Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tim Keller on Friendship - a model law/Gospel sermon

It may sound strange, but I think Tim Keller preaches the best law/Gospel sermons I have ever heard.

He is a great preacher in many ways, not least because most of his sermons take you on a journey. What is not obvious is that this journey is often law/Gospel. It is not obvious because he does it better than the simplified version preached by many who would explicitly say that they are preaching law and Gospel (particularly in including the power as well as the penalty of sin, the attractiveness of the good life that 'the law' describes, deeply rooting everything in our cultural and existential experience, climaxing in Christ but in a way naturally connected to the topic and all without jargon).

The theme of friendship in the book of Proverbs is probably the last place you would expect to see the law/Gospel structure, but that is an indication that we haven't really realised the depth of it. Keller's sermon on a selection of proverbs (17:17; 18:24; 25:17,20; 26:18-19; 27:5, 6, 9, 14, 17; 28:23; 29:5) is excellent for its content alone and I would encourage you to listen to it just for that. But if you do listen to it, consider also the law/Gospel journey he takes you on.

I'll attempt to outline his sermon using his own language in black and then show what lies behind what he is doing in my words in blue:

[THE LAW - describes the way life ought to be. The law is good as it shows the creation standard of how we should live. Therefore we should delight in it and live it out]

1. The Uniqueness of Friendship

Friendship offers something different to other relationships (familial, romantic) but in most societies is pushed out. Particularly in our busy and mobile culture.

2. The discovery of a friendship

Friendship requires a common foundation which is a common object of love. Friendship cannot be forged alone, but must be discovered.

3. The forging of the friendship

Once discovered the friendship needs to be forged (i.e. strengthened)

The 4 marks of true friendship are:

  • Constancy - availability, even in the difficult times
  • Carefulness - emotional connection given voluntarily meaning you mourn when they mourn and rejoice when they rejoice
  • Candour - we love our friends enough that we say difficult things for their own good even though it costs us
  • Counsel - Two way: Openness about yourself as well as rebuking and advising them

Conclusion of points 1-3

discovery + forging + time = friendship [the law is nothing if not logical, input the works and out comes the result]

[THE TURN - most good narratives have a 'turn' (I think the term exists in plot analysis, although wikipedia refers to it as 'the climax'). I can't think if I have heard this term anywhere talking about law/Gospel, but I think it is helpful to distinguish this moment when the Law ends and the Gospel come in. Keller is a master at this. At this point the law is fully understood and its weight felt. Up to now it has been presented as advice and a model. What this deeply attractive model has been doing to us is then brought to the surface and spelt out.]

Introduction to point 4

Having painted this picture of a perfect friendship two things happen:

  1. [Firstly the law reveals the power of sin, and shows us how we suffer under Sin in contrast to the way the world ought to be] We have a feeling of longing - Friends are taken away faster than we can make them so we do not have all the friends our hearts need.
  2. [Secondly the law reveals the penalty that is due us because we are part of the problem as we don't just suffer but cause suffering] We find the profile crushing - One of the reasons we don't have friends is because we fail to be great friends ourselves. We find it difficult to be transparent and we are reluctant to give the gift of emotional connection.

[THE GOSPEL: the solution is Christ and his substitutionary death and resurrection for us]

4. The power of friendship

Where then do we find the power to be the friends we need to be to have the friends we need to have?

[Jesus fulfils the law as he lives the perfect life, and he does it all for us:]

John 15: Jesus calls us his friends. But he is the perfect friend who lays down his life for us.

Genesis 1-3: We walked with God (a Hebrew way of describing friendship) but we turned our back on him. Most friends we do this to would turn on us in response but God didn't do that.

[Jesus died suffering the power and penalty of sin so that we could be freed from both:]

The cross: Christ lost his friendship with God so that he could have friendship with us. He went to hell for the sake of his friends.

[As he took our death now he gives us his life to us so that we share in all he has - inc his friendship with God:]

As we now have friendship with God, all our friendship eggs are not in the human basket so we are liberated to be the friend that we ought to be.

[In the church we taste the new creation that he has bought for us:]

God, in Christ, also creates the church where we share a common object of love, and yet are different so have 'constructive clash' (iron sharpening iron), so we can experience rich friendships in the church now.

[Only bit I think Keller is missing is a pointer to the future hope of perfect friendships with God and other people]

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