Jesus, our Friend (Biblical Friendship) (John 15:12-17)

Friendship.  What does it mean?  20 years ago to be a friend carried a very different connotation than it does today.  In the past, being a friend meant having a personal connection to someone.  Knowing their heart, their likes and dislikes, fears and hopes.  It involved regular communication, personal interaction, getting together to hang out.  Coming over when times were hard, rebuking when going off the deep end and celebrating the great events of life.  But today, in a world where Facebook™ and other social networking sites have taken over, to be a friend is as quick as the click of a button, without ever any real commitment, any real knowledge, any true connection to others.  Who here has friends they have never met, and yet you follow their updates or they follow yours.  That isn’t friendship; it is a cheap impostor that lacks all the salient features of biblical friendship like David had with Jonathon or the paralytic had with the four men who lowered him through the roof.  This morning we are going to look at what it means to be a friend of Jesus, and so we will turn to the Gospel of John.

Would you please rise to hear these words from God:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. 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. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:12–17 NIV)

Many times in the gospels the Pharisees and Sadducees deride Jesus for the friends he keeps.  They insinuate that he is a friend to the scum of the earth.  Here is one example: (Matt. 11:19) “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”  To which Jesus responds, (Matt. 11:18-19) For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’

But it is in the Gospel of John that Jesus actually takes the word Friend upon his own lips and addresses those in his company as his true friends, instead of merely repeating the words of his antagonists.  But in order to understand what it means to be a friend of Jesus, our Lord starts off introducing a command – a command to love.  That doesn’t seem like much of a command, but as all of us know, Love is not an easy thing.  Love is hard.  Love takes effort.  Love is demanding.  Love is sacrificial.  But Jesus takes the universal desire to be loved and he ups the ante, if you will, by commanding his disciples to Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12).  They are to be givers of love, not merely recipients and so the caveat for being his friend is going to be costly.  Love is going to be costly.

Not only are Jesus’ disciples to love those they like, or those to whom they are close, they are to love everyone in the family of the King.  Jesus is telling the 11 they are to love each other, and more than that, they are to love everyone else in the room with them, even those they don’t like, or those they aren’t close to and more than that, this isn’t just a call to be cordial or culturally courteous.   On the contrary, this is a call to love everyone, every believer present in the room on that evening of the Last Supper.  Love them as Jesus has loved them.

The love Simon the Zealot has experienced from Jesus, he must replicate in his relationship to Matthew the Tax Collector.  Simon and Matthew are politically mortal enemies.  Zealots and Tax collectors had opposite philosophies of national identity.  But in the church these men must love one another, not hate or fight. I can only imagine that there were other relational difficulties present among these men, women and children beyond simply Simon and Matthew.  How about James and John who ask for the positions of prominence in the kingdom. We are told, When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John (Mark 10:41).

Just consider for a moment taking any 12 men in this room along with their families, putting them together and telling them to live and work, eat and sleep, socialize and worship.  What kind of relational difficulties are going to rear their heads after a few months?  How about after 3 years?  That is essentially what Jesus did when he gathered the 12 apostles.  These were men from a variety of political and economic classes as suggested by their occupations and epitaphs. Certainly there were certain disciples who stayed away from other disciples.  There were people who didn’t click with each other.  There were wives who didn’t get along with one another and children who were grumpy at each other.  But Jesus is commanding that his disciples of every age love each other.  They must love their least favorite just as they love their best friend in the group, for Jesus has loved them all equally. The love Peter has experienced from Jesus he is called to share with Judas’ family.  We know that Judas was present during the Passover.  He heard these words and if we assume that Judas was married, and since families ate the Passover meal together, then Jesus is making a startling statement that will sink in to its full depth over the coming days as betrayal and death surface in the lives of those present, and the struggle to exclude instead of love shows its ugly head.

In his command to love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12), Jesus has exponentially magnified the concept of loving brothers and sisters in the faith.  We must love every brother or sister in the church equally and to the same degree that we have been loved.  And lest we wonder how Jesus has loved those in his family, he tells us of the extent to which his love will go.  He paints himself as the example of unbounded love, a love that goes to the greatest length to serve others, a love that lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13b).

