We know that Paul rarely, if ever, traveled alone. Even on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians, he had a number of friends with him; they were eyewitnesses (ironically) to his blinding. And of course, on his missionary journeys, he was accompanied by a number of friends. Luke seems to have been among them at a least a few times. Barnabas, Silas, John Mark, Timothy, Titus. He speaks of friends who have come to visit him and who have delivered messages to and from the churches, persons in whose homes he's stayed as he traveled, those who have assisted him in one way or another. Paul's life is full of companions.
It's interesting, then, that when Paul writes to the Philippians, he refers to Timothy as the "only" faithful one among them. Timothy's the guy. All these other men with whom he traveled have in some way failed at faithfulness, and only Timothy remains.
What makes this interesting is that Paul didn't stop traveling with the unfaithful ones. He didn't cut loose the guys who weren't cutting it. He even still mentions them by name when he can.
We spend a lot of time thinking about the friends that we have, what they have done for us and what they have done for us lately. Whether they "get" it or not. Whether they're worth keeping around. We go through our Facebook profiles and delete the persons we don't want to deal with any more. We sever ties and end relationships because of differences of opinion or because of what we perceive as moral failures. Some friends, we conclude, just really aren't good friends.
The question is...are we?
Paul kept hanging out with these guys, even though he couldn't honestly describe them as faithful. He let them tag along on his journeys, even though he couldn't necessarily depend on them. He let them take part in his work and even named him in his ministry even though, it seems, they were holding him back sometimes. Sometimes, maybe they were even directly opposing him. We know he had a big falling out with John Mark, but then he later asked for him anyway.
Which means that Timothy wasn't the "only" faithful one among them.
Paul was, too.
We forget, in our world of connections and friendships and likes and followers, the value of being a good friend. We forget about what a grace it is to not give up on someone so easily. We keep looking at what others are doing for us, whether we're getting anything out of it, but it's been a long time since most of us considered what others may be getting out of us.
There are persons on my friends lists right now who drive me insane. They are toxic. I know they are manipulative, users, wannabes, pretenders, gossips, liars, what have you, but I also know that most of them have no awareness that they are these things. What they do have awareness of is what they think about me, and they are engaged; they are tuned in. They could destroy me if I didn't know who they are, and for some, that might be a reason to unfriend or unfollow them. But for me, I look at the opportunities that I have to be a good friend to them - I look at the way they're looking at me - and I let them stay. Because it's entirely possible to be a good friend to someone who is not a good friend in return. You might even say it's exactly what God does with us. (And I am NOT in any way comparing myself to God or claiming some kind of holiness. I'm just trying to get this Jesus thing right, and I think it's what He would do, so I'm trying.)
And there are times, too, when I realize that I am the bad friend. I'm the terrible one. I'm the unfaithful one. It's not easy to admit, but it's true. I am a better friend to some than I am to others, and there are those to whom I am not a good friend at all. I'm working on it.
It just strikes me as I read this introduction to Philippians that Paul was still a good friend to all these guys he couldn't even call faithful. It just blows my mind. And it makes me wonder what kind of a friend I am.
What kind of a friend are you?