The Joy of Being Christ’s Friend (John 15:12-17)
By Andrew E. Courtis
With the invention of social media, various networks create the opportunity for people to connect in all sorts of amazing ways. Friends, family and acquaintances are able to interact in ways that may not be possible due to distance or other restrictions. With many positives, one dangerous thing about this is the way the word “friend” has become cheapened in this process. In a single click somebody you don’t know or barely know becomes your “friend”. This list of “friends” can become huge before you know it. I understand the value and benefits of social networks, but we need to make sure that as Christians we don’t allow important things like friendship to be cheapened, redefend or even hijacked.
Friendship is a precious gift from God that has untold value. The book of Proverbs is filled with wisdom in dealing with the topic of friendship. An example is, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). This verse teaches us that one who unwisely makes lots of friends can face complication and problems in the future. But there will be great benefit to the one who chooses a friend wisely, thus enjoying a relationship closer than a brother. The Bible also provides us with a number of examples in which individuals enjoyed the benefits of a close friendship. One of those is the friendship between David and Jonathan. This was a friendship that revealed sacrifice and loyalty.
In spiritual terms, there are only two kinds of friendship – friendship with the world or to be called Christ’s friend. In the Old Testament there were only two individuals to be called a friend of God. Abraham was a friend of God (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; James 2:23) and so was Moses (Exod. 33:11). This is an amazing privilege because when we read other parts of the Bible it becomes clear that we by nature and action are not friends with God – in fact we are His enemies. However, the passage before us teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ calls His people His friends (15:13-15). This is not a peer-to-peer friendship. This is a relationship in which the perfect Son of God chooses to call rebels His friends. This understanding helps guard us against treating a passage like this as something that encourages a casual and disrespectful view of Christ. John 15:12-17 is not encouraging us to view the Lord Jesus Christ as a mate or a buddy. He is our Lord and Saviour but He calls us His friends. What an amazing privilege to be called the friend of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Seeing then that Jesus called His disciples His friends, what does a friend of the Lord Jesus Christ look like? In this message I will endeavour to answer that question by considering three realities that characterise a friend of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sermon Summary: In this message we will see three realities that mark a friend of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. A Friend of Christ is Characterised by Sacrificial Love (15:12-13, 17)
The very first thing to note concerning the friends of the Lord Jesus Christ is that they are characterised by sacrificial love. Jesus said plainly, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (15:12) and “These things I command you, so that you will love one another” (15:17). A friend of the Lord Jesus Christ will love other believers. The command to love other believers is repeated throughout the New Testament. Because of its emphasis, it is something that we must be careful to understand and prioritize in our lives. When it comes to loving other believers, sometimes it can be a real challenge. It can be a challenge because we are too consumed with ourselves and don’t take much notice of those around us, and sometimes we may feel that others aren’t that lovable.
What can we do to remedy such problems when it comes to the commitment to love other believers? Again, read verse 12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (emphasis mine). The way in which Jesus loved us becomes the example and standard of what our love is to look like. It is not enough to say that we love God’s people. Sometimes we might fall into the trap of thinking that simply smiling, patting someone on the back or saying “hello” passes for Christian love. These are all lovely things, but they in and of themselves don’t make up Christian love. How did Jesus love us? In verse 13 we read, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Jesus loved us by taking upon Himself our sin and died as a substitute for us on the cross. This is sacrificial love. Why did Jesus have to die as a substitute for us? The answer is because we were the enemies of God. As sinners we deserve the just judgment of God, but in His grace and mercy He provided salvation for us. The sacrificial love that Jesus showed was the greatest demonstration of love (cf. Rom 5:8-10).
How can we as God’s people demonstrate this kind of love? Obviously we can’t match what Christ did. But the principle of sacrificial love is to characterise the way we treat other believers. Every time you think of, speak to or see another believer in Christ, view them as one of Christ’s friends that He died for. As friends of Christ, we can demonstrate sacrificial love by taking time out to pray for those in need, contribute to those in need, and actually reach out and help those in need. A church filled with people looking out for ways to show sacrificial love to each other sends out a powerful message. One, it shows that we are Christ’s friends and two, it provides a public testimony of the life changing power of gospel.
