READ : John 15:13-14
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15:13-15 rsv
“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Those are words from the fifteenth chapter of John’s gospel.
THE LORD CALLS US FRIENDS
Think of it! The Lord of the universe says to His flawed, oft-failing followers, “I have called you friends.”
Certain other persons in the history of Israel had been known before as God’s friends. In the prophecy of Isaiah, for example, God calls His covenant people “the offspring of Abraham, my friend.” We read of Moses in the book of Exodus that God was accustomed to speak to him “as a man speaks to his friend.” In both of these cases, the men called “friends of God” were those to whom He had spoken, to whom He had revealed Himself in a special way. Because of the relationship which God had with Abraham, He decided to let the patriarch in on His plan. We read in Genesis 18:17, “The Lord said, `Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?’ seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him? “No, for I have chosen him….” Since Abraham was God’s chosen, His covenant partner, His friend, God decided to make known to him His purpose, to share with him what He was about to do.
Centuries later, when Jesus called His disciples “friends,” the idea of revelation, of shared plans, comes through again. “No longer do I call you servants,” He says, “for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
The disciples were indeed Jesus’ “servants.” He was their Lord and Master. They belonged to Him “body and soul, in life and in death.” He had used that designation for them before: “servants.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, `A servant is not greater than his master, nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him’” (John 13:16).
But the term servant did not say all that Jesus wanted to say about His relationship to them and theirs to Him. A servant was responsible to do His Master’s bidding but he wasn’t always taken into his master’s confidence. The Lord’s servants became also his friends when he shared his vision with them. When Jesus spoke to the disciples from the Father, when He unfolded for them the purpose of God, they were initiated into a new kind of relationship with Him. They were being treated now not as bondservants but as brothers. They were not only conscripts now; they were also confidantes. They were now, as we say, “on the inside,” treated as trusted partners.
We learn something highly significant here, I think, about how friendships are formed. If I befriend someone, I show interest in that person. I perhaps reach out to him or her in caring helpfulness. I enjoy being with that one. But I may be, up to that point, still only a well wisher, a benefactor. What opens the way for genuine friendship is my letting myself be known. If I am to call you a friend in any real sense, you must know me – what I care about, what I long for, what my life goals are. Friendship becomes possible when we open our hearts to one another.
HIS FRIENDSHIP TOWARD US
Now ponder what it means that God should give to His people the designation “friends.” It’s a kind of self-revealing that expresses trust. God paid to Abraham and Moses the highest conceivable compliment. He counted on them as covenant partners. He risked sharing Himself with them, confident that they would understand and respond appropriately. And that’s what Jesus did with His disciples also. He made Himself vulnerable with them. He let them see His inmost thoughts and feelings. He bared His soul with them, told them His secret.
What does that have to do with us? These amazing words were spoken to an Abraham, to a Moses, to a Peter and a John. They had a special role to play in the unfolding of God’s purpose. Can the same words in any sense be applied to the Lord’s followers today? To ordinary believers like you, if you are a Christian? Like me? I think so. If you are listening to God’s Word, giving attention to what Jesus says about the Father and His purpose, you’re in the same category, aren’t you? You’re being taken, as it were, into the Lord’s confidence. You’re being trusted with a knowledge of His plans. You’re being honored by the Almighty as a partner and a friend. Isn’t that astonishing?
Jesus also speaks here about another dimension of friendship. Listen: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Being a friend means at heart self-disclosure, as we’ve seen. But it finds its fullest expression in self-giving, even to the point of self-sacrifice. God Himself is the model here. Jesus His Son is the living expression of this kind of friendship. He chooses a people for Himself, not because they are numerous or talented or virtuous. He simply sets His love upon them, reveals to them His name and gives Himself on their behalf.
He does this for His people in a way that’s full of gracious initiative. He doesn’t wait for them to turn toward Him or show themselves worthy of His kindness. He acts on their behalf when they are totally undeserving of it. Listen to the beautiful, powerful way in which the apostle Paul contrasts what God has done with the best in human love, “While we were yet helpless,” he writes, “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man – though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8). We had not yet begun to show ourselves kindly disposed toward God when He fulfilled for us the ministry of a true friend. He loved us and gave Himself for us.
Your friends are those who are there for you when you need them, who are ready to share what they have with you, who care enough to spend themselves extravagantly for your sake. Your friend is the one who will offer one of his kidneys for a transplant, risking health and maybe life so that you can have a chance at living. Your friend is the one who does something for you so thoughtful, so costly to her, that it floods your eyes with tears. You can’t believe such caring. You can’t begin to feel worthy of it. Blessed are those who have known such a friend!
