What it means for Jesus to be your friend

You’ve probably heard it said, or perhaps have said it yourself: “Jesus is my friend.” That certainly sounds more warm and fuzzy than “Jesus is my Lord and Master.” And Jesus himself seems to be in favor of the distinction:

No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you.  (John 15:13-15, CEB)

Some have wondered whether Jesus should have said that there is no greater love than to die for one’s enemies. Perhaps. But Jesus is talking to his friends about their friendship, and pointing to the cross as the demonstration of his love for them. As we saw in the previous post, his commandment is the commandment to love, and this sounds like it should be all of one piece with friendship.

But what does it really mean to be Jesus’ friend? Does it mean we just hang out together and enjoy each other’s company? And what about that statement, “You are my friends if you do what I command you”? That might sound a bit like a petulant playground taunt: “If you don’t want to play my way, then you’re not my friend anymore.”

We do ourselves a disservice if we try to force Jesus’ statement into our assumptions about the nature of friendship. His use of the term here isn’t about companionship or camaraderie. It’s not about having a heart-to-heart over a caramel macchiato. Rather, it’s about being more than a servant.

“I don’t call you servants any longer.” In the gospel of John at least, he hasn’t actually called the disciples servants directly, though he’s hinted at it (13:16), and they no doubt saw themselves that way. But the point is that servants are expected to simply do what they’re told whether they understand or not. They don’t have to know the master’s business, they just have to do the master’s bidding.

Not so with the disciples. Jesus has told them everything (whether they understood is another matter). They are not simply expected to carry on the mission, but to be full partners in it — it’s to be their mission now, a mission of love.

I’m not saying we have to throw away all our warm fuzzies. Jesus’ love for his disciples was deep and true. I don’t envision it as his loving them “in principle” as it were, devoid of any real human emotion.

But what he wants is not so much our companionship as our obedience, a wholehearted and willing obedience that comes from being of one mind with Jesus, sharing his goals and remaining in his love. That is how we demonstrate that we are truly his friends and not mere menials.

So yes, Jesus is our friend and we are his. And that means bearing the fruit of love, fruit that lasts.  More on that in the next post.

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