he did with a design to do good. His lips fed many; let us be the .same – as we are able. Wherever He was, He was always about His father’s business. When He visited. He sympathised with grief, comforted people in affliction, reproved them for their omissions, and gladdened them with instructive conversations. Now these things are written for our learning. Go thou and do likewise.