The first thing that characterises a friend of the Lord Jesus Christ is sacrificial love.
2. A Friend of Christ is Characterised by Submissive Obedience (15:14-15)
The second truth concerning the friends of the Lord Jesus Christ is that they are marked by submissive obedience. The disciples were told, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (15:14). Their obedience doesn’t make them Christ’s friends, but rather it defines and characterises their friendship.
There are too many people out there teaching or promoting a kind of “Christianity” that ignores or downplays obedience to Christ. “As long as you ask Jesus into your heart, you are going to Heaven”. But this style of speech tends to ignore matters concerning holiness and love for Christ. The NT does not teach “Christianity Light”. In-fact, it warns against such a shallow view of salvation (James 2:14-26). When the Lord saves us He gives us a new nature, which desires to love and obey Christ. As I said earlier, obedience doesn’t save us, but it is the natural outcome of salvation. Paul wrote,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
Jesus goes on to say that, “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” (15:15). The word “servant” is best to be translated “slave”. Though the people of God are slaves of Christ, this term doesn’t convey they way Christ views us. A slave is owned by their master and is obligated to obey their master. However, a master didn’t usually share personal information to their slave. Though Paul (Rom. 1:1), Peter (2 Pet. 1:1), James (James 1:1) all describe themselves as slaves of Christ, but this is a form of slavery in which Jesus graciously calls us friends. Jesus says, “but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you”.
Jesus shared with the disciples the will of the Father. We are incredibly blessed because we have the inspired Scriptures and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Every time we read the Bible, we are exposing ourselves to the Word of God and it is there we learn things the world doesn’t know or understand. As we take time to carefully read the Word of God, by means of Holy Spirit help, we have access to the purpose and plans of God for the world and for us. This is a privilege. Because we have such great access, as His friends we ought to willingly and lovingly obey what He calls for us to do and treasure His Word.
3. A Friend of Christ is Characterised by Sovereign Choice (15:16)
The third thing to note concerning the friends of the Lord Jesus Christ is that they are marked by sovereign choice. That is to say, they are His friends because He chose them to be His friends. In a normal friendship the individuals both make an equal choice to enter the friendship. But this is no ordinary kind of friendship. This is describing the Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ setting His love upon certain individuals and then choosing them to be His friends. Looking at the 11 disciples Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (15:16a). Some have asked if this choice is referring to their salvation or service as apostles. Whether it is referring to salvation or service; Jesus made the choice. Also, this was not a last minute choice. Jesus didn’t enter the scene then suddenly see His need for disciples by sending up an interview process. Before the foundation of the world He made this decision. For this reason, I personally think that this choice includes both their salvation and service because the reason they were chosen to be apostles came as a result of them being chosen to be believers. Regardless, the point is on the sovereign choice of Christ.
Of course His choice of them being His friends did not end there. Many people, when they hear the doctrine of election often object by saying something like “election kills evangelism!” It is interesting that immediately after telling the disciples that He chose them, He said that He, “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” (15:16). Here sovereign election leads to service. To be granted the great privilege of being called Christ’s friends could very easily lead to pride. That is why the doctrine of God’s sovereign choice of sinners is so humbling. God does not choose people based on what they look like or because of their achievements. God’s sovereign choice of sinners is done out of His free grace and love and is for His glory.
The fruit spoken of here no doubt broadly refers to any act of obedience to Christ, but the focus here may be on the fruit of evangelism and witness. Jesus adds, “so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” reminding us that prayer is a vital part of evangelism.
As Jesus prepares to leave these disciples, He tells them that they are His friends. This privilege ought to fill us with such security and satisfaction that we strive more and more to honour and prize Jesus Christ. If you are a believer, know that no matter what may go on around you, no matter how lonely you may ever feel, Jesus calls you His friend. Prize that and honour Him.