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You've Got a Friend

John 15:12-17

     When I read John 15:12-17, I see that Jesus is envisioning what a local church like LAC is supposed to be, i.e., a community of Jesus-like friends.  We are to be a community of friends -- called together by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who calls us his friends -- to love one another, to obey his commands and to go out into the world to further his mission together.

     This vision of a community of friends is beautiful – and it is attractive to all people in the world.  I find

that there is a deep longing for genuine friendship in the human psyche, a longing that is shared in every culture and across every generation.  I’ve seen this expressed in pop music throughout my entire lifetime.  When I was in college, we were moved as we heard Bill Withers tell us that when his friend feels weak, “Lean on me, when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend.  I’ll help you carry on.”  We heard James Taylor and Carole King sing, “When you’re down and troubled and you need some love and care, and nothing – no nothing – is going right – you’ve got a friend.”  In the 1990s and beyond, children and parents related to the relationship of Woody and Andy in Toy Story and sang, “You’ve got a Friend in Me”.  And, into the 21st C, I hear countless songs longing for and pledging friendship like Bruno Mars’ Count on Me: “You can count on me like 1-2-3 … I can count on you like 4-3-2.  That’s what friends are supposed to do, oh yeah.”

     So, I’m convinced that almost all human beings long for true friendship. When we read Jesus’ words about friendship in John 15, we quickly see that he speaks of friendship in ways much like the way the songs speak of it.  But, when we reflect more deeply on his words, we see how much more profound Jesus’ notion of friendship is.  It’s better in every way than anything the songs in this world could ever even imagine.

Jesus Died for Us to Provide the Friendships We Were Created to Experience:

     I believe that in John 15:12-17, Jesus takes us back to our human beginnings.  When we read Genesis 1-2, we discover we were made in God’s image.  One of the striking things we see is that the God in whose image we are made is revealed to be one and, at the same time, more than one.  When he created, God said, “Let us make man in our image.”  As we continue to read how God reveals himself to be in the Bible, we discover that our one God has always been “triune” – eternally existing as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  This teaching has come up repeatedly in this farewell discourse Jesus had with his followers.  “I and the Father are one.  When you see me, you see the Father,” Jesus said.  “When I go, another one will come – but he will not be a completely different being from me.  No, when the Holy Spirit comes, I will come to you.” 

     Jesus’ point is that God has always existed in relationship.  So, God has never been lonely.  Therefore, when we first meet Adam in the Garden of Eden, we see him waking and talking with God.  We are meant to have a friendship with God.  No human being can fill the spot in your heart that was meant to be filled by God.  But, we were also meant to have friendships with people.  The first thing that was not good in God’s creation was that “it is not good for man to be alone.”  The man needed someone like himself.  Our need for friendship is based on the fact that we are made in God’s image.  You and I were made both 1) for friendship with God and 2) for friendship with people.  We need people to serve with, to share life with, and to love.

     So, the less you have deepening friendships with God and with people, the less like God you will be.  Machines don’t get lonely.  Rocks don’t get lonely.  You and I do for we were made in God’s image. Jesus, in this profound passage, is telling us that he will die for us in order to restore our friendship with God.  In addition, when we become friends with God through faith in Jesus, he brings us into a community of friends we call the church.  In it, we are to love one another. So, we image bearers of God need Jesus as friend because human beings alone were not all we were made for.  But we also need human friends.  This is the way God made us to be.

     So, in my last message from Jesus’ farewell words to his disciples, I want to return to John 15:12-17 to see how one of the greatest things Jesus has to offer us in this frequently difficult world is the friendship to God and to people we were made for. I want to deal with his profound words as simply as I can by asking what friendship is according to Jesus:

The Basis:  This Friendship Is Called together by Jesus’ choice – Not Ours  “I chose you… (15:16).”

     That’s the first thing I want you to notice -- that Jesus is always the one who takes the initiative to bring together this kind of friendship, both with him and with one another in church.  We usually think of friendship as being different from a family relationship because, as the maxim goes, “We cannot choose our families but we choose our friends.”  And, that’s generally true.  But, Jesus says that the kind of friendship he wants us to think about in a church is one in which he is the one who does the choosing.  One of our young adults, Rafik Wahbi, told me last Tuesday, “I think that I and my friends would be really drawn to this idea of the church being a community of friends if we could choose the friends.”  But, Jesus says, “No.  I’m the one who does the choosing.” 