As he says, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).  If a disciple wants to understand true friendship, then we, like the 12 and their families, must come to terms with the command to love and the example of love they are going to witness and experience over the next 3 days as Jesus suffers and dies.  This man who loved tax collectors and sinners and regularly invited himself to dine with them also loves the disciples and the church.  This man who loves his followers is also loved by God the Father and he allows the Father’s love to pour out of his life into the lives of others, as a pitcher overflowing with water.  As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you (John 15:9) he declares.

This man who loves the 12 and took off his outer robes in order to wash their feet earlier in the evening, doing the work of a slave, taking a lowly position to perform a task that no body else would do was calling them to the same kind of love for one another, a love displayed in sacrificial service.  In fact, as they were about to witness, this man who loves them, was going to die on a cross, be crucified, misunderstood, jeered and heckled, and suffer extraordinary pain and agony in order that they might be restored to a relationship with God and cleansed of their sin.  Jesus was going to lay down his very life upon the altar of Heaven in order that we might be born again.  This is what true friendship is all about – sacrifice and service.

Jesus has set the example of what it means to love a friend and we are called us to imitate his friendship, (Eph. 5:1-2) Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Jesus is our example of friendship and love.  And it is with this understanding of love that we come to the great statement: You are my friends… (John 15:14a).

To understand biblical friendship, one must understand unbounded, sacrificial love. That is what sets biblical friendship apart from the point and click kind of friendship that exists in the realm of social networking.  There is no sacrifice given in reading a blog or following a post, but in true tangible friendship everything is laid on the line.  That’s why Jesus starts off his pronouncement of friendship with the command to love and the foreshadowing allusion to his sacrificial death.

There are two requirements for biblical friendship.  First is that true friends share the heart of God and second true friends are willing to obey the Lord for the sake of each other.  The first is illustrated in these words: everything that I [Jesus] have learned from my Father, I have made known to them (John 15:15c) and the second is shown by these: You are my friends if you do what I command (John 15:14d).  Both of these are important requirements of friendship with the Savior of the World and with one another.  Just as Jesus’ life was lived sacrificially, giving all his strength and purity and perfection and holiness to the disciples and those who would follow them, so also everything he knew and understood about God and his plans and purposes in this world was shared with them.  Jesus held nothing back from these people who walked in his footsteps. I bet you can’t say that about the 400 Facebook™ friends you have.  In fact, how many of us can say that of even 3 people in our lives?  Can we say we share everything we have learned from God and we do what he commands, laying down our lives for our friends?  This is our call.

Just as these believers were chosen to know the heart of God which includes: 1) the salvation of all who believe in Christ, 2) the exaltation of the son to the highest heavens and 3) the recreation of the world into a redeemed paradise, so also every believer from the time of Christ onward has been taught the same things because of the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit in authoring and preserving the Scriptures (2Pet 1:21 men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.) and then in leading each believer into the truth (Jn 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth).

As a modern day believer are you growing in your understanding of God’s heart for the world?  Are you reading the word of God regularly and routinely?  Are you praying and listening?  Do you have time set aside in your schedule on a regular basis to listen to the Spirit and allow room for him to correct your plans and purposes in this life?  Just like the disciples, you have been called to be a friend of Christ and to know the heart of God both generally and specifically in your circumstance and situation.  Are you taking time to sit with him and listen?  It is one of the requirements of Friendship.  Without knowing God’s heart, it will be impossible to be obedient to his will and do what he commands.

Incidentally, doing what Christ commands is sometimes known as bearing fruit in the Word.  There are three kinds of fruit Christ wants from him friends. First, there is the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23.  This fruit originates in love But the fruit of the Spirit is love.  In fact, it is my belief that all the other characteristics or qualities mentioned joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are just further ways of explaining what love is and does.  As believers we are called to bear this kind of love, a love that is ever growing and able to interact with more and more difficult people and more and more difficult situations.

Are you seeing growth in your ability to love difficult people?  Do you try to love those difficult people in the church or do you shy away from them?  We have been called to bear the fruit of love to everyone in the church.  Go and love those difficult people in the church.  Have you ever considered the truth that you are a difficult person in the eyes of Christ, yet he has loved you?  So, go and do likewise.

