I had the privilege of spending a day this weekend with a long-time friend. We met at the Outer Banks for a night to catch-up on each other’s lives. She’s involved in an orphan advocacy ministry called 127 Worldwide, Inc. It was so great to spend the time with her, hearing what God is doing and sharing with each other.
What is a friend? What does friendship look like?
I think each of us could come up with a list of characteristics that we value in our friendships: trust, like-mindedness, a willingness to “be there”, a spiritual condition–the list could be very long and contain a variety of attributes.
But as I was driving back home from being with my friend, I thought about Jesus and friendship. Jesus and His friends. Particularly Peter.
In John 15:15, Jesus says “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.”
I find this verse to be tremendous. Jesus considered those around Him to be His friends. Friends! Can you imagine what it must be like to be the friend of the Son of God? And yet that is also what He considers you and I to be, if we are believers and followers of Christ. We are friends of God!
When I consider that, it humbles me, because I am not a very good friend to Jesus. There are times that I have neglected Him, abandoned Him, mocked Him. I have sinned against Him. There is no reason why God should call me a friend.
And there have been times that I’ve not been a very good friend to my earthly friends. There are times I have neglected them. Abandoned them. Forgotten them. And this breaks my heart, because I want so badly to be a good friend.
In John 15:13, Jesus says “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” This is what my Jesus has done for me…..He has laid down his life for me, for the forgiveness of my sins. Yet have I laid down my life for Him? I would like to think that I have, but upon close examination, I really have not. The selfishness that consumes me keeps me from saying “God, here is my life. Do with it as you would please. I lay it down for you.” Oh, I want to be able to say those words, and I have said them before. But do I really mean them? Do you really mean them? What would such a friendship look like?
We often think that a friend would be one who would never abandon or betray us. But take a look at the disciples. At the moment of Jesus’ most need for His friends, they could not even stay awake one hour to pray or to watch while Jesus prayed. And then Peter. Poor Peter–who declared he would never betray his friend Jesus, denied him three times at the height of Christ’s crises.
But Peter went on to become the founder of the first century church. The disciples who could not stay awake became strong pillars in the growing faith after Christ’s resurrection.
What about Judas, who betrayed Jesus? Who wasn’t a follower of Christ? We read this passage in Matthew 26:47-50:
While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.
Every time I read this passage, it stabs me in the soul. Jesus said to Judas, whom He knew was approaching Him to betray Him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Oh, how those words must have pierced Judas through and through. Friend. Jesus’ friend. Judas. And thus scripture was fulfilled, because Psalm 41:9 said “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”
So what is a friend? I think the answer is far more complicated than the surface treatment that we give the term friendship today. What we do know is that friendship is created by God, for us. What we do know is that Jesus valued friendship. What we do know is that a friend should be willing to lay down His life for another friend. What we do know is that friendship can be difficult.
I value my friendships deeply. I have had friends that have made tremendous sacrifices for me and my crew. I have had friends that have turned their backs on me and abandoned me. I have had friends that have grown steadily over many years, and friends that have been “instant friendship” upon meeting. I am grateful in each of these situations, for my friends. I am sad when I take my friendships for granted; when I don’t take the time to nurture them and pursue them, because of excuses such as lack of time or energy. I must make more effort in being a better friend.
And I must make more effort to be a better friend to my Jesus. I say that cautiously, because I would never, ever assume equality in our relationship—He is the almighty God, I am His child. But my relationship with Him needs nurturing, too, without the excuses of lack of time or energy. Or anger and frustration. Or the lack of sensing His presence. I must spend time with Him daily to see our relationship grow and evolve over the years ahead.
My friends, what about you? What steps do you need to take in order to nurture your current friendships? And what do you need to do to help develop your relationship–your friendship–with the God of the universe?
O God, we do friendship so imperfectly. And yet, you still call us friend. You called Judas friend; that I can not understand. But what I can do is to continually seek your face through prayer and study of your scriptures. I thank you for my friends. For those close and those scattered around the world. Help me to continue to learn what it means to be a friend. Don’t let me let selfishness and other excuses stand in the way of nurturing these God-given and God-ordained gifts of friendship. And may we as churches seek to strengthen our friendships within while also seeking out new friends that so desperately need the hope that only you can give.