Necessary Networks
Tony Cooke

Necessary Networks by Tony CookeWe were designed to be in relationship and in fellowship with others. Our journey through life was never intended to be made in isolation, cut off from others. There is truth and value in having a “personal relationship with God.” We hear that phrase often. However, we also have the privilege and the necessity of being properly connected with others as well. Someone said, “Our navel is a constant reminder that we all started life connected to another human being. We spend all of our lives trying to get reconnected to someone. God created us as relational people.”

While our trust should always be in God, it is amazing how many times God chooses to work through people in our lives. That is why relationships are so vital. So frequently, relationships are a bridge that God uses to bring blessing into our lives AND to use us to bring blessings into the lives of others. It’s difficult for blessings to travel that bridge when we are isolated and distant from others.

One of the benefits of having strong relationships is that of risk reduction. Life is challenging at best, but our chances of success increase drastically when we are strongly connected with others. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NLT) states, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” Perhaps that is part of the reason that Jesus sent his disciples out to minister “two by two” (Mark 6:7).

Paul certainly trusted God, but he also reduced his vulnerability in certain situations by his associations. For example, when the riot was taking place in Ephesus, it could be argued that Paul’s life was saved because he listened to the counsel of others

Acts 19:30-31
30 And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. 31 Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater.

Two important elements here—first, Paul had regular friends or disciples who were influencing him, and then he had high-ranking government officials who were communicating with him as well. Paul had the good sense to realize that he should listen to the counsel provided by these people who cared about his welfare. He didn’t stubbornly insist on doing what he wanted to do.

In another situation, when there was a plot against Paul’s life, we see that Paul received help from one of his family members.

Acts 23:16-17
16 So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.”

What Paul’s nephew communicated to the commander resulted in provision being made for Paul’s safety. When his nephew approached Paul with the information, Paul did not brush him off and say, “Don’t worry about it. I’m trusting God. Go on about your business.” Instead, Paul benefitted from the natural information that came to him. He recognized that God could work through natural sources and natural relationships just as much as he can operate supernaturally.

When Paul was a prisoner on a ship en route to Rome in Acts 27, he was under the custody of, “…a Roman officer named Julius, a captain of the Imperial Regiment” (Acts 27:1, NLT). Paul had favor, not only with God, but also with men. In some of the verses that follow we read:

Acts 27:3 (NLT)
3 …Julius was very kind to Paul and let him go ashore to visit with friends so they could provide for his needs.

Acts 27:42-43 (NLT)
42 The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to make sure they didn’t swim ashore and escape. 43 But the commanding officer wanted to spare Paul, so he didn’t let them carry out their plan.

Paul recognized that God gave him favor with people, and worked through that favor to help him survive and succeed. Paul did not have an attitude of, “I only need God. I don’t need anyone else.” Charles Brower rightly said, “Few people are successful unless a lot of other people want them to be.” It’s true that there are occasional exceptions to this (e.g. 2 Tim 4:16-18), life typically goes much better when we have people in our corner and on our team.

An overview of the Bible reveals divine connections in the lives of God’s servants:

Joseph (Genesis 39:21)
“But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.”

Daniel (Daniel 1:9)
“Now God had brought Daniel into the favor and goodwill of the chief of the eunuchs.”

Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:11 NLT)
“‘Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.’ In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer.”

Many of the people God used were strategically connected; they had “friends in high places.” And remember, the Kings of Israel all had advisors. Proverbs 15:22 states, “Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.”

Paul was physically battered again and again, and he was accompanied on many of his travels by “Luke the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). Paul was also friends with Erastus, a city official in Corinth (Romans 6:23).

Romans 16 is a great testimony to the network of people that Paul had in his life. Consider a couple of his statements:

  • Phoebe – “…she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (Romans 16:2).
  • “Mary, who labored much for us” (Romans 16:6).
  • “Greet Rufus, …and also his dear mother, who has been a mother to me” (Romans 16:13).

Keep in mind that all of these relationships were designed to be two-way streets. I should not just look around to see who I think can help me get ahead, but I should consider, “Who can I help advance?” I love the approach Howard Hendricks advocates. He admonishes: “Every disciple needs three types of relationships in his life. He needs a ‘Paul’ who can mentor him and challenge him. He needs a ‘Barnabas’ who can come along side and encourage him. And he needs a ‘Timothy,’ someone that he can pour his life into.”

Paul gives some great counsel in Romans 12:15-16 (MSG). He writes, “Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” Good and strong relationships don’t just happen. They are cultivated and developed by investing time and attention in other people. There are keys to doing this. We should always be sincere, and we should always be mindful of adding value to other people. We also need to take time to be genuinely thankful for the people that God has placed in our lives, especially those who have helped us in our journey.

In closing here are some great quotes for consideration:

“Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for ‘tis better to be alone than in bad company.”
– George Washington

“A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.”
– Arnold Glasow

“I have friends in overalls whose friendship I would not swap for the favor of the kings of the world.”
– Thomas Edison

“If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself alone. A man should keep his friendships in constant repair.”
– Samuel Johnson

“The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridges to cross and which ones to burn.”
– David Russell

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
– Isaac Newton

Remember the great truth articulated in Proverbs 3:4 (NLT), “Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation.” Our prayer for you this month is that you will have rich relationships with significant people throughout your journey, and that you will both receive and give much from all those God connects you with. We are grateful for you, and we are glad to be journeying together into the fullness of God’s will with you.