By Pastor Glenn Pease
After making his historic stand before the Diet Of Worms where he defied the church and refused to recant, Martin Luther started for home. He had stirred up a hornet's nest of opposition, and plots were made against his life. As Luther's carriage entered a narrow pass, ideal for an ambush, it was suddenly surrounded by 5 horsemen, who were masked and armed. They forced Luther to get down, and they threw a cloak over him. They put him on an extra horse and disappeared into the forest. Silently they took Luther to the Castle of Wortburg, which was hidden high in the mountains.
There he discovered that he was in the hands of friends. Frederic the Elector had Luther kidnapped in order to protect him from his enemies who would certainly have killed him. This single act of friendship changed the course of history and played a major role in the success of the reformation. It was while hiding in that castle that Luther translated the Bible into the German language. He did much other writing also that influenced the thinking of the masses.
Time and time again friendship has been the force determining the course of history. We see it in the great friendship of David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. Jonathan loved David even more than his own father Saul. He defended and protected David when Saul was out to kill him. When Jonathan died in battle David wrote in great sorrow in II Sam. 1:26, "I am distressed for you my brother Jonathan, very pleasant have you been to me, your love to me was wonderful passing the love of women." David is saying that friendship love can be a greater pleasure than erotic love, and we will see the importance of this later even in marriage.
This also has tremendous implications for singles, for it is saying that the sexual relationship is not the highest relationship of two people. Jesus never had a mate, but He did have friends, and this is potentially a higher level of love. Friendship can be a higher level than any other relationship. Abraham is called the friend of God, and there is no way to top that. The Bible puts friendship on a very high level, and sometimes even above family ties. Even pagan authors recognize this as true to life. Euripides wrote, "A friend welded into our life is more to us than twice 5000 kinsman, one in blood." Engel the German said, "Blood relationship is sweet, but how much sweeter are alliances of the soul?"
Similar statements can be found from every land and people from ancient times to the present. Emerson said, "A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature." We are designed by God to be social beings, and so there is a hunger in all people for friends. And ancient Jewish proverb said, "Friends, though they be as Job's friends, or else death." The Russian poet Dimitriev wrote, "I've been seeking a friend! There's none below. The world must soon to ruin go." I do not exaggerate when I say I could go on for hours just quoting the praises of friendship from philosophers and poets from around the world. We would expect that Jesus would have something to say about such an important subject, and we find this to be the case. In fact, Jesus is unsurpassed in His exaltation of friendship. He raised it to the highest possible level by making it a relationship that can be had between God and man. In Christ God becomes our friend. We have the testimony of Christ's enemies to support this, for they called Him a friend of sinners. They meant it as slam, but it is, in fact, a compliment, for had He not been a friend of sinners He would have been a friend of no one, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Jesus was a friend to the friendless, and you see Him befriending those sinners and victims of sin that the Pharisees shunned. They would toss coins to them and give them advice, and even pray for this scum of the earth around them, but to befriend them was a definite no no. And to eat with them was unheard of. That is how they thought they knew Jesus was not divine, for had He really been deity He would have known to have better taste than to eat with an befriends with such sinners. Listen to this testimony from the great Jewish scholar Montefiore. He is looking at Jesus from a non-Christian point of view:
"The rabbis attached no less value to repentance than Jesus.
They sang its praises and its efficacy in a thousand tones...
They too welcomed the sinner in his repentance. But to seek
out the sinner, and instead of avoiding the bad companion,
to choose him as your friend in order to work his moral
redemption, this was, I fancy, something new in the religious
history of Israel."
The Jews set up shop and said come and get it, but Jesus, like a Shepherd, went out to seek and save the lost. He went after them because He was their friend. Friendship evangelism started with Jesus. The idea of winning people to God by first of all winning their friendship was His strategy from the start. Most Christians do not win others to Christ because they think they need the gift of evangelism, or some special training. The fact is, all you really need is to be a friend. Walter F. Isenhour wrote,
You may not stand in the halls of fame
With many honors to your name;
You may not own a lot of wealth,
Nor even have the best of health;
You may not reach some earthly throne,
Nor claim a mansion of your own;
You may not master some great art,
Nor rank with those the world calls smart,
But you can be friendly.
You may not be a scholar great,
Nor with the learned highly rate;
You may not wear a pretty face,
Nor fill a great, important place;
You may not write a book or song,
Nor have the praises of a throng;
You may not ride in Pullman cars,
Nor reach through eloquence the stars,
But you can be friendly.
Studies show that the vast majority of people who attend church do so because of friends. Eliminate friendship from the picture and you eliminate most church growth. Every church wants to be known as the friendly church because it is a known fact that friendship is the source of growth. If a church is not friendly it will not grow. Dr. Wilbur Chapman did a study of the people who were healed by Jesus and he found this same truth. Of the 40 specific people Jesus healed of a disease, 34 of them were brought to Jesus by friends, or he was brought to them by friends. In only 6 cases did people come on their own. The point is, people do come on their own to Christ and the church, but the vast majority come because of friends. The most likely way any Christian is going to touch another life for Christ is by means of friendship.
