Is there a difference between a friend and a companion? I think so, not that both cannot be found in the same person. One denotes the quality of a relationship, the other, its accessibility. The word, “companion” comes from two ancient French words: “com” (with) and “panis” (bread). It’s a “fellow, mate, friend, or partner”; literally, “bread fellow.” In other words, it’s someone with whom we keep close, immediate company. The Bible bears this out in Proverbs 13:20: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” It’s important to choose the right companions because they soon label you. David chose his wisely, and so should we. “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (Psl. 119:63).
But what of the “companion in tribulation”? George Morrison (1866-1928) observed that when someone has known us in adversity, he or she has known us as we really are. That’s why companions who remain, and friends who stand true, during times of unspeakable fears, unanswerable questions, and unbearable pain are priceless treasures in our lives. The Apostle Paul knew what it was to have to stand alone before a judge, forsaken by all (2 Tim. 4:16); but he also had those like Luke, willing to minister to the needs of the outlaw Paul, and others like Onesiphorus, who the old man referred to as “not ashamed of my chain” (2 Tim. 1:16). Thank God for those among us who dare to be companions in tribulation, unflinching in (seemingly) questionable times, refusing to take the easy way out, like rats leaving a sinking ship.
But there may, and often does, come a point when all human consolation and sympathy is denied us. When Paul stood alone before that hostile judge, he was careful to tell us, “Notwithstanding the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me…” (2 Pet. 4:17). And when you and I reach that point where the faces of those so dear to us are removed, for one reason or another, the One who was there all the time, becomes visible to our eyes of faith. Like the Old Testament story of the three Hebrew Children in Daniel three, there comes a fourth Man in the fire, who keeps it from consuming us. He is our Companion in Tribulation!
Then the Lord Stood By Me!
When I met with storm and trial and my heart was filled with fear,
When there was no one around to speak a word of help or cheer,
When I met defeat and failure and my courage ebbed away,
When it seemed my life was useless and I found it hard to pray;
When my earthly friends forsook me and they all misunderstood,
When my works they took for evil, tho I meant them all for good,
When I walked the vale of sorrow and my heart was aching sore,
When I faced a dark tomorrow with no ray of hope before;
Then the Lord Himself stood by me,
And I had no cause to fear;
Yes, the Lord Himself stood by me!
All was changed, really changed,
All was changed when He drew near.
- John W. Peterson