Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. 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.
As I read this passage this morning I was struck by the frequent use of the word “friend.” The word “disciple” occurs far more frequently in John than the word “friend.” Yet in this portion of the farewell discourse, Jesus calls his students friends three times.
And each use of the word, Jesus defines his friendship with us. First, the greatest expression of love is laying one’s life down for his friends. Friendship is not simply possessing warm fuzzy feelings for another person. Rather, friendship is built upon self-sacrificing love and intimate trust. This must have been like a splash of water in the disciples’ faces. Throughout their ministry they seem to be competing with each other for the best positions in what they understand to be the political kingdom Jesus is about to establish. Their relationships with each other are more about measuring one another up, outdoing one another, and jostling for the closest position to Jesus so that when he establishes his kingdom (as any good Messiah would) he would then choose the wisest, closest, and most exceptional to be his highest lieutenants. (It almost feels like the myriad reality shows that fascinate our culture.) But Jesus turns the disciples idea of relationships completely on its head. The greatest expression of love, which is the fruit that Jesus’ students will yield (John 15:8-10), is sacrificing oneself on behalf of others.
Second, friendship to Jesus is living in sync with who Jesus is and what he is doing. It’s more than shaking Jesus’ hand or saying a prayer that transfers possession of admission into heaven. Rather, as Paul says, it’s having the mind of Christ. It’s partnership in Jesus’ character, life, and mission. Read it slowly and let it sink in, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” You’re my friends if you become like me — filled with my life, my love, my compassion, my power — and do what I’m doing — completing, renewing and rescuing my Father’s good world by loving God and loving others.
Third, friendship with Jesus is hearing God’s will through Jesus. Notice, Jesus hears from his Father. And then he shares what he hears with his friends. Being friends with Jesus transcends the servant/master relationship. Jesus doesn’t just give commands to follow blindly. He doesn’t keep his friends in the dark regarding his Father’s mission. Jesus is the revelation of God, continually keeping his friends in the intimate Father-Son communications. He makes known everything he hears from his Father. But this means abandoning our values and beliefs as Jesus makes known his Father’s mind and heart. This includes personal hopes and dreams, wounds and hurts. It includes our culture’s indoctrination regarding what we value and how we measure success, beauty, worth and goodness. It includes nationalistic pride and political affinities. As Jesus shares with us the intimacies of his Father, drawing us closer to him by sharing the Father’s deepest plans for his creation, it assumes our drawing near by casting off everything that contradicts what is shared. Jesus shares what he has heard and learned from the Father so we may join in partnership with him, not debate its viability or determine how it can be assimilated into our current value system or personal quests.