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Is Jesus Really Our Friend?

June 4, 2012

 

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.    John 15:15

Potentially I am alone in this post and I will openly acknowledge that I may very well be open to criticism on this point. But this is something that has burdened me for some time. Those of you who were at Trinity yesterday for my sermon on John 14:5-7 heard some of my concern behind what I deemed an overteaching of “Jesus is my friend” and an underteaching of “Jesus is my Lord.” This is particularly true in children’s ministry. However, it has become the norm for adult ministry in recent decades.

Certainly, passages such as John 15:15 teach that Jesus has called those who keep his commandments “friends.” However, what does he mean by “friends” and is it the same thing we mean today?

By calling the disciples his friends (and by analogy all those who keep his commandments), Jesus created a stunning level of personal intimacy with the eternal, omnipotent God. Previous to this, only two people had been called “friends of God.” These were Abraham (2 Chron 20:7) and Moses (Ex. 33:11). What we must remember in the context of Jesus making this statement is that “friend” in the Ancient Near East meant something different from what it does today. Words often carry cultural context with them. For example, the notion of a “water closet” for anyone who has not been to Great Britain brings frightening images of water tumbling out of a rarely used closet.

When the Biblical writers use “friend” imagery, it was with the idea of intense, sacrificial love. Here are just a few examples:

Ruth and Naomi

Ruth 1:16-17 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

David and Jonathan

1 Samuel 18:1-3 As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.

Elijah and Elisha

2 Kings 2:2 And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

Today, friendship is anything but this. Sure, you may have one or two friends in your life you might be able to use something approaching the language of “knitting souls together.” However, for the most part our friendships today look more like acquaintances and less like Biblical friendships. I could go on and on with the reasons for this (Facebook, transient society, sin, etc.) but I think we all have some grasp on the notion that we do a poor job today of maintaining and keeping close friendships.

One example I used Sunday is that I am in a wedding in less than one month for one of my best friends back home. I have not spoken to him in over 3 months. Yet, he remains one of my closest friends.

Are you starting to understand why “Jesus is my friend” theology might not be the most accurate picture anymore?

Our example of fickle, fleeting friendships today provides us with little reason to devote all of our life, resources, time and energy to worshipping and living for the sake of Jesus. A good friend might be worth a phone call once a month. But Jesus demands more. Psalm 16 says that we should know the Lord so well that our heart instructs us while we are sleeping. This requires a bit more than once a month, once every Sunday, or even once every other day. Devotion to Jesus requires our life. It requires a deep saturation in his word and in prayer. In short, the picture that is more accurate today is “Jesus as Lord.” Jesus as my friend, while Biblically true, is really only beneficial when we understand the cultural context the words of John 15:15.

 

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