STUDY ARTICLE 44
Build Strong Friendships Before the End Comes
“A true friend shows love at all times.”—PROV. 17:17.
SONG 101 Working Together in Unity
1-2. According to 1 Peter 4:7, 8, what will help us to cope with adversities?
AS WE move deeper into “the last days,” we may face severe adversities. (2 Tim. 3:1) For example, after an election campaign, a country in western Africa was torn apart by social unrest and mob violence. For over six months, our brothers and sisters could not move about freely because they were in a combat zone. What helped them to cope with such hardships? Some found refuge in the homes of brothers living in a safer area. One brother reported: “In such a situation, I appreciated having friends around me. We were able to encourage one another.”
2 When “the great tribulation” strikes, we will appreciate having good friends who love us. (Rev. 7:14) So it is urgent that we build strong bonds of friendship now. (Read 1 Peter 4:7, 8.) We can learn much from the experience of Jeremiah, whose friends helped him survive during the time leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem.b How can we imitate Jeremiah?
LEARN FROM JEREMIAH’S EXAMPLE
3. (a) What could have caused Jeremiah to isolate himself? (b) What did Jeremiah disclose to his secretary Baruch, and with what result?
3 For at least 40 years, Jeremiah lived among disloyal people, including neighbors and possibly some relatives from his hometown of Anathoth. (Jer. 11:21; 12:6) However, he did not isolate himself. In fact, he expressed his feelings to his loyal secretary Baruch and ultimately to us. (Jer. 8:21; 9:1; 20:14-18; 45:1) We can well imagine that as Baruch wrote down Jeremiah’s eventful story, the two developed deep affection and respect for each other.—Jer. 20:1, 2; 26:7-11.
4. What did Jehovah ask Jeremiah to do, and how did this assignment strengthen the friendship between Jeremiah and Baruch?
4 For many years, Jeremiah had boldly warned the Israelites about what was going to happen to Jerusalem. (Jer. 25:3) In a further attempt to move the people to repentance, Jehovah asked Jeremiah to write His warnings on a scroll. (Jer. 36:1-4) As Jeremiah and Baruch worked closely together on this God-given task, which probably lasted several months, they no doubt had faith-strengthening conversations.
5. How did Baruch prove to be a good friend to Jeremiah?
5 When the time came for the contents of the scroll to be revealed, Jeremiah had to rely on his friend Baruch to deliver the message. (Jer. 36:5, 6) Baruch courageously fulfilled his dangerous assignment. Can you imagine how proud Jeremiah must have felt when Baruch went to the temple courtyard and did what he had been asked to do? (Jer. 36:8-10) The princes of Judah heard what Baruch had done, and they commanded him to read the scroll aloud to them! (Jer. 36:14, 15) The princes decided to tell King Jehoiakim what Jeremiah had said. Considerately, they told Baruch: “Go and hide yourselves, you and Jeremiah, and do not let anyone know where you are.” (Jer. 36:16-19) That was good advice!
6. How did Jeremiah and Baruch respond to opposition?
6 King Jehoiakim got so angry when he heard the words written by Jeremiah that he burned the scroll and ordered the arrest of Jeremiah and Baruch. However, Jeremiah was not intimidated. He took another scroll, gave it to Baruch, and as Jeremiah dictated Jehovah’s message, Baruch wrote “all the words of the scroll that King Jehoiakim of Judah had burned in the fire.”—Jer. 36:26-28, 32.
7. What likely happened as Jeremiah and Baruch worked together?
7 People who live through a trial together often form a close bond. So we can imagine that as they worked together to replace the scroll destroyed by wicked King Jehoiakim, Jeremiah and Baruch developed greater appreciation for each other’s qualities. How can we benefit from the example set by these two faithful men?
8. What might hinder us from making close friends, and why should we not give up?
8 We may find it difficult to open up to others because someone might have hurt us in the past. (Prov. 18:19, 24) Or we may feel that we lack the time and energy to cultivate close relationships. However, we should not give up. If we want our brothers to stand by us when trials come, we must learn to trust them now with our thoughts and feelings. That is an important step toward becoming true friends.—1 Pet. 1:22.
9. (a) How did Jesus show that he trusted his friends? (b) How can open communication help you to deepen your relationships with others? Give an example.
9 Jesus showed that he trusted his friends by communicating openly with them. (John 15:15) We can imitate him by sharing our joys, concerns, and disappointments with others. Listen carefully as someone talks to you, and you may learn that you have many thoughts, feelings, and goals in common. Consider the example of Cindy, a sister in her 20’s. She befriended a pioneer in her 60’s named Marie-Louise. Cindy and Marie-Louise work together in field service every Thursday morning, and they talk freely with each other about a variety of subjects. Cindy says, “I enjoy having deep conversations with friends because this helps me to know and understand them better.” Friendship thrives in the warm atmosphere of open communication. Like Cindy, if you take the initiative to have warm and open conversations with others, your friendships with them are likely to grow.—Prov. 27:9.
10. According to Proverbs 27:17, what can result when we work alongside fellow believers?
10 As happened in the case of Jeremiah and Baruch, when we work alongside fellow believers and observe firsthand their endearing qualities, we learn from them and draw closer to them. (Read Proverbs 27:17.) For example, how do you feel when you are in the ministry and you hear your friend boldly defend his faith or speak with heartfelt conviction about Jehovah and his purposes? Likely you feel drawn to him even more.
