In John 15, Jesus reminds his followers that the highest value in his kingdom is love. My command, he tells them, is to love one another.
He tells his disciples (including you and me):
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 so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.—John 15:15-17
We should consider it a privilege to be a servant of Jesus. And yet, he invites us to so much more: to be friends.
The word in Greek is philos, meaning someone who is dearly loved, but even more specifically, a close confidante, a friend to whom we would be willing to share our deepest secrets. This is the word Jesus uses to describe his preferred relationship with us.
It's so easy to take this truth: God loves the whole world (see John 3:16), and mistakenly assume that Jesus loves us from a distance, or out of obligation. Or we are somehow covered by the blanket of love he drapes over all of humankind. When pressed, we might admit that we're not so confident in an intimate kind of love. But the fact is, that's the kind of love that Jesus has for you. He has called you friend.
Consider the following from Deeply Loved:
With our closest friends, we do not stop at "How are you?" and "I'm fine." We are willing to tell what's really going on, willing to listen to one another. More specific questions—How is your marriage? How are you feeling about your career, about your parenting? How is the challenging situation you told me about going?—those questions pry beneath the surface. Within a trusting relationship, we can examine our motives, get feedback on what others hear us saying. We can move beyond "fine." If we are to develop a close friendship with Jesus, we must bring those same rules of engagement into our relationship with him.
Friendship with Jesus
When the Bible mentions the act of eating together, we need to understand the significance of that action. To eat with someone in that culture and time was not only to accept them, but to covenant with them to protect them. It was an act of intimate friendship and allegiance. So to understand the friendship of Jesus, we can look at verses that mention shared meals.
- Jesus initiates our friendship with him. We cannot earn his affection. "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you" (John 15:16).
- Sometimes, true friends tell us hard truth—they rebuke us, try to redirect us away from the path of sin. Jesus is no different. But his goal in truth-telling is intimacy. "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me" (Revelation 3:19-20).
- We don't have to be perfect to be friends with Jesus. In fact, he's glad to be friends with sinners (which is what we all are). "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'" (Luke 15:1-2)
- Friendship with Jesus brings us joy. "'As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete'" (John 15:9-11).
- Jesus' friendship transforms our hearts and actions. "When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.' So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, 'He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.' But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.'" (Luke 19:5-9)
- Jesus asks us to respond to his love and friendship by loving others."'A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.'" (John 13:34-35)
Experience Friendship with Jesus
- Talk to him throughout your day. Set aside time to be alone with him, to listen to him.
- Read his Word. The Bible contains many promises and reassurances of how much Jesus desires friendship with you. Fill your mind and heart with the truth of this. Read the Bible as if it were a letter from a dear friend. Soak in his words of love and affection and affirmation.
- Practice the presence. As you go through your day, doing all your daily tasks, practice simply thinking about Jesus. Thank him for small things, ask his advice, reflect on his love. If you find yourself getting busy and forgetting about him, don't feel guilty! Just gently pull your thoughts back to him.
- Describe your closest human friendship. What characteristics make it strong?
- What stands in the way of deepening your friendship with Jesus? Explain.
- Jesus is omniscient—he knows everything. Jesus also loves you unconditionally. How do these two truths impact your friendship with him?
- The friendship we enjoy with Jesus is meant to be shared by loving others. What specific ways will you reach out to others in friendship this week?