     We can see how this looks by noticing those Jesus called to himself during his ministry.  When we look at them in the Gospels, we find it is an incredibly diverse group that he chose: a synagogue leader named Jairus and a prostitute, a government-official tax collector (Matthew) and a hater of the government (Simon the Zealot), Jewish fishermen and a Gentile woman with a demonized daughter…  Can you imagine a group of people like that in a small group here at LAC?  Jesus not only imagined it.  He called it into being.

     I have to speak clearly about this because churches all over the world are constantly tempted to think that real Christian community and real worship take place when we feel comfortable with one another, when we’re with people who like all the same things.  No, the thing that knits us together is not how comfortable we feel with the people but is our shared conviction that Jesus is Lord -- and that we sinners are only privileged to know him as friend and be in his church is because of his grace. One of the things I love most about what is happening here at LAC is that I see the Lord calling together such a wide range of people.  In this text, Jesus, the one who calls us into this friendship, commands us to be committed to one another because of our commitment to Jesus. 

     Oh, I know – I know:  Sometimes it’s hard to love one another in such a church family.  That’s why Jesus keeps commanding us to love one another.  In this passage, Jesus opens his words about friendship by commanding us to love one another in v.12 and ends them with the same command in v.17.  And it’s why Jesus prays in John 17 that we will be one.  He knew we would need help!  I call us “God’s unexpected family”.  Jesus’ words here lead us to say we’re Jesus’ community of unexpected friends. 

       So, Jesus is the one who chooses us and draws us into friendship with him.  And he chooses and calls us into loving friendship in a church like ours.  Jesus has led us together and commands us to love as he loves.


The Characteristics of Jesus-like Friendship

#1:  This Friendship Is Characterized By Loving as Jesus LovedLove one another as I have loved you… Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (15:12-13).”

     Loving as Jesus loved means at least these two things: 1) we will sacrifice for our friends and 2) we will be faithful to our friends.  A true friend will seek never to let you down and never to let you go.  Clearly, the kind of love Jesus is envisioning in a church like ours will be the kind in which we make sacrifices to bring blessing and help to one another.  I’ve heard people say, “The kind of sacrificial love that Jesus talks about here is only something that Jesus would do for friends.  But, he surely doesn’t expect that from all of us!”  Listen carefully: I am convinced that Jesus is envisioning a church like ours to be growing to be a place in which we watch out for one another and make sacrifices to meet the needs of those our church family.  The Apostle John, who penned this book, understood Jesus that way.  Look at his words in 1 John 5:16:  By this we know love, that Jesus laid down his life for us.  So, we ought also to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

     If God’s Spirit continues to do his work in your life and in mine, then all of us who are parts of this local community of friends will always know we are not alone.  Our friend Jesus is always with us.  And our community of Christian friends will be with us too. Jesus is envisioning a community of friends who look at how he loved us and love in the same way.

     Christian friendship is a friendship willing to make sacrifices for our friends.  And let me add this too: Loving as Jesus loved is faithful.  Jesus is a friend that never lets us go.  He loved us to his death – and loves us still after his resurrection.

     That’s the kind of loving friendship we are to see in our church family.  We serve one another s Jesus said in John 13 – but it’s service that flows from friendship.  Jesus is not speaking negatively about being a servant in v.6.  Remember that he started his farewell words by calling us all to serve as he served.  But here, he’s speaking of something deeper.  I find his words to be quite moving.  If we were just servants, we would do what anyone in the service industry does, i.e., we will provide the service asked of us.  That’s not a bad thing.  But, Jesus points out that our service to his people is like his service to us, i.e., it is service born out of a friendship.  A servant delivers the service and then goes home.  A friend sticks with you through the struggle.  We are to be friends to one another in the family of God. 

     This is one reason why we have changed our way of thinking about a “homeless meal” and now call it a “community meal.”  Why?  Because we want to make friends -- and then invite all who are at the meals to come into relationship not only with Jesus but with us too.  I have seen over and over what happens when people first become friends of Jesus -- often in the worship service -- and then find Christ-centered friends in their church family.  Hope is restored.  Loneliness is quenched.  Healing takes place.

     Just before he died for us, Jesus envisioned local churches being planted in neighborhoods like our own.  In those churches, people are to find friends who love as he loved. 


#2:  This Friendship Is Characterized by TransparencyI no longer call you servants, for the servantdoes not know what his master is doing; but I call you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  (15:6-7).

     In point #1, I said that a friend is one who will not let you down and will never let you go.  Here, Jesus says that a friend is one who lets you in.  One of the most basic parts of genuine friendship, as Jesus speaks of it, is that a friend opens up his life to a friend. Jesus will soon lay down his life so that we can know him, know our identity in him, know where the world is headed, know God’s perspective on right and wrong – good and bad, know all the things our Maker wants us to know so that we can live well and experience his shalom.  Jesus makes the Father and the ways of the Father known to us.

