9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Jesus called us friends. When you hear that word, what does it mean to you?
We love to sing, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus!’, “What a friend I’ve found”, or ‘I am a friend of God – (wo oh oh!)’ But what kind of friendship is this? How do we compare it? Just as he does with everything else, Jesus redefines friendship by how he lives and loves, and what he says.
When Jesus says he is our friend, we need to find out what that friendship looks like so that then we can do our part in relating to him as our best friend, and learning how to be those kind of friends ourselves.
I often tell the story – it’s in my book Rough Diamonds where I wrote a chapter on friends – of my mate Andy who is a missionary and he had just been donated by a supporter a nice new car, having driven around in an old messy one for many years. He pulled up outside a place where he was going to speak and a young boy was sitting on the wall there said ‘That’s a nice car!’
Andy said ‘My friend gave me this car,’
The boy replied, “I wish I could be a friend like that.’
I always find that phrase really challenging. Not ‘I wish I could HAVE a friend like that.’ We better learn to be like children to enter the kingdom. How much time and effort do we spend looking for friends, hoping to find people to befriend who will be friends to us, and how much time do I spend being that kind of friend that I want, to others?
Many years ago when I used to go in schools to teach assemblies and RE lessons I remember after a whole week of outreach asking one class if they had questions. One girl at the back of the class put her chewing gum under the desk then looked at me as she raised her hand with a very bored expression like she couldn’t believe or care about a word the things I’ve been saying then said, “Right – so what you’re saying really right, is that God right, just wants us to be his friends – right?”
As if it was the lamest thing she’d ever heard.
But for me I just thought she’d summed up the Bible really well so I said, “RIGHT!”
And I said that because from beginning to end the Bible is a story of God looking to extend the loving relationship of the Trinity into his creation forever. God is looking for friends.
He created Adam and Eve to be his friends (but they turned out to not be very good ones). He called Abraham his friend on several occasions. He spoke to Moses face to face, ‘as a man speaks to his friend.’
Look through the gospels and you see that when Jesus came to earth he went around telling stories about friends, and calling pretty much everyone friend, whether they liked him or not.
Very often when we look at what Christianity is all about, we use words like ‘salvation from sin’, ‘atonement, ‘redemption, ‘repentance,’ justification’ – to describe our relationship with God, what we come out of and what we come into, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Tonight is Maundy Thursday and for our meditation I was going to focus on the Passover again as we have done in previous years; such a rich seam of truth to dig into as we look at the lamb that was slain and reflect on how its innocent blood was shed for protection and deliverance from death.
But instead as I prepared I just felt the Lord wanted me to tell you something personal. He wants us to be friends. You and me. He wants you and me to be his friends. He doesn’t just want us to be forgiven, or saved, of course he wants that so much he went to a cross to clear the debt of our sins away once and for all. He wants us to be friends. We must never forget how much he wants that.
We don’t tend to focus on ‘friendship’ as an outcome of Jesus’ life and death, resurrection and friendship because, well, it’s not so much of a big deal is it? Not lined up alongside all those theological words. But what if really is the deal. That God wants to be with us, even though we have acted as his enemies, he wants us to be friends forever. What if those things in which we rightly glory are just the way into a room, the corridors, the hallway. But friendship, is the destination. Do we just hang out in the hall, or step into the room and sit at the table?
So okay, as you are reading this now, maybe if I asked, ‘Are you a Christian?’ You’ll say yes.
If I ask “Are you born again – I mean, have you ever said to God ‘I turn away from everything that I know to be wrong and follow you instead from now on?’” I hope that you would say yes to that as well – but then do you stop there?
Just imagine the Lord Jesus is asking this question – “Are you my friend?”
Because of course he is the best friend we could ever want, the one the Bible says sticks closer than a brother. But are we his friends?
When Jesus came to earth to show us what God is like, he came talking about laying down his life and being a ransom for many and bringing his kingdom, but really God took on flesh and came looking for FRIENDS. Just like in the beginning God came in that garden at the start asking Adam – ‘Where are you?’ He’s looking for his friends.
What kind of friend is this? He is our model for relationships because he loved without limits. And as this passage shows, for Jesus, friendship was the GOAL, and love the way to the goal. Jesus wants to be our BEST friend. To enjoy his friendship.
How does he show the extent of his love? Well we always point to the Last Supper when we read how he washed their feet because it says he showed them in that way, that night. But that wouldn’t have been enough.
I’ve had people do things for me, serve me, or serve alongside me, but that didn’t mean they were my friends. Maybe they were just doing a task. I had my feet washed in Turkey at a spa. It didn’t mean this big ugly bloke loved me or wanted to be my friend.
Jesus showed the kind of friend he is, not by washing feet but by ‘laying down his life’ for us. Nobody has greater love than that. People who have served in the emergency services or armed forces may have had glimpses of that. But this is far beyond camaraderie, bravery or duty. It’s LOVE!
