True Friendship (John 15:13-17)
True friends are so hard to find in this day and age. Everywhere we turn, it seems that people are interested in themselves, that they do not care about anyone else but themselves. It seems that every time I try to get off an elevator at a hospital, a mob is trying to get on before those on the elevator can get off. How many people keep going in their cars at Walmart when you’re trying to get in the store and it’s pouring the rain and you have children? How many people don’t care who has the right-of-way at a traffic stop, they’re in a hurry and they’re going to go?
Because rudeness, self-centeredness is a problem, we need to learn what true friendship is really all about. The night before he was crucified, Jesus discussed true friendship with his disciples. We want to explore this passage that we might learn about true and right friendship.
Jesus’ Friendship for His Disciples, v 13
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
In Greco-Roman writings, great love was equated with sacrificial love. Aristotle wrote, “To a noble man there applies the true saying that he does all things for the sake of his friends . . . and, if need be, he gives his life for them.” Plato: “Only those who love wish to die for others.”
What is interesting to note is that the rabbis of Jesus’s day taught that one should not die for another. Rabbi Akiba (who lived within a few years of the Apostle John) argued that one’s own life took precedence over another’s. The disciples at this point would likely not have understood what Jesus was saying, but those in the Greco-Roman world to whom John wrote would have well understood this principle.
Love is equated with the sacrificial giving up of one’s life for another. Jesus demonstrated that love, that friendship, when he gave up his life for us. Jesus “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age” (Gal 1:4). “Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph 5:2). “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us” (1 Jn 3:16).
Jesus did not have to give himself for our sins; no one forced him to do so, but he in his great love and mercy willingly died for our sins.
Jesus’s Disciples’ Friendship for Jesus, vv 14-15
“You are My friends if you do what I command you.”
Jesus equates our being his friend with how well we obey him. We sometimes sing: “I’ll be a friend to Jesus, My life for Him I’ll spend; I’ll be a friend to Jesus, Until my years shall end.” More is required to be Jesus’s friend than simply singing about it; if we are to be Jesus’s friend, we must obey him. Are you going to obey Jesus? Wil you be his friend?
Obedience to Jesus is absolutely essential; if we do not obey him, we cannot claim to be his friend. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15). “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments” (2 Jn 6).
“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
Some people have wanted to see Jesus as giving up some authority here, for the disciples are called friends rather than servants. Yet, one needs to look carefully at what Jesus said.
A servant does not know what his master is doing. If a king wants to make a decision, he simply informs his servants want they need to do; he doesn’t inform them of what his reasoning is or what his long term plans are. If Jesus were simply treating us as servants, he would not inform us of what his long term plans are, he would not inform us of what his reasoning is.
A friend does know what his master is doing. A king may have very close friends; if he is an absolute potentate, they must obey what he says or face dire consequences. But to these friends, quite unlike to his servants, the king informs his friends of what his long terms plans are and what his reasoning is. Likewise, Jesus is still an absolute potentate, we still need to obey what he says, but he has informed us of what his long-term plans are, what his reasoning is.
God has made revelation known to the church. Romans 16:25-26. Ephesians 3:3-5.
Through revelation we know what God’s plan is, we understand that God requires certain behavior based upon his holiness. If we were not friends of Jesus, he would simply tell us what he required. But because we are friends of Jesus, he has revealed to us his intentions, his holiness.
Jesus’s Disciples Friendship for One Another, v 17
“These things I command you, that you love one another.”
It is not enough that Jesus demonstrated friendship toward us and that we are to demonstrate friendship toward him; as his disciples, we are to demonstrate friendship for one another.
Jesus has spent a good bit of time here in his last discourse with the disciples before his crucifixion about their need to love on another. He says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13:34). Jesus calls this a “new commandment,” but the admonition to love one another was old: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). What made the command Jesus give “new” was the degree of love. Under the Old Testament, the love was to be extended as one loved himself. Under the New Testament, the love is raised much higher; it is a sacrificial love, a love that puts the interests of others before itself, a love that loves as Jesus has loved. Just before the text we’ve studied, Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).
We need to extend great love toward one another. The love that Christians have for one another is to separate them from every other group: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have for one another” (Jn 13:35).
We have so many opportunities to express this love. When someone experiences grief, we can be there—either in the home or at the funeral home, we can provide food, a place to stay for out-of-town guests who come to be with their family. When someone faces an illness, we can be there—either at the hospital or in the home, we can transport the person back and forth for treatment. When someone faces any kind of difficulty, we can provide a shoulder to cry on; when someone experiences great joy, we can be there to rejoice. Mark Twain once said, “Few of us can stand prosperity—another man’s, I mean.” We can prove Mark Twain wrong and rejoice with those who rejoice.
In the first century, the pagans said of Christians, “They love each other without knowing each other” and “Behold, how these Christians love one another.” Let us love those around us that people in the modern world might say, “Behold, how they love one another.” Are you a friend? Do you love your neighbor as Jesus has loved you?
Jesus has proven to be the best friend that man could ever have; he demonstrated that friendship through his selfless sacrifice for us. We need to return that love through loving one another.
But we also need to return that love through obedience to Jesus.
- We need to believe every word he has spoken; believe that he is, in fact, the Son of God: “I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (Jn 8:24).
- We need to confess with our lips that faith in Jesus as the Son of God: “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt 10:23).
- We need to repent, to turn from our sins: “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:3).
- We need to be baptized to have all our sins washed away: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16)
I know that some people balk at baptism, and they say, “You don’t really need to be baptized.” But remember that Jesus said one did need to be baptized: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Remember also that Jesus said if we love him, we will obey him. Do you need to come and obey Jesus this morning? Do you need to come and become a friend of Jesus? Do you need to come and demonstrate your love for Jesus?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.