Last week, we heard the first 8 verses of John 15, where the focus was on abiding in and with Jesus, so that we can be well-grafted onto the Vine of faith. You’ll recall, I hope, that I suggested this requires a bit of effort on our part. ‘Pray more, worship more and give more’, was the strapline I proposed. This week, we move on to the next section of this really important bit of teaching from Jesus.
Abiding in Christ remains a focus, but now Jesus expands on his
theme to include the topic of love. He
says, “If you keep my commandments, you
will abide in my love…”. He goes on
to encourage his disciples to ‘love one another as he has loved them’, and goes
still further to say that he no longer thinks of his disciples as servants, but
rather as his friends.
Wow! Let’s just pause and think about that for a
moment. Jesus, the Lord of the Universe
through whom all things were made wants to call you and me his ‘friends’! Isn’t that mind-blowing? What’s more, he wants to introduce us to his
These concepts are SO far
beyond what believers of the time were taught to believe. They would have struggled to even grasp the
concept. For the vast majority of
religious people at the time of Jesus, God, any
god, was a remote, distant, unknowable mystery.
The Jewish understanding of God placed him at a marked distance from
human beings – either up a mountain, or behind a great curtain, living in the
Holy of Holies – a place which even the High Priest could only enter once a
year. And now, here was Jesus, God’s
son, saying that he sought not just servants, but friends.
But here we need to sound a
note of caution. This is God, through Jesus saying he wants to be our friend – but there are some
conditions to that friendship. “You are
my friends,” he says, “if you do what I command you”.
There is a tendency in some
quarters of Christianity to regard Jesus in rather familiar terms. Some of the worship songs of the last century have, in my view, a rather mawkish, almost romantic quality to them, as
indeed do some of our most familiar Victorian hymns: “What a friend we have in
Jesus”, for example. Such songs almost
(and in some cases actually) sound
more like love songs between two human beings.
They are passionate, loving or pleading in tone. They lay on with a trowel the concept of love between creator and creature – leading some commentators to cheekily
refer to them as ‘Jesus is my boyfriend songs’.
But we must not over-sentimentalise
what Jesus is offering to his disciples in this passage. Friendship with Jesus arises out of his gracious offer of friendship. He, gracefully, mercifully, initiates a
relationship of friendship. Despite all
the ways we fall short of his standards and teaching, the Lord of the Universe
reaches down to his creatures, and offers us his hand. But, it is a steel hand, in a velvet
glove. There is a condition attached – the condition of obedience to his
commandments. Jesus offers us his friendship, but we have a
stark choice to make. We can only be his
friends if we keep his commandments.
This means, of course, taking
Jesus seriously – which is something of what I meant last week when I talked
about praying more, worshipping more and giving more. In some Christian circles, it is possible to
get so caught up in adoration, love and worship of the God who offers us
friendship, and fills us with his Spirit, that we forget his friendship comes
Because, you see, how we live
our lives matters. If we live with hatred or unforgiveness in
our hearts, we are failing to keep Jesus’ commandments. If we live with greed or avarice, jealousy or
infidelity, we fall far short of the standards that Jesus requires of those he
calls friends. If we fail to care for
the poor, and the broken hearted, we cannot call ourselves Jesus’ friends.
But, lest anyone should think
that I’m saying we can earn our place
in the Kingdom by our own efforts, let me be clear. None of us can ever do that. None of us, not even the saintliest among us,
can hope to be good enough to earn
Jesus’ friendship. Jesus offers his friendship
despite our failings, out of his love
and his grace. But, if we accept that
friendship, we also accept the obligations that his friendship places upon
us. It’s simply not good enough to say ‘I’m
a friend of Jesus’, but then to fail to make any significant changes in the way
we live our life. Jesus may have indeed
paid the price, but there is still a cost to being a disciple. We may even be called upon to lay down our lives, as did our patron, Saint Faith and most of the first disciples. For "no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends".
The good news, of course, is
that Jesus never stops reaching out his hand of friendship, even if the velvet
glove conceals a steel hand. He is always willing
to forgive his friends, whenever we fall.
He always keeps his hand held out, for us to grasp and be drawn upwards. Jesus offers us his love, and his friendship. He initiates
that relationship, by his Divine grace and mercy. All he asks of us is that we follow him, live
like him, and obey his life-giving, world-changing commandments. Amen