So what makes a friend a friend? And when I speak of friends, I am not thinking of those we might casually refer to in that way, but those with whom you have a close and enduring bond — a bond that is strengthened, not weakened by trials and difficulties and with whom love is the only right word to describe the affection that you have for one another. When I was a teenager and in my early twenties, I used to describe this kind of friend as one who you would trust with your car, your girlfriend, and your credit card. Now that I am older, I would describe such a person as the kind of person that I am content simply being with in life together…you know, the kind of person that it doesn’t really matter if you are doing something in particular, but simply being together is enough. It is the kind of person with whom you can disagree and it doesn’t really matter because your relationship is not established on points of common opinion, but instead is built on life together.
It is the kind of relationship that Sherlock Holmes is portrayed as having with John Watson; the mysteries that Doyle wrote about simply provided the backdrop; what made the stories was the relationship between these two men — these two friends. While this is the kind of friendship we ought to have with our spouses, it is often not limited to our spouses. It is the kind of friendship we ought to have with our families, though families often fall short and it is typically not limited to family relationships. And, this is the relationship we ought to strive for with other Christians, though such relationships are often had outside of the church. And, it is a relationship that typically is built over time, while going through the ups and especially through the downs of life together. If our lives are described as part of the tapestry of history, these friends would be the strands that not only are intertwined with our own but also whose color so blends with ours that at a glance, the two threads almost appear to be one.
I have been doing my devotions of late in the scripture passages that deal with the life of Abraham. And what strikes me as remarkable is that despite the messiness of his life and despite his failures and sins, Abraham is not only called the father of the faithful (Romans 4:11-12,16; Galatians 3:7), but Abraham is also called “Friend of God” (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). Scripture tells us that God spoke to Moses face to face as one speaks with a friend (Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10) and Jesus says to his disciples at the last supper, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15), but it is Abraham that history has marked off as the one having such a relationship with God that he is called “friend of God.”
So, what marked Abraham’s relationship in this way? Certainly this was God’s design, but what can we learn about this friendship that can be applied to our relationships with each other and to our relationship with God? The first thing that we should note is that while God was always faithful on “his end” of the friendship, Abraham was not. Yet, Abraham’s failures did not compromise the friendship he had with God. We should secondly note that their friendship was not defined by the destination or by the promise. Abraham spent nearly his entire relationship with God as a wanderer in the land of Canaan and Egypt. He knew that God had promised him the land, but he also knew that it would be distant ancestors that would actually inherit the promise after spending more than 400 years in Egypt (Genesis 15:13-14). Abraham would die long before the promise was fulfilled. In fact, Abraham received the initial call from God to leave the land of Ur prior to receiving the promise that God would make his descendants a great nation (Acts 7:2-4). It would only be in connection with the call to leave Haran after his father’s death, that the covenantal promise was given (Genesis 12:1-3). We might suggest that the friendship was strengthened by the covenant and promise of God, but clearly it did not begin with these things.
If I were to speculate, I think that it would also be safe to say that Abraham’s relationship was also not based on common likes and dislikes or on common experiences. Certainly Abraham disliked many of the things that God dislikes and it is true that God enters into our experiences as we are in relationship with him, but this still seems to be a superficial place to ground our understanding of this very special friendship. There is no questions that these things, whether experiences or the covenant, were part of the maturing of this friendship (at least on Abraham’s side), but they do not seem to be the essence of the relationship.
I would suggest that the essence of the friendship that Abraham had with God was not in knowing where they were going or how they would get there, but in knowing that they were going in that direction together. And I think that this principle applies to our friendships with other humans as well. We began not by asking about Abraham’s relationship with God, but with the question of what makes a friend a friend — or, what distinguishes the deep and genuine friendships from the casual (and often superficial) friendships that we have. The answer is that those deep friendships are built not so much upon what we do, but upon doing it together — even when we are not doing anything in particular.
God could have taken Abraham on a trek that extended across the breadth of Africa or into the mountains of Tibet and it would not have mattered so long as they were making the trip together. Sherlock Holmes, apart from John Watson, was depressed and bored with life, even to the extent of experimenting with mainlining cocaine to free him from his boredom. It was Watson who kept Holmes grounded, focused, and (in most cases) clean from his drug use. It was nothing Watson did, it was Watson’s mere presence. Husbands and wives often do many romantic things as they are building their relationship, but ultimately there comes a point (because life otherwise gets in the way and struggles arise), where they are forced to realize that what really matters is not so much those romantic episodes, but that they are living life together, facing trials together, hurting together, and loving together.