The second kind of fruit we are called to bear in our lives is the fruit of the conversions of sinners.  As Jesus ascended to heaven he told his disciples, (Matt. 28:19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  At another point he said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:38).

Christians are called to share the word and see others come to faith.  The greatest act of Love we can share with anyone, believer or not, is to proclaim Christ to them.  Those 100 years in the faith need Jesus preached and proclaimed to them just as much as those who have never heard his name.  Some folks seem specially gifted with the ability to evangelize others and reap the harvest, but as Paul said, (1Cor. 3:6-8) I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.  You may never see someone come to faith, but we are all called to be part of the process of bringing people to faith.  That is part of the fruit that every believer is expected to bear – a tongue that confesses Jesus as Lord so that others may hear the good news.  Jesus’ friends aren’t afraid to talk about him with others.

The third type of fruit believers are to bear is conformity to the image of Christ.  In the letter to the Galatians Paul cries out, (Gal. 4:19) My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.  In (Phil. 3:10-11) I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead.  Literally, we are being built into a temple and that temple is the very body of Christ being lived out in this world.  And it is with this third fruit that we see the closest tie to our passage, for it is the very life of Christ, motivated by love that selflessly saved you and me.  This same life is to flow through us to those in the world.  Are you seeing more sacrificing in your life today than you did last year?  Are you willing not just to volunteer for menial jobs at home, work or church but also to actually perform those jobs joyfully and without needing to be asked? Those are but two questions among many that one could ask about the fruit that is being born in his or her life.

You may ask why these three types of fruit were highlighted this morning.  The answer is that these three types of fruit are fruit that will last.  Jesus declared, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last (John 15:16).  Love for others is an eternal quality.  Paul reminds us three things remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love (1Cor 13:13) and we know that God is love (1John 4:8).  When we testify to Christ and sinners are saved and the faithful encouraged, this too has a lasting effect for a person has been saved and brought to life, never again to return to the kingdom of death.  Again a lasting consequence is the character of Christ being formed in us for this too is eternal, in fact it is our very destiny.  As the apostle John says in one of his letters, (1John 3:2) Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

And for what purpose or benefit does all this friendship with Christ bring to the believer?  Knowing the heart of God and bearing his fruit allows one to pray and receive answers.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 15:16c)  When we are obedient to the command of Christ to love others, when we are sharing the gospel and seeing the character of Christ formed in our lives, then our prayers will conform to the same heart of God which we are experiencing ourselves.  We will find ourselves praying for more opportunities, we will find ourselves praying for others and ourselves to be formed more into instruments of righteousness, we will find ourselves asking for ourselves and others to be able to love those who are difficult and God can’t help but answer such prayers for they are prayers grounded in his saving activity upon the cross.

And so we come full circle, Jesus our friend has called us to Love. So go out and love for God loves you.  Love liberally, love completely, love sacrificially, love eternally.  Love as an expression of your friendship to God and enjoy the benefits of being called a friend of the Most High.  Love is the command, but it is also the very source from which everything in our life springs.  For as the word tells us (1John 4:10) This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1John 3:1) How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Sermon Outline

  1. Command to love (John 15:12, Mk 10:41)
  2. Example of Love – Jesus (John 15:13, Jn 15:9, 13, Eph 5:1-2)
  3. Called to be friends, Chosen to a purpose (John 15:16)
    1. 2 Requirements of Biblical Friendship

i.     Friends know the heart of God (John 15:15, 2Pt 1:21, John 16:13)

ii.     Friends bear fruit (John 15:14)

  1. Love for people (Gal 5:22-23, 1 Cor 13:13, 1 Jn 4:8)
  2. Conversion of Sinners (Matt 28:19, Mark 9:38, 1Cor 3:6-8)
  3. Life of Xp formed in them (Gal 4:19, Phil 3:10-11, 1 Jn 3:2)
  4. 1 Benefit of Being a Friend of Jesus

i.     Friends pray and are answered (John 15:16)

5.  Love is the key to All (John 15:17, 1Jn 4:10, 3:1)

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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