New Revised Standard Version
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
You may remember the television show, “Friends.” It is available regularly in reruns or you can binge watch on one of the streaming services. The show centers on relationships. The ensemble of actors, the believability of the plot, and the humor made this a popular show.
The characters are Rachel, Joey, Chandler, Phoebe, Monica, and Ross. They are friends in the true sense of the word. The have fun together, talk with one another in their apartments and hang out at “Central Perk,” the local coffee shop, and usually enjoy each other’s company. As friends do, they have disagreements, get mad at another, and deal with jealousy. Most importantly, the find acceptance from their friends. The theme song of the show sums it up – I’ll be there for you.
We are taught early in life the importance of having friends. When we were young, we were encouraged us to play with friends, make friends, and to treat them nicely.
As we got older, friends gave us someone to hang out with and a reason to get out of the house. We played games with them and told our secrets to our friends.
In our teenage years, friends could give us status – depending on who your friends were. They also gave us a group to belong to and someone to share our ups and downs as we navigated those challenging years.
As adults, our friends are those we share life experiences with – stages of our children’s lives, changes in marital status, jobs, vacations, etc. These friends are those who like you for you.
Fredrick Buechner describes friends this way:
“Friends are people you make part of your life just because you feel like it…Your friends are not your friends for any particular reason. They are your friends for no particular reason.”
Real friends are there for you. With your friends, you don’t keep track of who paid for lunch last time. You listen to one another and help each other out. You are one another’s confidante. You and your friends have a special connection, a bond, a relationship different from others you may have contact with. Most people only have a few real friends.
Let me tell you about one of my good friends. Her name is Zondra (with a “Z”!). We met in seminary. Both of us were second career students with families. We both had a background as educators
Since we were in an extension program, classes were usually several hours long on a weeknight or on a Saturday, so we saw each other a lot. We would often meet before class to go over homework or have dinner.
We are opposites in many ways. I am at the beginning of the alphabet while she is at the end! She is left-handed and I am right-handed. I made sure she sat to my left (when we were taking Hebrew, she was able to write without covering the letters with her hand for the first time! BTW- you write Hebrew from right to left). She taught me to diagram sentences when we took Greek.
I am one of those people who is organized and stays on track. Zondra is creative and likes to explore whatever she finds. Her husband called me to help her pack boxes when they were moving so that the job would get done!
Although we don’t see each other often and haven’t in a while, we easily engage in conversation, usually picking up where we left off. Zondra is one of the few people I would call a real friend.
We all wish for real friends. Some are fortunate to have found one or two. Others have connections, acquaintances, know people but these aren’t relationships that could be friendships. Many can only dream about having a real friend or two.
Even the best of friends can disappoint us. They will let us down and say or do things that hurt. Then there are those who claim to be a friend but gladly leave you if someone or something better comes along. At times, we think it might be better if we didn’t have any friends at all – or so we tell ourselves.
Another level of friendship is Christian friendship. Having a brother or sister in Christ as a friend adds an additional bond. The bond of faith. Through Christ there is a partnership of mutual esteem and affection. You can pray for one another. You can see one another through the eyes of Christ. Friendship that is God-centered, one that seeks to have these qualities, can be one of love and loving service. Forgiveness is part of the relationship as is accountability – being able to speak the truth to one another in love. There isn’t a “what’s in it for me” attitude.
An example from the Bible is the friendship of David and Jonathan, the son of King Saul. 1 Samuel 18 describes this friendship in this way:
“Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.”
The two made a covenant with one another. A promise to stand with each other no matter what. Jonathan sealed their covenant by giving David his own robe and armor. They were connected soul to soul.
The reason their friendship was so close was that it was based on each one’s commitment to God and their agreement to let nothing come between them, even Jonathan’s father. They drew together when tested and remained friends to the end. David and Jonathan had a trust and level of friendship that is rare.
Theirs was the type of human relationship I believe Christ envisions when he gives the commandment to love one another.
There is even a higher level of friendship – with Jesus. We know the hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.” Jesus is our friend.
Better yet, Jesus is always with us. He chooses us, we choose to accept his offer of friendship and a deep relationship along with all that entails. We might say: “what a friend Jesus has in us.”
It is a privilege, a great honor to be invited be friends with Jesus. He is God after all! According to human standards, we should be his servants. Waiting on him, doing his bidding, and then retreating to the sidelines when not needed. As a servant, we work on a “need-to-know” basis. Isn’t this what you do for someone you consider above yourself?
Through the amazing love Christ has for us and of his incredible grace we not treated as mere servants. We are called his friends and treated in that way by Jesus. It’s hard to believe that Jesus invites us into a relationship of friendship. Most of us don’t travel in circles with friends like that. We might compare it to being invited to be friends with Aaron Judge or George Clooney or Pavarotti. We aren’t in their league. We are not deserving of Jesus’ friendship.
That’s the point! We aren’t deserving but we are invited to be Jesus’ friend anyway. And it’s not a mistake. Look again at verse 13:
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did! We are his friends! Those that are loved in this way.
Our response? To accept the invitation to be Jesus’ friend. To receive the love he offers. The natural outcome of accepting his offer is that we want to obey his commands. Jesus gives those commands, what we call the two greatest commandments as these:
1) To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind
2) To love your neighbor as yourself
John, here, says that the result of doing these things is joy! Christ’s joy in us makes our joy complete. You know what the best part of the invitation is? It’s forever!
Even the best of human relationships don’t measure up with to a friendship with Jesus. For those yearning for a true friend, Jesus is the best friend you can ever have. He is the friend that will stay with you no matter what. A friendship with Jesus may even pave the way for developing human friendships. Songwriter and singer Michael W. Smith has written a song with this well-known lyric:
“A friend is a friend forever if the Lord is the Lord of him.”
Words that ring true when Christ is at the center of a friendship.
What better gift could the Lord give us than friends now who share our faith. Friends who can love as Jesus loves. And the best forever friend, Jesus.