As vital as this aspect of friendship is, it is not the theme of our text. Jesus is not speaking in public here but in private with His chosen disciples. He is not talking about their friendship evangelism and relationship to the world, but of their relationship to one another. Jesus is teaching that friendship is to be on the very highest level among Christians. In fact, it is to be on the level of divine love, which is unselfish and self-sacrificing love. Jesus starts with the love of God for the Son. Then He says that the Son loves the disciples with this same love, and then the disciples are to love one another with this God-like and Christ-like love. Agape love and Philia love are one here. Friendship if lifted to the very heights of divine love. To get to a level higher than this is impossible, and so friendship has the capacity of being the highest degree of love possible.
Jesus says that greater love has no one than that of laying down his life for a friend. Jesus was about to go to the cross and do just that, and so He is telling us here that the cross was the greatest act of friendship in all of history. It is theologically accurate to say that the greatest word in human language is friendship, for it was by this loving act of friendship that Jesus made eternal life possible for fallen man. Everything that we love and treasure is ours because of the friendship of God revealed and carried out by Jesus. Now Jesus says in verse 14, "You are my disciples if you do what I command you." And what He commands in verses 12 and 17 is that we love one another. If we want to be a friend of the Greatest Friend, we must be friends of those who are His friends. It is failure at this point that is the source of every problem in the church.
When Christians are not friends they lose the friendship of Christ, and they are not then agents of friendship in the world, but are part of the problem. Every problem you can think of can be traced back to a lack of friendship. And every blessing can be traced to the presence of friendship in some form. This subject is not a mere minor talk to children to be nice to one another. This is the very essence of the Christian life. The key to all relationships being their best is friendship. The more we grasp this the more we will pray a prayer like that of Brennon Manning:
Father, you have so many
Thank you for sharing them
Thank you for sending me
People to love;
People who love me.
Thank you for sharing them
These friends of yours,
Who have done so much
And make me happy.
Thank you, Father, for Jesus
And the gift of His friendship.
The English word friend comes from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning one who loves. Elizebeth Seldon in the Book of Friendship says, "There is so much friendship in love, and so much love in friendship, that it would be futile to ask where friendship ends and where love begins." Biblically, friendship doesn't end, for it is a part of the very love of God. Friendship is everlasting, and the more we get in time the more we enjoy heaven on earth. Friendship love is not a love that is to be excluded from other levels of love. It is to be included on all levels in order to enrich them. In other words, we are to aim at the goal of making our mate our friend, our children and grandchildren our friends, our parents and grandparents our friends, and our God our friend. The goal of all relationships is to get to the level where they are friendships.
Friendship has to do with intimacy that is not just physical. Eros is sexual intimacy, but that can be had with a harlot. It is not really a sharing of one's self except on a superficial level. An in depth sharing of who you are and what you know is intimacy on a higher level, and Jesus calls this friendship. In verse 15 He says, "I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." When you open up your inner being and share that with another, you make that other a friend. If you do not share your deepest interests and insights with another person, you are saying to them that they are not your friend. A friend is one who gets to see the real you that is hidden to those who are only acquaintances. The more you can feel comfortable in sharing with another, the greater the degree of friendship.
The disciples were deep friends of Jesus, for He says that everything He learned from His Father He made known to them. Jesus held nothing back, but became an open book to them. He told the crowds a great deal, but He had an intimacy with His disciples that made them special. What we see is that friendship is a complicated concept because it is like a color. It comes in so many different shades. There is almost an endless number of shades of red, and so it is with friendship. You have for example:
1. Single purpose friends. You go fishing or hunting together, or you shop and swim together. They get to share just certain aspects of your life.
2. Multipurpose friends. This is a deeper friendship, for you enjoy many different things with them. Mates are sometimes just single purpose friends and so you do not have as deep a friendship with the one you marry as one you enjoy many things with, for you have so many common interests.
Every couple needs to work at becoming multipurpose friends to deepen their intimacy. Couples tend to settle for being single purpose friends because that was the intense emotion that brought them together in the first place, but as life changes they need to expand their levels of friendship. The more levels of intimacy they develop, the more likely their relationship will grow rather than decline with time.
Every relationship is enriched by friendship. St. Augustine developed a friendship with his mother so that could share the joys of nature and travel, and even have theological discussions together. They had a friendship that was so deep and inspiring that Ladislaus Boros in his book Meeting God In Man devotes a whole chapter to unique friendship. There was no rebellion or resistance to each other, but only a common joy in being together. That is friendship that is an ideal for all Christians to strive for. Helen Steiner Rice wrote,
Friendship if a priceless gift
That cannot be bought or sold,
But its values is far greater
Than a mountain made of gold,
For gold is cold and lifeless,
It can neither see nor hear,
And in the time of trouble
It is powerless to cheer.
It has no ears to listen,
No heart to understand,
It cannot bring you comfort
Or reach out a helping hand.
So when you ask God for a Gift,
Be thankful if He sends
Not diamonds, pearls or riches,
But the love of real true friends.
These true friends may be your mate, parents, or children. They are the best potential friends, for they already know you at your worst, and one of the concepts of a friend is that they are someone who knows the worst about you and still love you. They know of your spots and wrinkles, and they aggravating idiosyncrasies of your behavior, but they love you just the same, and you love them. This mutual acceptance of the flawed selves is what friendship is all about. If we come to Jesus and confess our sin, He will forgive, for He is our Friend, and He will accept us even with our flaws, when others would not. That is why He is our greatest Friend.