You can learn a whole lot about any person by seeing who his or her friends are. I’ve heard that statement or something to that effect as long as I can remember. Is it true? What can you really learn about a person by knowing who their friends are? Suppose we used the standard we like to apply to each other on this whole matter with Jesus. What would we learn about Jesus by looking at his friends?
In John 15:13-15 Jesus used the word “Friends” three different times so it should give us some insight into his thinking about friends. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 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.” In Luke 12:4 he warned his friends not to fear man that could kill the body but not the soul. His detractors felt they were tearing apart his reputation when they said he was the friend of tax collectors and sinners, but Jesus didn’t argue with the assessment at all.
Even if you looked at the twelve men who were Jesus closest companions while he was on this earth you would not get the best understanding of Jesus. Even though they left everything to follow him and were with him day after day hearing his teachings, watching as he healed the sick, raised the dead and preached the good news to the poor and hurting of the world, they didn’t always take on the same spirit. They saw him feed 5,000 men with a little boys lunch, yet they were still concerned about having enough bread to eat when Jesus confronted them about the leaven of the Pharisees. Even though they saw him as God in the flesh, it didn’t stop them from being deathly afraid when the storms of the Sea of Galilee arose around them. So many of his teachings about faith or even forgiveness just didn’t add up in their minds. When he told them that if a person sinned against them seven times in a day and turned again each time to say they had repented then they were to forgive them each time, the disciples response was, “Lord, increase our faith.” The reality that all of the disciples forsook him when the mob came to arrest him doesn’t send a very good message about his friends. The fact they couldn’t stay awake to pray with him in the time of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane is certainly discouraging. But the thing that stands out to me is this, no matter how often they failed to live up to what he asked of them he still saw them as his friends and treated them as such.
His friends are the ones he would die for. “Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friends.” But who did Jesus really die for? In Hebrews 2:9 the answer given is “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so the by the grace of God he might taste death for EVERYONE.” So, he saw everyone as among the people that he died for and thus as friends. In Romans 14 when Paul was discussing how to treat those who were weak in faith and often believed that things were wrong that weren’t really wrong at all, he said they were to receive them but not to disputes over doubtful matters. He warned those who were stronger in their faith and didn’t see certain foods as unclean or certain days as especially holy not to destroy the weaker brother “for whom Christ died.” This, by the way, absolutely destroys the notion that Jesus only died for those who are to be saved and all for whom he died will be saved. If that were true then there would be no way for a stronger brother to destroy the weaker one for whom Christ had died. Jesus died for all people because he regarded the whole world as among his friends.
Being Jesus friend is a tremendous thing because he did pay the price for our sins. But it also carries with it tremendous responsibility. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” So being the friend of Jesus also involved an obedient life from us. None of us fully obey everything that Jesus commands. But it is to be our heart to be obedient to his commands. We are to grow in that whole process regularly.
Jesus also explained that the disciples as his friends were given privileges that were not there if one were simply a servant of the Lord. As his friends Jesus said, he opened to them and to us what his plans were with his life, his ministry and his mission on the earth. He ultimately called on them and us to share that mission by giving what we know as the great commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature so that he who believes and is baptized may be saved.
Remember the old song, “There is not a friend like the lowly Jesus.” It goes on to declare there is no other friend like him and that is so true. He is the one friend who can heal all our soul’s diseases. But there is another song that is also extremely important to remember. “I’ll be a friend to Jesus.” I need to be the one that he can use and will be obedient to him.
We, in life, need three particular kinds of friends. We need a friend who can lift us up. They need to be ones that are stronger than we are and have been through some things in life that we haven’t dealt with so that they can advise us on the right and best way to live and pick us up when we stumble in our life for God. We need a friend whom we can lift up. Everyone needs friends who are struggling in ways that they aren’t or that they aren’t struggling any longer even though they once had those struggles. We need to be able to reach down and encourage, help and lift up another person as we grow. We also need a friend that can walk along beside us whom we help and who is helpful to us. Often that friend is a husband or wife that has become our partner for life. If we have one we are helping it builds us up and helps us feel useful and needed in life. If we have one who can help us when we struggle then it helps us overcome the fears and doubts of life since there is another who has been through much who loves us and helps us. If we have a partner that walks beside us we will together see and share blessings we might well have missed alone.
Always remember that the greatest friend any of us can have is Jesus who gave it all for us.