We all have acquaintances. People we know, people we’re pleasant with. People we can have small talk with, talk about the weather, talk about sports.
But it can be easy to keep people at arm’s length, control what we reveal to someone.
Friendships are a struggle for many in our society.
When comparing surveys that Gallup did in 1990 and a 2021 survey from the American Enterprise Institute, when asked how many close friends people had (not including family members), for people who said they had zero close friends, the 1990 number had quadrupled from 3 percent to 12 percent in 2021.
People who said to have fewer than two close friendships doubled from 16 percent to 32 percent.
And the number of people who said that they had 10 or more close friends fell from 33 percent in 1990 down to 13 percent in 2021.
How many people know you?
Not people to whom you can give a passing prayer request, but who actually know your fears, know your dreams, know your struggles, your heart?
There is something that is so incredibly life giving about meaningful friendships. Being known. Being known in your weaknesses and imperfections but still being loved in spite of those things. It’s a powerful thing.
True friendship can be difficult, it can be challenging, yet it is absolutely essential. It’s essential to our wellbeing.
In a 2010 review of 148 studies which – across the board – had included more than 300,000 participants, stronger friendships were linked to increased lifespan and decreases in things such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Studies also found that close friendships had similar impacts on health to quitting smoking, and that in terms of lifespan, strong friendships were a bigger indicator than strong family connections.
That’s not to say that family connections aren’t important, of course. But it is to point out how much true friendship matters. Friends, not acquaintances. People who know you well enough to love you in spite of yourself.
It matters to our health, it matters to our happiness, and it matters to our ministering to the world as Christians.
No matter how quiet, or introverted, or shy a person is, we need friends. It’s part of our human nature. Our need for friendship and connection. It’s part of how we’re created and what we’re created for.
In John 15:12-17, on the even of going to the cross, Jesus will say to the disciples you are my friends.
This passage points us to three principles on friendship.
- The friendship Jesus calls us to
John 15:12:13: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
The command to love
Love one another. Let us appreciate how close to the heart of Christ our love for one another is. It’s the command that shows that we love Jesus. Loving others is not option for the Christian.
Does it mean we like everyone? Not necessarily. Does it mean we love everything everyone does? No, especially not sin. But we are to love. To be patient and kind. To want the best for people. To be forgiving when hurt or wronged. To put differences aside. To love people who are hard to love.
To love one another as Jesus has loved us.
That’s quite the standard. Because Jesus loves us with a perfect and righteous love.
Jesus loves a world where people plotted against him, where he was crucified. He loves a group of disciples where Peter denied him, where in the moments leading up to his arrest, some fell asleep and let him down.
Jesus calls us to love one another as he has loved us.
- The friendship Jesus displays
And he points to the pinnacle of that love in verse 13: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus is at one time pointing us to the great love for us that he is going to display on the cross when he lays down his life for his friends. And he is also pointing us to an incredible standard of love that the Lord desires for us. The greatest display of love is one laying down their life for their friends.
There’s something about that idea that intuitively speaks to us. The power of sacrifice. We honor those who lay down their lives.
In America, we have an entire day set aside – Memorial Day – to honor and remember those who gave their lives for our country.
Every September 11th, we remember the great sacrifices that people made. Firefighters who ran into those burning buildings. We remember the 343 firefighters who gave their lives. People who went into those buildings, with heavy gear, walking up the stairs into an inferno. They knew that it was incredibly dangerous. We remember the tremendous heroism of the people who overtook the highjackers on United 93 when they became aware of what had happened to other flights.
We honor and celebrate those stories. And that’s appropriate. It’s a powerful gesture when a person sacrifices their own life for something greater than themself.
Now for many of us, if someone we loved. A spouse, a child, a grandchild was in mortal danger, I have no doubt that many people in this room would lay down their life for the people who matter most to us without even blinking.
But there are a couple of things to keep in mind with Jesus as the example of the one who gives up his life for his friends.If I died to save someone, you’d call me a hero.
But here’s the thing. Unless Jesus comes back in my lifetime, I’m going to die. We might give up some time, some years of our life. And that’s significant. And that’s costly. But Jesus is the eternal God. He has life in himself. He would not have died a natural death.
But he gave up his life. And for whom did he do that? A fallen world.
Romans 5:6-8, Paul says: For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—
He finishes the thought: but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus befriends a world that was an enemy to God. Before we move on to our next point, I’ll make this point of application. While the pinnacle of love is laying down your life for another. Fortunately, there’s a good chance that none of us will ever be in that situation.