Now when we think about friends, we don’t usually think in those terms. Of laying our lives down. We think a friend is someone we say, ‘I’ll lay down some time for you.’
I’m your friend now because I meet you for a (socially distant) walk or coffee.
If we really like someone, we might lay down even more time on a holiday with them, which over the years I have found is a great way to make or break a friendship.
Or we might lay down some money to help them out, if they’re a friend in need, we may want to show we are a friend indeed.
Rather than looking for everyone to be the kind of friend to me that I want. Once we know he’s our friend like that we can be like that little boy on the wall and say, “I wish I could BE a friend like that.”
To one another. That’s what he’s looking for. Is Jesus your friend?
How much time have you spent with him today? Once Jesus is your friend, everything can change in how you BEFRIEND others.
With all that’s going on in the world right now, it might seem strange that I’m talking about God coming to earth and being so concerned about friendships, until we look at Genesis, and how the made us, and that in the beginning God said, ‘It’s not good for him to be alone’. That was the first human problem. Sin came after that. God has a provision for our sin, but before even that kicked in, he had a concern for our aloneness.
Because the cross goes two ways; Jesus came to repair our VERTICAL relationship with the Father, but he also came to restore our horizontal relationships with one another!
Salvation has to work both ways too; I can’t say I love God who I have not seen and yet not love my brother who I have seen.
Juliet Holt-Lunstand reviewed epidemiological studies of over 300,000 patients to see who lived and died. They looked at factors such as diet, weight, smoking, air pollution and exercise.
Only 2 things stood at as making a difference in who lived & who died (this really is a matter of life and death)
- 1. Frequency of social support
- 2. How integrated people were in their community
In other words, friendships are not just important to have a HAPPY life, we all know that, they matter more than anything else (including smoking which was the only factor remotely approaching the difference in mortality rates) as to whether and how long you live at all. Even after a heart attack or a stroke, people with friends had a 50% greater chance of survival.
Another study among students showed that those who described themselves as lonely had a reduced immune response when given a ‘flu vaccine. That’s topical isn’t it?
We’ve recently noted that Jesus spent 2/3 of his time with a small group of friends, the ones seated around his table at the last supper. But that’s not so unusual, even though he was very intentional about who he spent his time with. Most of us do relationships according to similar numbers it turns out.
On average we spend 3.5 hours a day on ‘social interaction’. Your closest 5 people get 40% of that. Who are they? Your confidantes. Maybe they’re family, maybe not. You decide.
Another 10 make up your next circle to 15 people, your close circle – they get the next 20%, and the 135 more people in the average relational network each get less than 20 minutes a month – which adds up to 37 seconds a day!
We say to people, ‘I’d love to spend more time with you,’ but we can’t get more time really, we just get to choose how we will distribute it.
More time is not the problem. The problem as usual for me, is me.
That’s often the case when I read about Jesus because I read these words and think about how bad a friend I have been, I find something else I fail at a lot, and I can get down about that, rather than have these words be a mirror and a reality check and an invitation to grace, to say yes to.
Jesus is my best friend. So he’s not telling me off here. But if he is my best friend, that must mean I should make sure he’s in that top 5 – wouldn’t you think?
He wants me to be his best friend – but I’m not very good at being his best friend. I’m often distracted, lazy, grumpy, self-centred, annoyed and no doubt annoying. Why would he want to be friends with me? Ever feel like that?
But then I look around the room with Jesus’ other friends in, that upper room, and I see l’d fit in pretty well with all of them around that table too.
I’m inconsistent, I make promises in the heat of the moment I can’t live up to when the heat is on. I let myself down- so I’m bound to let him down. I’m not the best friend. Good job he is.
In one episode of the Simpsons, Homer picks up a Bible and Says ‘Everyone in here’s a sinner- except this guy’. Of course he’s talking about Jesus.
That’s what makes these words good news, not bad news. Jesus looks again at those he calls friends, and again he serves them, but they are self serving. He gives and gives. They take and take. We know what kind of friends those guys with dirty feet turn out to be. One outright betrays him for money: – Others run off at the first hint of trouble, another goes all macho at first but fades away once he sees Jesus facing the powers that be, and the peer pressure makes him cave in too.
I don’t know how good you have been at picking friends, I haven’t always been the best, but the kind of friends Jesus chose left him to suffer and die alone. What do you do when friends let you down?
Well he laid down his life for them.
But he said ‘nobody takes it from me, and I have power to take it up again.’ And after he rose again to prove it he came to them again and searched them out.
Who would want such people as friends?
The friend of sinners does.
Instead of confronting them for being such terrible friends, he came to them saying “Peace be with you,” Then he breathed the Holy spirit on them and said “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you ” (John 20:21)
How is that? How are we sent into the world? As friends.
Friends of Jesus, to go and befriend others, to help them be friends of Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, friends like Jesus.