What kinds of qualities do you look for in a friend? What makes someone a GOOD friend? Perhaps you would answer that question with some of the following … “A real friend is the guy who walks in when everybody else walks out.” (Anonymous) A friend is someone you can share your deepest feelings with. A friend is someone you can trust with your life. A friend is someone who will always be there for you when you need them. “Your best friend is he who brings out the best that is within you.” (Henry Ford)
What kinds of qualities do you look for in a friend? How many of you would choose to look for the following traits in a friend instead? A friend is someone who doesn’t really like you, but feels obligated to you. A friend will be with you in the good times, but can’t really be expected to hang in there through the rough times (after all they’ve got enough problems of their own to deal with). A friend is someone who only wants to be around you for all that you can do for them.
The difference is like day and night. The first is a friend indeed, while the second seems little better than a servant. One loves you no matter what, the other loves only what you can give them. One loves you above even themselves, the other loves only themselves. Which kind of friend would you want to have in your life? Do we really need to answer that? Which kind of friend would you be? The answer may not be as black and white as you may wish.
In our Gospel we read: (John15:10,12-13,17) If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love … “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends …This I command you, to love one another.”
If love for the other is the essence of true friendship, how many of us live up to bar that Jesus has here placed before us? Who among us can truly say that we have loved our friends in the same way that God has first loved us? Who among us can claim to have been willing to lay down our life for a friend? Perhaps there were indeed rare moments of such sentiment, but is that truly what motivates your EVERY action toward one another? Especially in all those little day-to-day circumstances?
How many times, instead, have we found our friendships governed by the very things that would define us as a servant instead? Being available to your friend only until it was a nuisance. Giving to others in the hopes of getting something even better down the road. Using (or even abusing) someone else’s trust for your own ends. How many of your previous friendships have soured because of these same bitter fruits between you.
Worse yet, how often do these very attitudes shape the way in which we relate to our God and His Church? Coming to the Lord’s house only when convenient, or when something else wasn’t more pressing … rarely going to Bible Study for the very same reasons? Worse yet, devoting what little time we do to God so that He can pay us back later when we need Him. When we are troubled or grieved, when someone we love has been hurt or is dead. How many times have you happily drawn out of your relationship with God, never once considering what you should be putting back in to it? Taking what God owes you, being that He’s the guy in charge and all. We’ve all done it.
The reason churches struggle, the reason people have doubts and anxieties, the reason money becomes an issue again and again in the life of congregations is simply this: too many of God’s beloved children see themselves as nothing more than servants. Being a servant of God is not in itself a bad thing. Just ask St. Peter or St. Paul. They were happy to proclaim that they were servants of their lord. But the reason they were happy living as servants was because they knew that in God’s eyes they were so much more!
The problem with playing the role of a servant comes when there is nothing more to the relationship behind it. Those Christians who see themselves as nothing more than God’s servants, have a very different attitude toward God and His Church. They see themselves only as people who are obligated to be here. People who are expected to perform. People who are required to give. But just like a servant in someone’s employ, every bit of those obligations, expectations, and requirements can be done without once truly loving the one they are being done for. It gets done because it is a job and that’s what you’ve got to do if you want to get paid. It gets done only well enough to keep us out of trouble. It gets done only to the point it becomes an inconvenience, or until it becomes apparent that we’re not going to get out of it what we hoped for.
Where is the love God is looking for in that kind of attitude? (15) “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing;” How many congregations follow God without truly understanding what He means, without knowing what He desires, without understanding what He feels? How many people live out their lives under God seeking not to displease Him, but not yet ready to go the extra mile and actually show that they love Him?
If we were to be honest, we would have to say that once we too were like that. Indeed, sometimes even now we are tempted to be and act just like a servant again. Doing only what’s in our best interest. But did you hear that crucial piece of Gospel Jesus stated in verse 15? It makes all the difference in the world. “No longer do I call you servants,” We are no longer God’s servants … we are something more! (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.”
As Martin Luther once paraphrased these verses: “You do not belong to the same class [as those], who serve Me for the sake of personal gain and not from sincere love. But you are My friends; for to you I have revealed and transmitted all that I received from My Father.” There you hear whom Christ calls His friends and also why He does so, namely, because they receive benefits from Him. For that is His definition of the word “friend.” … It is our custom to reverse this order and call him “friend” who bestows good on others. But here Christ is speaking about the manner in which we come to be called friends in the sight of God, namely, by being recipients of His benefits. For we gave Him nothing previously, nor did we merit His friendship. Immediately after this Christ adds: “You did not choose Me.” He initiated this friendship by accepting and transforming us from enemies into friends. And now it behooves us to thank Him for this and to confess that we owe our friendship solely to His grace and goodness. (Vol. 24: Luther’s works, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16)
And is this not, after all, exactly what Jesus came to do? (13) Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. The cross of Christ is the ultimate expression of FRIENDSHIP! God’s all-encompassing, overwhelming Friendship toward us lowly sinners! It goes way beyond a simple act of service. It goes to the very heart of what God feels toward you in Christ. You are His beloved Friend! For Jesus it is never simply about doing enough, about getting anything in return, about a sense of duty or obligation. Jesus did, (and does) everything for you because you are His best friend!
When everyone else is walking out of your life He is the one walking in. He is the one you can share your deepest feelings with. He will never laugh, never judge, never look down on you for them. All that was taken care of on the cross. Jesus is that someone you can trust with your very life. And not just here in this world, but also in heaven forever! Jesus is that someone who will always be there for you when you need Him. And it probably comes as no surprise then, that Jesus also brings out the best that is within each and every one of us. Not out of obligation or duty, but out of love and friendship.
It all becomes so much more poignant when you consider that these few short words were spoken on the night of the Passover, just hours before Jesus would die on the cross. Jesus had been the master of these men for three years. He had taught, corrected, rebuked and led them toward this final fulfillment of all God’s promises. He was about to lay down His life for them. They were not students, not servants, not followers. They were His FRIENDS.
(14-16) You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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 and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
Beloved Friends of our Lord Jesus, you too have been privy to all that God the Father thinks. You understand what He desires, you know what He feels, you can guess what He is thinking. You have come to see and to know all this in Jesus Himself. You are chosen by God. Hand picked to be His Best Friend. You are loved and cared for, you are protected and provided for. You have been appointed to bear rich and lasting fruit for God; fruit that will last. You have been called to love one another, to love your church, to love complete strangers, because in doing so you are showing love to your Best Friend, Jesus.