Before he went to the cross to pay for sins of all humanity, Jesus spent considerable time preparing his disciples for his departure. Chapters 14-17 of John’s gospel record a lot of Jesus’ words as he gets his followers ready to carry on his ministry after his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven.
In this section, Jesus talks about friendship (John 15:9-17). Three times in these verses, Jesus uses the word “friends”. It is remarkable that the Savior of the world would call mere human beings his friends! But he does! And he wasn’t just referring to his closest followers. We can be assured that Jesus offers friendship to anyone who will accept it. Let’s see what Jesus says here about friendship.
First, we see that true friendship involves sacrifice. 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus would make the greatest sacrifice imaginable when he willingly laid down his innocent, sinless life to pay the price for our guilty, sinful lives. In doing so, Jesus set the example of sacrifice that we too must follow. 1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” In order to truly love our Christian friends, we have to make sacrifices; sacrifices of time, money and emotional involvement. It is not easy to be a true friend. But then, most things that are worthwhile require effort and commitment.
The second use of the word “friends” in this Scripture is specifically referring to our friendship with Jesus. 15:14 says, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” There is a condition attached to our friendship with Jesus—we have to do what he says! It is ridiculous to believe that a person can lead a lifestyle of on-going, deliberate disobedience to the teachings of Jesus and think that he will be your friend! Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that we could live any way we choose to live. He died so that we could be freed from our sins and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life of obedience. Therefore, a big part of our lives must be dedicated to studying the Word of God so that we can live the life of obedience that Jesus requires of his friends. And, of course, the more closely we obey Jesus, the more we are able to be a good friend to those around us.
Let’s now look at the third use of the word “friends” in this Scripture–“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.” (15:15). Now this does not mean that we are relieved of our duty of serving the Lord. It means that Jesus has revealed to us the higher purpose of our service. Unlike the servant who has no need to know the master’s reasoning, Jesus tells us the purpose of our labors in the kingdom. It is to make disciples for him, thus producing “fruit that will last” (v.16). Because Jesus calls us his friends, we receive the privilege of understanding what our work for the Lord is all about. Rather than relegating us to mindless obedience, Jesus has elevated us to a level higher than mere servants—he calls us friends.