If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
…But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshipers. || Psalm 55.12-14
It is not the wounds of an enemy that bruise deepest and burn the longest, but rather the wounds that come from those who had been “companions”, “close friends”, and with whom we “once enjoyed sweet fellowship.”
The Psalmist here gives vent to this most trying fact of life, and as it will be the experience of every believer at some point in their lives, it is fitting for us to reflect upon it.
There are seasons of the pilgrimage for every child of God when those with whom we once walked closely are turned against us, and these seasons are filled with perplexities and vexations of soul which have the propensity to dislodge our bearings in the profoundest of ways.
This may occur within the family context, within the context of fellowship, and even within the context of ministry, with those that you’ve sought to build the house of God with. All of these are painful, but the latter can be particularly vexing, as fractured relationships and razed vision give way to unwise, damaging, even sinful ways of handling the aftermath of such collapses.
The Psalmist feels as if he cannot “endure it”, and this may be the case in like experiences through which we are required to pass.
Broken ministry relationships can have stinging reverberations which come back in waves for many years. When we are required by God to hold the line on an issue of Biblical conviction, one which leads to a fallout with another leader who sees things differently, or is perhaps even compromising clear Biblical truth, even the fact that we’ve clung to Godly convictions does not immediately give solace or dissolve the pain of that fractured friendship.
It can be baffling to see how leaders- even Godly men, on many accounts- handle the aftermath of a moral collapse, or how they seek to keep the ministry-house standing, though its foundations be filled with cracks. The accuser of the brethren is always speaking, distance with former companions gives way to suspicions and unfounded assumptions, and confusion, depression, and disillusionment can ebb and flow unexpectedly at any given time, often inexplicably.
Add to that the perpetual question of your own sins and shortcomings, the question of how you may have fallen short in the process, and you have a recipe for the kinds of fatalistic emotions the Psalmist was dealing with at the front-end of this Psalm. A man in this kind of whirlwind is often brought to the same thought, “I cannot endure it.”
Then there is the one who had previously been counted a “close friend.” There is no guarantee that he or she will be brought to repentance and a reconciliation effected. There may be a messy conglomeration of lies, misunderstandings, manipulation, and harsh words included in the package, and the mess of it may not be so clear to others. You may be required to bear knowledge of things about this friend without giving vent to that which you feel would justify your name in the situation.
We must find rest in the Sovereignty of God, knowing that all these things are working for our humbling and sanctification, and that if indeed our former companion belongs to Him, He will see to the discipline and restoration of those that He loves.
In these kinds of situations, the cycle of temptation will be one of self-righteousness, defensiveness, anger, defensiveness, gossip, and unforgiveness. This may be inflamed further when you see the way in which your former companion goes on with his or her life, continuing to function upon the very faulty foundation with which you had such serious concerns from the beginning.
…His talk is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.
Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken. || Psalm 55.21-22
The manipulative man may have speech which is “smooth as butter,” but “war is in his heart.” He may have “soothing” speech to those who do not know his true condition, but his words are “drawn swords” that stab and slice those who stand in the way of his self-driven vision. One of the most tragic things about his deception is that even for him, the destructive dagger may be cloaked in noble aspirations. This makes our fractured relationships to be filled with subtleties, and thus more prone to confusion.
We should not be surprised by this, though we often are. The human heart is deceitful, and we cannot know the depth of our own sinfulness. Our self-life is a jagged thing, and all of its doings leave abrasions and lacerations on the souls of others, and indeed, on our own souls also.
The “war” in a man’s heart is not always so obvious to him. It may not be externally vindictive, his persona may be “smooth as butter”, but don’t be mistaken, there is a war on. He has no hope— we have no hope— except in “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
We ought to have mercy upon the one with whom we’ve had a fallout, for in a very poignant sense we are all at war inwardly. The war in the former-companion’s soul is not explained by the Hollywood scenario of “good guy” verses “bad guy.” It is more complex, for the war has to do with sin. Men draw swords to protect their petty kingdoms in ministry because they are not operating upon the sure foundation that only the Father of Lights, the Prince of Peace, and the Spirit of Truth can establish within us.
