We are Friends of Christ (John 15:12-17)

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There are expectations for friends of Christ.

We are to obey His commands.

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).

It is important at this point to remember a few other verses. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. . . . 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. . . . 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:15–23).

It is our obedience to God’s commands that prove our love for Him. 

This verse takes a little bit different view. Let us appropriately feel the full weight of this conditional clause and be impacted by it. Jesus says, “if you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.”

Assess yourself.  Jesus seems to offer a logical implication. If you do not keep my commandments, you will not abide in my love. Those who genuinely love Christ, will obey Him. If you assess yourself and conclude that you are not obeying Him, then it might be safe to as well conclude that you do not love Him. 

Your ability to obey is given to you. If you assess yourself and find that you are characterized by obedience, remember that your ability to obey is due to the work of God in you.  Paul exhorts the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, but then concludes, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12–13).

To assess ourselves in this area, we need to understand the commands to which Christ is referring.

We are to love one another.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). (1) Love is sacrificial. John explains to the reader of his first epistle that we know love in “that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 Jn 3:16). Additionally, Paul offers a model of love to husband by describing how “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). (2) Love is noticeable. Love must be noticeable, or the verse would ring hollow that “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). This type of love must be visible for everyone to be able to see it and draw conclusions about the love present within the live of a believer. (3) Love is humble. Paul exhorts the Philippians to have “the same love” as Christ, and then goes on to describe that love. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). (4) Love is long-suffering. Jesus’ interaction with Peter shows He is long-suffering. Peter boasts of his unwavering commitment only hours before he denies Christ. Yet, Christ will soon come back to Peter and restore Him. Christ never gave up on Peter and will never give up on you.

Paul organizes all these separate qualities in his one lengthy description of love. In 1 Corinthians he writes, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4–7).

There are privileges for friends of Christ.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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. (Jn 15:13–15).

We are friends, no longer slaves.

We add the term friend to an ever-lengthening list of endearing terms for believers. In Galatians we are called “sons of God” (Gal 3:26). In Romans, Paul refers to us as “children of God” and “heirs of God” and “fellow heirs of Christ” (Rom 8:16-17). Jesus uses the endearing and familial terms of “mother and my brothers” to refer to those who follow him (Mk 3:33-34). In many passages, believers are referred to as disciples (i.e. Acts 6:7). As well John and Peter employ the picture of “sheep” (Jn 21:17) and “the flock of God” (1 Pe 5:2).

Not that slave of Christ is a bad designation. Believers should not struggle being labeled servants or slaves. Moses consistently, was labeled “the servant of the Lord” (Deut 34:5).  The author of Judges offers the title of “the servant of the Lord” to Joshua and appears to offer the title as a commendation. David refers to himself as “the servant of the Lord” (Ps 18:1). Paul calls himself “a bond-servant of God” (Titus 1:1). James as well refers to himself with the self-appointed title of “a bond-servant of God” in James 1:1.

Therefore, the significance in John 15 lies not in slave or servant being an inappropriate or inaccurate term for believers, but instead Jesus emphasizes the great honor of our being called his friends. Jesus establishes a new and better level of intimacy. Believers have moved into a new and more intimate role. We do not simply have tickets to the big event, we have backstage passes. We are not just acquaintances of the big star; we are BFF’s with the big star. We are not just the pool boy; we are the sons and daughters and heirs to the fortune.

Servants strive to please their master. Even though Christ designates us friends, we believers still approach him and respect him as servants and slaves. We forever rejoice in our new and intimate position, but always full well knowing we are unworthy. Paul considers that his life is to be spent striving for the approval and pleasure of God. He writes in Galatians, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). The implication? Paul desires the approval of God rather than man because he considers himself to be a servant of God.

What then is Christ’s intention in John 15? Christ extends a hand of intimacy, and we respond by thanking Him and extending Him a hand of respect.

While in college, I worked at Glenn’s Market in Watertown. Great job. Typically, when I worked during the day, I was the lone young man with a bevy of older ladies. I, being raised the way I was, called them “Ma’am.” They probably did not want to feel old, so they didn’t really want me to call them “Ma’am.” They would tell me to call them by their first name. To which I would reply, “yes ma’am.”

They extended to me a level of intimacy in asking me to call them by their first name, and as a result I extended them a level of respect.

Jesus extends to his followers this deepened level of intimacy. He considers us his dear friends. Slaves do not approach their master whenever they want and ask or petition him as often as they may like. But Jesus considers us friends. A friend senses and possesses the luxury of approaching at any time.

As friends, we can come to him at any time. Some of you may have experienced this with me. If I am in a meeting, I will likely pause if my wife or children call me. I will probably handle the matter quickly, but they have access to me whenever they may need. However, if others call during a meeting, I will probably silence the call or send a quick text response. We possess the title, “Friends of Jesus” as well as the title “children of God.” With those titles, we never need to hesitate in approaching and drawing near to Christ or coming in prayer to the Father. You do not need any other credentials. You do not need some other established authority. You do not need to perform certain rituals or endure certain formalities. We are friends and family. If we were slaves, we would not boldly enter the presence of the King. But we are not like slaves who would never dream of entering the court. We are not like the throngs that crowd the street longing for a glimpse of royalty. Instead, we humbly yet boldly enter the presence of God as dear friends and intimate family.

We are recipients of insider information.

Let me draw your attention to the end of verse 15. Jesus declares, “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” (Jn 15:15).

Similarly, in Matthew, the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke to the crowds in parable. Jesus responded with, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt 13:10–11). And again, in Luke, Jesus privately told his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Luke 10:23–24).

Understanding through the Spirit. “We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God . . . The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them” (1 Cor 2:10-14).

Due to God’s work not our abilities. We do not receive and understand this information because we have some extra special ability. We possess nothing more deserving than others. God chose to work in us and communicate to us.

We were chosen by God to bear fruit.

In verse 16, Jesus continues, “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” (Jn 15:16).

Last week we took some time to work through the fruit of the Christian life. I defined it as any good, right, and true byproduct of an ongoing relationship with Christ. This fruit may be manifest through the investment of other people by means of the process of conversion and discipleship. It may manifest itself through ongoing development of godly character. Giving of ourselves, money, time, abilities. Praise and thanksgiving. All may be manifestations of the fruit of abiding in Christ, the vine.

We know our prayers will be answered.

Jesus once again brings up the topic of prayer in this final discussion with his disciples.

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (Jn 14:13–14).

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (Jn 15:7).

“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” (Jn 15:16).

One of the purposes in calling us friends and one of the benefits in being Christ’s friend is that we have the privilege to come to the Father in prayer and be heard.

As discussed earlier, hardly is this a promise for any believer to receive whatever they want by asking in prayer. Jesus’ statement must be understood in light of the other similar passages. Jesus says, in John 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Again, John writes, in his first epistle, “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 Jn 5:14). Jesus as well said, in Mark, “whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mk 11:24).

We understand that the effectiveness of our prayers rest in ongoing obedient walks with Christ, and then motivated by his will – specifically that people come to a saving faith in Christ – we pray; and our prayers are heard and answered.

The specific context for these prayers in John 15 is bearing fruit. It appears that the prayers are focused on our ability to bear fruit. As we come to God and petition Him to work through us, He will listen and produce fruit in our lives.

We can know, with surety, that when we pray in accordance with the will of God our prayers are received and answered. When we ask God to use us in a mighty way, He answers us. We can be assured of that and be encouraged by it.