It’s easy to think of what we would do in an extreme situation.nBut what’s harder is dealing with the realities of life, the world, our own challenges and struggles.
It’s easy to say we’d be the hero when we’re not on the battlefield. We might not ever need to die for someone, but what are we living for?
Are we living to honor that command of Jesus? Are we living to love people and to honor our great God by loving the people who he loves? By loving the people he sent his son to die for?
Jesus shows that on the cross.
- The friendship Jesus invites us into
John 15:15: 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.
The eternal Christ says he does not call us servants, but he has called us friends. Like so many things that Jesus says in the gospels, if we’re not careful, it can be easy to overlook the immensity of that statement.
The Lord calls us his friends. In the Old Testament, that’s not typically the language we hear of people in their relationship to God.
We see Abrhaam referred to as God’s friend in the Old Testament. Abraham is also the patriarch from whom the Israelites would come.
Isaiah 41:8: you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
So the idea isn’t altogether absent but it’s not common in Old Testament usage. But with Jesus, he makes a sweeping declaration that he calls his servants friends.
Friendship and status
Think – for a moment – of that immense disparity of status between Jesus and us.
Do you have any close, personal friends who are movie stars? Or big time professional athletes? Or famous musicians? Or leaders of nations?
We tend to have friends who are of a similar social standing to us.
Now if you could meet someone famous who you admire. Maybe it is an athlete, or a TV personality, or a former president, and you met that person, and they actually sat down with you and talked to you for 15, maybe 20 minutes. Asked you all about yourself, your life, your family, your interests.
You’d be so taken with that person.
You’d tell everyone you knew about meeting them. How nice they really were.
Are you telling people about Jesus? Because the Lord of the universe invites us to personally know him. He calls us his friends.
He gives his life for us.
We’d tell people about meeting someone famous. We’d want a picture, want an autograph. But that person wouldn’t be your friend. Jesus is.
You’d tell everyone you know about meeting someone famous.
Friendship with Jesus is not meant to be something that we have just to have for ourselves. He calls us to love one another, but Jesus also values our friendship with those who do not know him, so that they too can be his friends.
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.
This verse is showing the closeness of the relationship that we get to have with Jesus.
We are created by him, we are subservient to him, we are infinitely less than him. But through divine initiative, Jesus no longer calls us servants, and he grounds that because a servant does not know what his master is doing.
But Jesus let’s us in. He’s a personal savior. He would be within his rights to simply command us and we follow it, but he came into the world and showed us. He demonstrated who he was to us. He taught us.
Jesus reveals things about himself, and his heart for the world.
He spent time with people. He let’s us in. In other religions, they believe that God is so transcendent and above people that we cannot know him. And while the Lord is so great that we cannot fully comprehend him, Jesus is relational and personal.
Jesus came into the world and lived in total submission to the will of God, though Jesus himself is divine and in him, the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell. And as the Son has a perfect relationship with the Father, he invites us into a relationship and friendship with him.
Sin had tarnished our relationship with God, but Jesus restores that and he can do that because the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit have always had a perfect relationship with each other.
John 15:16: 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.
Is he saying that he chose them to be disciples and that this verse only relates to the disciples?
No. This verse is true for all friends of Jesus.
You did not choose me, but I chose you
It should not be surprising. In the Old Testament, as Israel did not choose to be God’s chosen nation and as Abraham did not choose to be selected for God’s covenant, our friendship with Christ is ultimately at the sovereign initiative of Christ.
Ephesians 1:4: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
What a comfort it is that our faith does not hinge on us. I’m sure we’ve all had friendships that did not stand the test of time. We sometimes have a falling out with someone. Jesus is the friend who does not leave us. He’s the friend who is faithful.
Verse 17: These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
This verse wraps up this section. He points back to what he has said and reminds us of the purpose for what he has said: so that you will love one another.
Let’s tie this all together.
As a reminder, in verse 16, Jesus had said:
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.
This is getting at our purpose as Jesus’ friends.
That we go…and bear fruit.
Again, I keep pointing this out but it’s important to remember that this is the night before Jesus is crucified. These are some of the final words he gives to his disciples.
And what Jesus is getting at here is his mission in the world.
His command is that the disciples love. The true disciple of Jesus observes his command. Jesus calls his disciples friends. And Jesus has appointed disciples to go and bear fruit. To go into the world and bear fruit.
To go into a world that is hostile to the gospel and share the message of Christ. To go into a world where there are enemies of God and to make friends and introduce them to our friend Jesus. We’re called to love one another and to love others with the love of Jesus.
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