READ : John 15:12-17
In today’s program David Bast explains how to become an F.O.J., a Friend of Jesus.
During the 1990s one of the most coveted and sought-after designations in America was to be known as an “F.O.B.” To be an F.O.B. was to belong to an exclusive and prestigious group. If you were an F.O.B. it meant you were a “Friend of Bill” ??” Bill Clinton, that is. Membership was limited to the very rich and the very famous. The perks of the group included sleep-overs at the White House and frequent mention in the gossip columns and on the entertainment shows.
Well, I have some bad news for you. You and I have zero chance of ever becoming an F.O.B., or, for that matter, of ever hobnobbing with any president of the United States. Such exalted company is not for the likes of ordinary folks like us. But I have some good news too. You and I do have an opportunity to join an even more wonderful group, one that isn’t at all exclusive, that doesn’t take a fortune to belong to, that welcomes everyone who is willing to accept the membership requirement, and that offers much more joy and satisfaction and a far better reward to all of its members. This group is called the “F.O.J.’s” ??” the “Friends of Jesus” ??” and here is how you can qualify for membership in it.
I’m reading from the 15th chapter of the Gospel of John where Jesus has gathered with his disciples in an “upper room” and is talking to them. These are the words he spoke to them just hours before his death.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays 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. . . . These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
It is the last night of Jesus’ life on earth. He has gathered his disciples in the city of Jerusalem, where they have just finished sharing the Passover meal ??” and celebrating the Supper of a new covenant ??” with one another. Now Jesus is pouring his heart into his followers as he prepares them for life and ministry without his physical presence. In the course of his Upper Room Discourse which fills four rich chapters in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to the disciples about joy and peace and hope. He warns of suffering and trials and loneliness. He makes promises, gives counsel and instruction, offers prayer. But most of all, Jesus talks about love. “Love each other,” Jesus urges them over and over, “this is what I want you to do. I don’t just think of you as my servants any more, because a servant doesn’t really know his master’s mind and heart. But I’ve told you everything I know about God, and everything I want you to do, so really, you’re my friends, not just my servants. At least, you’ll be my friends if you do what I tell you. And what I tell you to do is to love.”
What Love Means
But what does that really mean? In commanding us to love is Jesus asking us to muster up some sort of universal benign feeling of goodwill towards other people? No, he tells us what love means at the very beginning of this passage. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” Jesus isn’t just giving an abstract definition of the nature of love. He is really describing himself. He is going to put his body where his mouth is, as the very next morning he lays down his life for his friends on Golgotha’s cross.
It goes without saying that love is a profound emotional response. Love often comes upon us unexpectedly, as we feel ourselves drawn towards another person. Love starts in the heart, and it stirs our feelings to the depths. Jesus Christ was as human as anyone, and he experienced love in this way just as we do. He too felt this strong emotional response going out towards another.
One day, for example, there was a young man who came to Jesus with a question. “Sir,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This man ??” we know him as the rich young ruler ??” had a lot going for him. He was young and wealthy, from a good background, serious minded, morally upright. The Gospel writer says that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mark 10:21). That’s natural love. It begins as an attraction to the attractive. Whether it is romantic attachment or the kind of friendship that Jesus felt for that noble young man, human love starts with the emotional response we feel towards people who seem desirable to us. That is natural, in fact, it’s one of the most natural things in the world.
But Jesus isn’t speaking here to his disciples in the Upper Room about this natural kind of human love. He’s talking about a far greater and more important kind of love. The word that Jesus uses in John 15:12 when he says, “love one another as I have loved you” is the famous Bible word agape. Agape is love of a different kind; not feelings-based love but action-oriented love, not love as sentiment but love as service, not love for the desirable but love for the needy, not natural human love but supernatural divine love.
Agape is the way God loves us. This love is defined not by how strongly it feels toward the object but by how much it gives of itself for the sake of its object. The most famous verse in the New Testament (John 3:16) describes the extent of God’s agape love for the world by stating that he loved it so much that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life. The apostle Paul says in Romans 5:8 that God shows or proves the depth of his love “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ’s death for us wasn’t just a gesture or a stunt to show that he was really serious about how much he cared, like a young man hiring an airplane to spell out “Will you marry me?” in the sky.
No. Christ’s death was the supreme act of self-sacrifice to meet our deepest need. It was what had to be done if we were to be saved. He died in our place. He paid the price of our sin, so that we could be forgiven, be reconciled to God, and live forever and happily ever after. The truest measure of real love is not words but actions, not what you say to the one you love but what you do for the one you love, not how much you promise, but how much you give. By that measure, God’s love for us is infinite.
“A New Commandment”
So this is how Jesus has loved us, and this is how we are to love each other. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” So simple, really, and yet so terribly hard.
A little earlier, at the beginning of the Upper Room Discourse in Chapter 13 of John’s Gospel, Jesus had spoken of this way of love as a new commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Love is the distinguishing mark of every follower of Jesus Christ. As the gospel spread and the church grew in the ancient world, it was love that attracted peoples’ attention. “See how these Christians love each other,” the unbelievers commented. Imagine if they could say the same about us today. There is a magnetic attractiveness about a community of love that would transform our churches if we only lived this way. As one commentator on the Gospel of John wrote:
Christ’s cause in the earth would prosper if this simple law was more honored. There is nothing that the world understands and values more than true love. The very [people] who cannot comprehend doctrine and know nothing of theology can appreciate love. It arrests their attention. For the world’s sake, if for no other cause, let us follow after love more and more.
So how about it? Would you like to become an “F.O.J.”? Do you have what it takes to be a friend of Jesus?
It’s quite simple, really. You only have to do one thing. Jesus defines for us very clearly who his friends are. And it’s not those who say how much they care about him, who sing over and over, “Oh, how I love Jesus.” That’s wonderful if it’s true, but it’s not the condition Jesus laid down for those who want his friendship. Nor are his friends those who confess their faith in Jesus or talk about believing in him and putting their trust in him. Now, needless to say, doing those things is crucial, I know. I spend my life urging people to put their trust in Christ. But this still doesn’t qualify you to call yourself a friend of Jesus.
Too often our words don’t change the way we live, or our faith is compartmentalized in a Sunday box, or our relationship with Jesus is labeled “Personal and Private Only.” But Jesus’ requirement for membership in the F.O.J. is public and obvious: his one requirement is obedience. “You are my friends if you do what I command you;” “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
We sometimes comfort ourselves with the old gospel hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Perhaps we should challenge ourselves by asking what kind of friends he has in us.