In the 15th chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus makes a point of explaining to His remaining 11 apostles that He will now call them “friends” rather than “servants.” He says to them:
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15, N.K.J.V.)
If you know your Bible, you know that this wasn’t the first time that God had taken to calling one of His servants a friend. Abraham, you’ll remember, is called the friend of God in 2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, and James 2:23. Some people would also cite Proverbs 18:24 here with the understanding that Jesus is the embodiment of the “friend who sticks closer than a brother.” All of these passages, as well as the John 15:13-15 one, provide the scriptural basis for the famous hymn “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.”
I must confess, however, that when I play the word association game with the name “Jesus,” the first word that comes to my mind is never “friend.” And why is that? Well, there are multiple reasons.
First and foremost, I tend to think of Jesus much more as my LORD — I’ll even use the stronger word MASTER — than my friend. Just for the record, I’m in good company on this. One of the apostle Paul’s favorite descriptions of himself was “a servant of Jesus Christ,” and the Greek word he used for “servant” was doulos. That’s a word that literally means “slave.” We find Paul describing himself as a slave of Jesus Christ in Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:10, and Titus 1:1. Actually, at no time in scripture does Paul ever refer to himself as “a friend of Jesus Christ.”
Similarly, James (James 1:1), Peter (2 Peter 1:1), Jude (Jude 1:1), and John (Revelation 1:1) all use this same word doulos to describe their relationship to Jesus. Furthermore, like Paul, not one of these men ever refers to himself as “a friend of Jesus Christ.” So, between Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and John, I’m running with a high-grade group when I say that I tend to think of myself much more as Christ’s servant (slave) than His friend.
A second reason why I have trouble relating to Jesus as a friend is the fact that I don’t equate friendship with imposing demands. I am fortunate enough to have some friends in this world, but these friends don’t get in touch with me each day and ask me to do tasks for them. That would put a strain on any friendship, wouldn’t it? And yet this is exactly what Jesus does. By way of the indwelling Holy Spirit, He speaks to me every day and asks me to do this, do that, go here, leave there, write this, preach that, etc., etc., etc. Ephesians 2:10 even teaches that I was created in Jesus to do good works that have been prepared beforehand for me to do in my life. Here again, all of this sounds a lot more like Jesus and I have a master/slave thing going than a friend/friend one.
Third, there is also the problem of Jesus acting at times downright unfriendly to me. At least that’s how I see things from my limited perspective anyway. For example, He doesn’t always steer me away from troubling situations. To the contrary, I’ve had Him steer me right into several simply because He wanted to use me in the middle of them. Likewise, He doesn’t always keep me from being done wrong by others. Shouldn’t a true friend protect you if He can? And then there is the whole matter of Him not always answering my sincere prayer requests with a “Yes” even though He has all power to do so. Frankly, I’ve got enough people turning me down in life, and so I don’t need one of my friends to join the list.
Now, if you think I’m being too hard on Jesus, let me point out that even Jesus Himself made His friendship with those 11 apostles conditional and probationary. Did you notice what He said in John 15:14? He said, “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you.” Huh? What’s this “if” stuff? I thought true friendship was supposed to be unconditional. I mean, it’s pretty easy to catch the unspoken implication of Christ’s words. That unspoken implication is: “If you do not do whatever I command you, you aren’t my friends.”
Going back to the Old Testament illustration of Abraham, he perfectly fit the model of friendship that Jesus lays out in John 15:13-15. First, he did indeed do whatever God commanded him to do, whether it was leaving his homeland of Ur and traveling to an unknown land that God would show him (Genesis 12:1-3) or attempting to go through with his sacrificing of his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). Second, God told Abraham what He was about to do in regards to laying waste to Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-33). Both of these evidences fulfill the evidences for friendship that Jesus names in our text verses.
And would you believe that these requirements for Christ’s description of friendship are on display in my own life as well? For one thing, even though my obedience in doing whatever Jesus commands me to do isn’t 100% perfect, it is still very much real and on display every day of my life. For another, there have been many times in my life when God let me in on what He was about to do before He did it. Some of these have involved the lives of myself and my family. Others have involved the lives of people for whom I’ve been praying.
So, seeing as how my walk with the Lord bears the same basic marks as Abraham’s walk with Him, why do I have such trouble thinking of Jesus as my friend more than my Lord and Master? The only answer I can give kicks back to those three reasons that I mentioned earlier. Again, I’m just being honest about where I’m at on this.
I guess I would sum up my current situation by saying that I’m still a work in progress on this “friends” thing when it comes to Jesus. Even though I’m fully aware that He showcased the ultimate friendship for me by dying on the cross to pay my sin debt, I simply haven’t reached the place yet where I relate to Him as “friend” more than “Lord” and “Master.” Perhaps it would help if I started capitalizing the word “Friend” rather than the words “lord” and “master.” That might at least get my mind headed in the right direction. Even that, though, would only be a start. Obviously, I have a ways to go before I can fully grasp the blessings of Christ’s words from John 15:13-15 and make them my own. But at least I’m willing to admit that I have the problem, and they say that is the first step toward a cure.