“I HAVE CALLED YOU FRIENDS…
There are, I think, few passages of the New Testament on the lips of Jesus that are more touching, more tender, more loving, than these. It’s one thing to be saved in Christ—He is utterly beyond us, after all (though He is equally right with us!). But I can understand salvation as an act of generosity from a superior to an inferior. And honestly, that’s how most of us think of being saved in Christ.
But the nature of friendship is the meeting and embracing of equals—accepting the other for who he/she is, challenging the person to growth, trusting the person implicitly, respecting the dignity of the other. And we—friends with Jesus Christ?! To paraphrase the line from the Gospel on which the title of this essay is based: “You’re not lackeys; you’re partners.” Really?
Friends share things; they share their lives. They may cook and eat together; they may take walks together; they may cry together; ideally, they may also pray together. But the bottom line is the word “together”—as partners/soul-mates/equals. This—for us—with Jesus??!! How can this possibly happen?
The Greek word for “friendship” is philia. It was regarded by the ancient Greeks (and the early Church Fathers, deeply influenced by Greek philosophy) as the 2nd highest form of love. We hope that it ultimately leads to the highest form, agape, self-sacrificing love. But even if it does not, it is still a tremendous and noble blessing.
When he was challenged about his love for Him (John 21), Peter was twice asked if he loved (agape) Jesus; Peter’s response was that he loved (philia) Him. The 3rd time, Jesus asked if Peter loved (philia) Him. And of course, Peter broke down. But the great thing is that Jesus never let Peter off the hook—instead, He affirmed him in his weakness: “Peter, I know you’re not quite there yet—too much guilt you’re dealing with because of the denials. But you will come along—because you’re my friend. And because, no matter what else, I love you.”
What might we be willing to do/suffer/sacrifice/accomplish, if we were once convinced that we were (by His choice and desire) friends of the Lord? After all, when we truly and genuinely fall in love, we’re willing to make all kinds of sacrifices for the Beloved. What about us, with Jesus?
An example: years and years ago, when I was a teacher in Montgomery, there was a woman on the faculty that I really couldn’t stand. She drove me crazy. But then I began dating another woman who turned out to be the first woman’s friend! I had two choices: drop the woman I was dating, or figure out what was the good in the first woman. I chose the second, and she and I became and remained good friends long after the woman I was dating and I broke up. We stayed spiritually close (even after she moved to South Carolina), up until a few months before my ordination, when she died of cancer. I was willing to change my heart because of one love; I gained another, a deeper love. And Christ is calling us to the same transformation of heart. Are we ready to allow Him to make us His friends?