11-12. Give an example of how sharing in the ministry can help us to strengthen our friendships.
11 Consider two experiences that show how working in the ministry draws people together. Adeline, a 23-year-old sister, asked one of her friends, Candice, to go with her to preach in seldom-worked territory. “We wanted to be more motivated and to enjoy the ministry more,” she says. “We both needed a spiritual boost.” How did they benefit from working together? “At the end of each day,” says Adeline, “we discussed how we felt, what touched us about the conversations we had, and how we sensed Jehovah’s direction in our ministry. We both enjoyed these deep discussions and got to know each other even better.”
12 Laïla and Marianne, two single sisters from France, went preaching for five weeks in Bangui, the bustling capital of the Central African Republic. Laïla recalls: “Marianne and I experienced difficulties, but thanks to good communication and genuine love, our friendship grew stronger. As I observed Marianne’s flexibility, her love for the local people, and her zeal in the ministry, my admiration for her increased.” You do not have to move to a foreign country to enjoy these benefits. Each time you work in your local territory with a brother or sister, you have the opportunity to get to know that one better and to strengthen your bond of friendship.
FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE, AND BE FORGIVING
13. What challenge might we face when we work closely with our friends?
13 Sometimes when we work closely with our friends, we become aware not only of their strengths but also of their weaknesses. What can help us deal with this challenge? Again consider the example of Jeremiah. What helped him to see the good in others and to overlook their failings?
14. What did Jeremiah learn about Jehovah, and how did this help him?
14 Jeremiah wrote the book named after him, and he likely also wrote the Bible books of 1 and 2 Kings. That assignment no doubt made him especially aware of Jehovah’s mercy toward imperfect humans. For example, he knew that when King Ahab repented of his bad deeds, Jehovah spared him from seeing his entire family destroyed during his lifetime. (1 Ki. 21:27-29) Similarly, Jeremiah knew that Manasseh did even more to offend Jehovah than Ahab did. Even so, Jehovah forgave Manasseh because he repented. (2 Ki. 21:16, 17; 2 Chron. 33:10-13) Those accounts must have helped Jeremiah to imitate God’s patience and mercy in his own dealings with his close friends.—Ps. 103:8, 9.
15. How did Jeremiah imitate Jehovah’s patience when Baruch became distracted?
15 Consider how Jeremiah dealt with Baruch when he temporarily became distracted in his assignment. Instead of quickly giving up on his friend, Jeremiah helped Baruch by sharing God’s kind but frank message with him. (Jer. 45:1-5) What lessons can we learn from this account?
16. As shown at Proverbs 17:9, what do we need to do to keep our friendships alive?
16 Realistically, we cannot expect perfection from our brothers and sisters. Therefore, once we have formed close friendships, we need to work hard at keeping those newly formed bonds alive. If our friends make a mistake, we may need to give kind but frank counsel based on God’s Word. (Ps. 141:5) And if they hurt us, we need to forgive them. Once we have forgiven them, we must avoid the temptation to bring the offense up again in the future. (Read Proverbs 17:9.) How vital it is during these critical times to focus on the strengths of our brothers and sisters rather than on their weaknesses! Doing so strengthens the bond we share with them, and we will need close friends during the great tribulation.
SHOW LOYAL LOVE
17. How did Jeremiah prove to be a true friend in times of distress?
17 The prophet Jeremiah proved to be a true friend in times of distress. For instance, after the court official Ebed-melech rescued Jeremiah from certain death in a miry cistern, Ebed-melech feared that the princes would harm him. When Jeremiah learned about it, he did not remain silent, hoping that his friend would somehow cope on his own. Although Jeremiah was imprisoned, he did what he could by sharing Jehovah’s comforting promise with his friend Ebed-melech.—Jer. 38:7-13; 39:15-18.
18. According to Proverbs 17:17, how should we respond when a friend is going through hardship?
18 Today, our brothers and sisters face a variety of challenges. For instance, many suffer from natural or man-made disasters. When that happens, some of us may be able to welcome these friends into our home. Others may be able to help financially. But all of us can ask Jehovah to help our brothers and sisters. If we learn that a brother or sister is discouraged, we may not know what to say or how to react. But all of us have much to offer. For example, we can make time to be with our friend. We can listen sympathetically when he or she speaks. And we can share our favorite comforting scripture. (Isa. 50:4) What matters most is that you are there with your friends when they need you.—Read Proverbs 17:17.
19. How will building strong friendships now help us in the future?
19 We must be determined to build and maintain strong relationships with our brothers and sisters now. Why? Because our enemies will try to divide us by means of lies and misinformation. They will try to turn us against one another. But their efforts will be wasted. They will be unable to break our bonds of love. Nothing they do will disrupt the friendships we have formed. In fact, those friendships will last not only through the end of this system but for eternity!
SONG 24 Come to Jehovah’s Mountain
a As the end draws near, we all need to strengthen our relationships with fellow believers. In this article, we will examine what we can learn from the experience of Jeremiah. We will also discuss how developing close friendships today will help us in times of trial.
b Events in the book of Jeremiah are not presented in chronological order.
c PICTURE DESCRIPTIONS: This scene depicts what may happen in the future during “the great tribulation.” Several brothers and sisters take shelter in an attic. They find comfort in one another’s companionship during that time of trial. The following three scenes depict that the same brothers and sisters had formed strong friendships well before the beginning of the great tribulation.