This past weekend, I attended the funeral of a young man who lost his life in a hiking accident in the Rocky Mountains. As sad as the funeral was, it was touching to hear the tributes that were shared. His girlfriend, his sister, his dad and a few of his friends shared stories and shed tears about this exceptional young man. He was a son, a brother and a friend.
Jesus said to His disciples in John 15, “I have called you my friends.” That is what He called His disciples. There were no longer slaves, but friends. It is a title of honour, a knighting by Christ, a word of honour and blessing in a darkened world. It says that we bestowed a title higher than anything offered in the world, Jesus calls them and us, “friends.” The Quakers have determined that the Christian Church ought to be called “The Society of Friends.” They understood the words of Jesus.
Living as a friend or foe is a crucial choice. It is the choice that marks lines of division that separate us or bridges the chasm between people. Shall we live as a friend or foe? Will we be a conﬁdant or adversary? Knowing the answer to this question is a mark of maturity.
Think about babies. They are not bothered by this issue because from their perspective, no one but their moms really exists. All that matters is that attention is given to the immediate need of the moment: to be fed, changed, held, helped in some way. And the little one gives signals to let us know.
But in a short period of time, things change. What is wanted does not come as quickly as desired. Or it does not come at all. This dilemma is even more pronounced if the baby has siblings and the needs of others force competition. There is then a clashing of the wills. One demands time, attention, or just a toy, and the other claims the same. A dilemma arises and choices are made, often to the chagrin of the parents.
How one handles the clashing of the wills is a mark of maturity. But remember that what is perfectly acceptable for a six-month-old or a six-year-old is not at all acceptable for a sixty-year-old. If one must win the tug of war by dragging another through the mud, there is not much victory there. There is a better way.
The alternative is given to us by Jesus Christ. He offers to us the way of dealing with persons as persons. He said, “I have called you ‘my friends.’” What did He mean? Look at the text. “I no longer call you slaves, because the slave does not know what the master is doing.” The slave, in the mind of Jesus, is not a slave because of the conditions of his labour, underpaid and overworked, but because he is denied intimacy with the master. “He doesn’t know what the master is doing.”
There is no relation of caring, no vulnerability of emotions, no sharing of feelings. The slave and the master are always at an arm’s length. Our culture makes the sharing of deep intimacies difﬁcult. We have false platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and others which base relationships on being “connected.”
If I asked what percentage of our social media friends do we actually know well, what would be your answer? Jesus’ definition of friendship is more than connection, rather it is about the relationship. Notice in the same passage that Jesus provides an alternative. He says, “What I have heard from my Father, I have made it known to you.” Jesus opened His life to others, and together they went out to change the world.
Jesus’ closest friends were twelve “rejects” of society. Most were fishermen and some involved in nefarious businesses. Leading this motley crew were James and John, the Sons of Thunder and Peter, the Rock (Peter). They and others were Jesus’ fellow co-workers. These men were set apart to bring the message of hope to the world. Their efforts, through the power of the Spirit, transformed the world through the sharing of the message of grace.
So when you think of the word friend, what comes to mind? Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this—that he lay down his life for a friend.” We know what that means, or at least we should. Easter was just a few weeks ago. We saw that kind of love demonstrated through Jesus suffering and death on the cross. He laid down His life in order to give life to others. And that He did.
There is a story of a little man named Zaccheus to whom Jesus said, “Come down from the tree and I’m going home with you.” To Mary Magdalene, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace and sin no more.” There were the Twelve. He prayed for them in the garden and for Himself that the cup would pass from Him. But it did not. Jesus had to die. And here we have it all: “Greater love hath no man than this.”
And the clincher is, He calls us friends. What then shall it be? Do we live as a friend, taking our cue from the Lord who made us? Or do we live as a foe, moving toward self-destruction? Choose what you will, but here is the title Jesus bestows on us, “I have called you friends.” He is our friend. And wants to be our best friend. What about you?