Wars rage in men’s hearts because they are not living on the basis of Gospel-sonship— they are not free to submit to the Word and to a local body of believers because they are not free indeed. They have something in keeping with their own name yet to prove. Thus they go about responding to the itch for significance, and however soothing their persona might be, they are likely to butcher the clear requirements of Scripture and to sink their swords into anyone who would love them enough to raise a question about the fragmented foundation they’re seeking to build upon.
They may never come to a willingness to hear true correction from loving brethren, and you cannot cater to that unwillingness or give false affirmation to their ministry, or else you cease to love truth and cease to love them. You cannot compromise the Scriptures, you must hold the line, and this includes both holding fast to Biblical convictions, and doing all that you do “in love,” with a heart of mercy. This is a supernatural task.
We are a broken people, indeed. In every kind of ministry expression- foreign missions, local churches, para-church works- there are men and women operating in unqualified ways. They may give heed to certain Scriptures which feed their ministry visions and identities, but they do not give ample heed to Scriptures which pertain to Gospel foundations, nor to the nature of what God requires of His workers.
We are all subject to deception in these ways, and it is only through much prayer, painstaking attention to the Scriptures, keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, and vulnerable, accountable fellowship with the saints that we find clarity and help to build the house of God aright. The neglect of these ancient paths has produced many a bruised reed and many an aborted ministry (even if the shell of that ministry endures), in the pursuit even of noble endeavors.
We are not qualified for ministry by any talent or attribute of the flesh, we are qualified only by God, in accordance with the faith which has been articulated in the Divinely-breathed wisdom of Holy Scripture.
The ramifications of fractured relationships are grave unless grace intervenes. There is only one remedy here for the Psalmist, and for us.
Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.
Taking up our cross means daily relinquishing our rights for a turbulence-free life; daily relinquishing any ties we would maintain for revenge, and instead offering up perpetual forgiveness; daily offering up secret intercessions for those who may have wronged us; daily relinquishing any thought that were we in the shoes of our offender, we would have been any wiser or acted any better, apart from the grace of God.
Casting our cares upon the LORD means entrusting our past, present, and future to the hands of the Potter, and leaving our former companions to His dealings, the One who is faithful and true, and who is coming soon to give reward and recompense, according to what each of us has done. There is a Day coming when all of our thoughts, words, and ministry endeavors will be tried by the fire of God. He will reward His people for all that has been given of Him, built in accordance with His way. All else will be reduced to ashes.
It behooves us to examine ourselves, to see to it that we be found in faith, and that we ourselves are building the church in the manner and spirit that God would have us to, knowing that “we shall all stand before the Judgment seat of Christ.” This truth provides hope for our pilgrimage, and that amazing grace which teaches our hearts to fear rightly.
We can be sure that as we are made righteous through the Gospel, as we seek rest only in Christ, He will sustain us. The righteous are not righteous of their own accord. They are those who have been justified by Christ and who are thus continuing in faith and repentance. They are those who are continually being reformed by the Scriptures and refined by the Spirit. They will never be shaken.
It is in that one hope that the war in our hearts may be silenced. It is in that one hope that the war in the hearts of our former friends may be brought into the self-same peace- a happy surrender to the King and His Kingdom. Let us pray for that sweet reality to be brought to bear in our own lives, in the lives of our enemies, and in the lives of our former companions.
May it be so for the sake of Your Name, You Who are both Faithful and True, the One who has purposed to “reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” Be so merciful to us, that we would be found in that privileged company of friends, that we would grow up into Christ and be made whole together in Him, even with former-companions restored to us as brethren, tasting together the goodness of God, entering together into the joy of His everlasting Kingdom. We ask these things in good faith that it would be pleasing to Your heart, O God. Amen.