Have you ever had someone manipulate you with the offer of friendship?
“If you are really my friend, then you’ll do X,” where X is something you wouldn’t do otherwise?
“If you want to be my friend, you’ll give me your dessert.”
“If you are really my friend, you’ll throw this wad of paper at the teacher.”
It sounds rather grade-schoolish, like something that would happen on the elementary school playground.
Yet… we often seem to be willing to ascribe such thinking to Jesus. If you do what he says, he’ll be your friend. C’mon, prove that you’re his friend.
That’s how people often take John 15:14. Jesus says “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” There it is! If you want to be Jesus’ friend, you better do what he says. If you don’t, he won’t be.
And from there we are off to the races, trying to prove to Jesus that we are his friend. Can you find an imperative in his teaching? Do it, because then you will be his friend.
Something is lost along the way. Something called…. context. And thereby, great damage is done to our understanding of the good news.
Let’s look at what this really means. Jesus is talking to his disciples the night before he goes to the cross. He is telling them that what they need to do is simply abide in him. Everything they do will be because they abide in him, remain connected to him, not be independent of him.
And then he says in 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Hmm. I wonder who is going to do that. Oh, right – Jesus is going to lay down his life for his friends. His friends. The disciples. They ARE his friends.
He says in 15:15, “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. You did not choose me, but I chose you…” Hmm. Jesus calls them friends. And not because they shared their dessert, or did anything. Because of him choosing them, and him making known the good news of the Gospel, what he has heard from the Father, to them.
Jesus is their friend on the basis of his own action, not on the basis of their command-keeping.
Go even wider for a moment. Jesus says this to them on the night he is betrayed. And he is betrayed not only by Judas Iscariot, who is definitely not Jesus’ friend… but by Peter. Peter, his supposed friend. Peter goes out and denies that he even knows Jesus, not once but three times. The last time, Jesus looks straight at him, and Peter slinks away crying.
Well, I guess Peter isn’t Jesus friend either, if being Jesus’ friend means doing all that he commands. Doesn’t he belong in the same category as disobedient Judas?
So it is really remarkable that John’s gospel ends with Jesus appearing on the side of the lake where Peter has gone back to fishing. Jesus cooks him breakfast. Jesus restores him. Peter would live a fruitful life of response to the good news, because… Jesus never let him go.
If you are Jesus’ friend, he won’t let you go. You’re his friend if you receive the gospel. And if you are his friend, then you will do what he commands. Because he’ll get you there.
Could it really be true that everything, simply everything, is about Jesus? That life is about his strength, his sacrifice, his righteousness? What does that birth in your heart?
Welcome to Christianity. Where the truth is that you are his friend, his family, only because of what Jesus has done. Believe it, live in it, rejoice. Hallelujah, what a Savior!