It makes us think about being friends to others too, doesn’t it? I remember what Jonathan was to David in the Old Testament. He cared so much about his friend that he was willing to sacrifice his own ambitions and give up his right to Israel’s throne. He loved David, the Scripture says, as his own soul, and maybe more.
I remember the friend that Barnabas was to the apostle Paul. It was Barnabas who persuaded the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem to give to Paul the right hand of fellowship after he had been converted. It was Barnabas who saw a great field of opportunity for Paul in the city of Antioch and went all the way up to Tarsus to find him and bring him there. It was Barnabas who started out at the head of the missionary band but later was willing to take a back seat when the mantle of leadership fell upon Paul.
I ask myself, “What do I know about that kind of friendship?” Are there persons in my world for whom I would extend myself, deny myself, give myself like that? I hope so. The most I can claim with assurance is that I genuinely want to be that kind of friend. I trust that, in the light of the Lord’s great love and in the power of His Spirit, I can more and more move toward becoming one. Maybe that will be tested for me or for you in some supreme moment that calls for self-sacrifice. It surely will be tested every day in hidden ways, in partial gifts of ourselves, in tiny dyings. The man, the woman, who will finally die for friends is the one who from day to day is finding fresh, creative ways to live for them.
OUR FRIENDSHIP TOWARD HIM
Now Jesus tells us what it will be for us to live as His friends. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Here is our appropriate response to the self-giving love He has shown, to the friendship He has offered: that we should do as He commands.
What does Jesus look for in those whom He calls friends, in those to whom He makes known the Father’s purpose? He wants them to share the vision, to become His partners.
The obedience He wants from them has been the master theme of His own life. He said it over and over again that He had come to do the Father’s will, that He did always those things that please the Father, that He had come down from heaven not to do His own will but the will of the One who had sent Him. Even when it meant facing utter desolation, drinking the cup of forsakenness, enduring separation from His Father. His prayer was, “Not my will but thine be done.” All his life long Jesus was in the school of obedience and at the end He could say, “I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4).
The commandments Jesus gives to His followers are never matters of His personal whim. He simply passes along to them the orders He has received. “As the Father has sent me,” He says, “even so I send you” (John 20:21). They will show their friendship toward Him when they share His mission, when they embrace His cause, when they make the passion of His life their own.
And what was it that most He had in mind here? Of what commandments was He specifically speaking? The context makes it plain. Jesus says in verse 12 of John 15, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” And then later in verse 17, “This I command you, to love one another.” In other words, we show ourselves friends to Jesus Christ when we befriend His people. We respond to Christ’s love faithfully when we give ourselves to love His followers – and especially those whom He has placed around us.
When will we learn that we cannot possibly be devoted to Christ while at the same time ignoring or rejecting others who belong to Him? There is no loyalty to Christ without our being loyal to other Christians.
Once when our sons were young, Jim was invited to join a certain neighborhood club. It was one of those clubs, as I recall it, designed more to keep certain people out than to invite others in. It was one of those “exclusive” clubs, as we say. Well, Jim had been asked to join but his best friend had not. Jim wondered how he should respond. As we had a family conference about it, we came to the conclusion that his feelings in the matter were right. He had decided to say to those who had issued the invitation, “If you want me, you want my friend.”
At a far deeper level, that’s what the Lord is saying to us, isn’t it? “Do you want Me as your Lord, your Savior, your friend?” If we answer yes, if faith leaps up in our hearts and we say, “Lord, more than anything else in the world, I want to belong to You,” then He reminds us: “If you want Me, you want My friends.” We can’t have Christ without His people, can’t be close to His heart without welcoming all those whom He loves.
As the disciples looked around that circle at their brothers, they doubtless saw some who still had a long way to go. There was impetuous Peter, always shooting from the hip, James and John ready to call down fire from heaven on people they didn’t like. Thomas seemed to be always doubting. Simon was too fiery. They weren’t always easy to get along with, this bunch. But Jesus said to them, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” In other words, “You’re a partner with Me if you care about My people. To be My friend is to befriend these as well.”
So that’s the way it is, brothers and sisters. Whatever we do for the least of these, His loved ones, we do for Him. Oh, let’s take on gladly today the high privilege and the easy yoke of being the Lord’s friends!
PRAYER: O God, in the light of Your marvelous love for us in Jesus Christ, may we respond as trusted friends, and may we love Your people and be willing to give ourselves on their behalf. In the name of Christ. Amen.