You get by with a little help from your friends
Some say Tracey Crouch is the first minister to tackle the problem of loneliness. Crouch was appointed “Minister for Loneliness” in Great Britain this year.
She may be a perfect fit. Even with a network of friends and family, after giving birth to her first child she felt “cut off from the world.” And after joining Parliament she described that time as a “very lonely place.”
Prime Minister Theresa May appointed her due to a report a year earlier which revealed that more than 9 million people in Britain — around 14 percent of the population — “often or always feel lonely.”
America might need a Minister for Loneliness too. Vivek Murthy, former Surgeon General of the United States, wrote that “Loneliness is a growing health epidemic … rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s … over 40 percent of adults in America report feeling lonely.”
Ever need a Minister for Loneliness? I have. You can be lonely even when you are not alone. You’ve had moments where you felt that no one understood you. No one listened deeply. Like Tracey Crouch you may have had a relational network but still felt cut off from the world. Loneliness does not discriminate. The rich, poor, male, female, old and young can feel its sting.
The Apostle Paul may have some help for us. Paul may not have intended to be a Minister for Loneliness, but he was one. Everywhere he went he built relationships. He did not minister alone. Reading through his writings is like taking a trip through Paul’s book of friends.
It may not have always been like that for Paul. He had been changed by Jesus from a person bent on killing people to one that kept collecting people. In Colossians alone he mentions 12 people. Paul tells us something about the gospel: it’s always relational.
And, unlike what some would teach today concerning how to grow a church, Paul did not adhere to the homogenous principle. You can have a network of friends who are diverse. Here’s a quick view of some of his Colossian list:
A slave: Onesimus. His name means “useful one.” He, too, is helping deliver the letter. We know from Philemon he was a runaway slave. Paul had connected with him in prison and is now sending someone who was “useless” to Philemon back as someone “useful.”
A doctor: Luke is called the “dearly beloved physician.” When you add the Gospel of Luke and Acts he becomes one of the most significant voices in the early church period.
A homeowner: Paul then sends greetings to the church in Laodicea, especially the church that met in Nympha’s house. She may have been instrumental in the teaching and leadership of the house church, too.
But we do know at the least offering hospitality in your home aided the spread of the gospel. If all you have to offer is your home, it is something God can use in a great way.
A deserter: Demas. There is no description concerning his role in ministry with Paul or his friendship. In 2 Timothy 4:10 — written maybe three to four years after Colossians — Paul writes: “Demas has deserted me, since he loved this present world, and has gone to Thessalonica.” Can you hear the heartbreak in Paul? The disappointment? Maybe even the frustration?
If so, you can relate, can’t you? You’ve had people desert you. Like Paul, you’ve had people who have traveled alongside you in life. People who have ministered side by side with you in church. People who you’ve shared your heart with.
And then they leave. They desert you. They abandon you. They forsake you. That’s what the word means. And more than the meaning you know the feeling, don’t you? It’s often a struggle to know what to say when people leave.
Paul helps us. He says nothing. No description. No false praise. It’s like being at a dinner party and the name Demas comes up and Paul just looks at you without any response. Silence speaks loudly.
He does say in 2 Timothy that Demas deserted him because “he loves the present world.” This is not true for all cases, but in many cases, when someone deserts you and the ministry of the particular church you are a part of, it may be that they love the present world more than the kingdom world. Instead of staying and growing, they find a reason to leave and go.
We have all experienced a Demas or two in our lifetime. And when you do you experience loneliness. But when loneliness hits, don’t let it win.
Paul kept moving forward with those who stayed with him. His highest value was faithful fellowship in Christ. Be true to those who claim to be part of the fellowship with you. Find others who have learned to be faithful to Christ and they will be faithful to you as a friend.
Paul ends Colossians with a simple blessing: “Grace be with you.” “Grace” sums up his message. Grace is not about Jesus plus anything else. Grace is about Jesus. Period.