Moses said to God that what made God’s people distinct from all of the other nations of the earth was his presence with them (Exodus 33:16). That indeed is true of the church in a corporate sense and of Christians in a personal sense, but that is also true of friendship as well. What makes your friendship with me genuine friendship is your presence with me and vice-versa. The deepest friendships are marked by presence — a presence that is needed, desired, and even yearned for — and as a result of that common presence, our stories become so intertwined together that from a distance they almost seem to be one and inseparable.
“And I say to you, make for yourselves intimate friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness, in order that when it may fail, they may receive you into eternal tabernacles.”
We should perhaps begin by asking ourselves the question as to what Jesus means by speaking of “eternal tabernacles” or “eternal dwellings.” This is a phrase that is unique to the New Testament and to the Greek translation of the Old Testament as well. We do know, though, that the term aijw/nioß (aionios), which we translate as “eternal” is normally used in terms of speaking of the afterlife—though it is used to speak in terms of both heaven and hell (though it is most often used of heaven). We also know that the term skhnh/ (skana), translated here as “tabernacle,” can refer to any kind of temporary shelter or dwelling, but is the same term that is used to translate the Hebrew word !K’v.mi (mishkan), or “Tabernacle.” Thus, in certain contexts, the term skhnh/ (skana) carries with it important Old Testament theological significance. The Tabernacle, of course, being where God dwelt in his presence, it seems reasonable, then, when Jesus talks of eternal Tabernacles, he is talking about eternal life in heaven or at least eternal life with God (as this is something that begins in this life given that God dwells in the tabernacle of the believer through his Holy Spirit). This is also consistent with the contrast that we saw in the previous verses between the sons of light and the sons of this age—“this age” being contrasted with “eternity.” Beloved, this age will pass away, but eternity will go on forever.
I guess the next logical question is to ask what is the “mammon of unrighteousness” and how does one use such a thing to make friends. The first thing that we should note it the nature of the friendships that are being spoken of. The term that Jesus employs is fi/loß (philos), which reflects an intimate friendship or a dear friend. This is not a casual relationship, but a relationship that has been strengthened by sharing hardships as well as good times. It is not a friendship that will easily fall away.
In terms of “mammon,” there is quite a bit of discussion. The simplest answer to this question is to see it as a personification of wealth as in Matthew 6:24. Some scholars have suggested that the term mamwnavß (mamonas), might be derived from the Hiphil participle of the Hebrew verb !mea’ (amen), which would be spelled !ymia]m; (maamin). In Hebrew, the Hiphil form is a causative tense and a participle, as in English, can be used substantively as a noun (the runner). In layman’s terms, to use this verb in such a way can convey the idea of something that causes you to place your trust (the meaning of !mea’) in it rather than in God. And indeed, wealth is a prime culprit, if it is not the primary culprit, of doing just that. Yet, let us not limit our definition to wealth, but let us include all things that can turn the heart of man away from trusting in God. It can reflect prestige, fame, possessions, etc… Anything that you put your trust in apart from God becomes mammon, and in the context of the passage, these worldly things are unrighteous as well as they are not the things of God.
The simple answer, then, to our question, is that this steward used the worldly wealth to make friends or to become favored by those of this world—including his master. Now, there is more to the question, but it would behoove us to put the final puzzle pieces in place before we began to assemble them to draw a conclusion. Take, though, this simple principle. God has given us worldly wealth for a reason and for a purpose, and that purpose is so that we might be a blessing to the world around us. Yet, we are called to be a blessing to the world around us not just so that we will have lots of people like us, but so that we will draw lots of people to Christ. Indeed, as from God’s hand comes all good things, are we not just stewards of God’s possessions? Are we not stewards of the created order itself? If the intention of our stewardship is to use these worldly things to draw others to faith in Jesus Christ, how faithful are we being in the task to which we have been called? How consistently are we either faithful or unfaithful with the things that God has given us?