     One of the Hebrew words for friend, “cowdh”, also means secret.  The word for secret came to be used for the person to whom you open up every part of your life in order to seek counsel.  A true friend is one from whom you don’t hide things.  So, Jesus is saying here, “When you keep my commands, it will not be as a servant or slave.  It will be as a friend who is discovering how life is to be lived.  Follow me and I’ll treat you as a friend.  I’ll make God known to you because that’s what a true friend does”

     Let’s face it:  No other religion says things like this.  Jesus declared that the Christian faith is a relationship with God.  Mohammed put together a book – left a book.  His followers are to follow the book.  Then he died leaving a book.  Buddha and Confucius gave saying.  When they died, they left sayings to be followed.  When Jesus died, he left a book but he also left himself.  “I must go,” he said, “but after I go I will come to you through my Spirit.  I will be with you always.” 

     The Christian faith is a relationship.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you may be a churchgoer or a servant of the church, but you are not yet a friend of God.  This is why Scripture is so alive to us when we know Jesus.  Each time we read it, it takes on new personal meaning and new application.  You read Scripture and the Holy Spirit makes them alive to your mind and heart.  They encourage you and direct you in new ways.  They convict you of sin.  Do you grasp it?  There is a relationship taking place. When you place your faith in Jesus, he lets you in. 

      The kind of friendship Jesus envisions in a church is one in which we let people into our joys, our struggles and even our failures.  And, on a human level, nothing is more important in a relationship than sharing our lives openly and honestly.  Friends tell one another secrets and seek one another’s counsel.  When we don’t, the relationship remains on the surface.  As a friendship deepens, the honesty deepens too.  Some people open up too much too soon and overwhelm the beginning friendship.  But, the larger problem we have is that most of us hide things and don’t open up at all.  Then the relationship remains shallow. 

     One of the biggest problems with us growing in our walk with God is that we keep things secret.  We hide things.  Of course, the problem here is that we have things inside that we are ashamed of – and often should be ashamed of!  What Jesus is envisioning is a church family in which we grow in honesty transparency

     Jesus envisions local churches being places in which we find growing friendships centered in him.  When we sin, our friend will not reject us – but, at the same time, will not allow us to stay in that sin.  So, a community of friends in which Jesus is Lord is one that will be a grace-filled community -- offering both a new beginning to failures and a place of accountability for a new life.  As Jesus suggests here – we will be committed to keeping his commands together. 


#3: This Friendship Is Characterized By Service TogetherI chose you so that you would go… (15:16)

     We gather in church to learn, grow and worship with our friends in Christ.  We need to do that to strengthen our friendship with God and with one another.  Starting with 15:18, Jesus described just how hard it often is to live for him in the world.  We will face opposition at times, hardship, sickness and injustice but we don’t have to face it alone.  Our friend Jesus is with us – and our community of friends is with us.  We need one another.  Jesus has called us together personally to be that kind of support to one another.

     But, we gather together to grow together and then, Jesus says, we go out into the world and bear fruit.  We gather in worship to go in witness.  When we go, people should see such a diverse group of “friends” witnessing together and bringing the love of Jesus together to our neighborhood.  When we go, Jesus said in John 13, “They will know you are Christians by your love for one another.  And when you love one another and go in my name, you will be fruit – fruit that will last.”

     When you go, you will grow.  And, you will see people come to faith.  The healing power of Jesus will be experienced in this place where Jesus has called us together and planted us.  That’s what I see Jesus saying here.  Don’t you long for that to be happening more and more in and through our church family?  I do.


     Let me summarize what Jesus has said:

     Jesus has personally called us together to be a community of friends.  We are friends called by Jesus, friends who have surrendered lives to Jesus and, therefore, are committed to keeping his commands.  And the specific command he has for us is this: Love one another!  Do you see what this means?  It means you should not jump around to different churches when something or someone bothers you.  Jesus has called you to your church.  You grow as you work through things with your friends.  So, you and I are to stick with the awkward and unfinished group Jesus has called together.

     And, it means you should not remain anonymous in your church.  You must find a place of fellowship (like a small group) and a place of service. When you do, you will experience deepening Jesus-like friendships that are characterized in these ways:

  • ·By sacrificial and faithful service to our “friends”
  • ·By honest, transparent and grace-filled relationships
  • ·By engaging in God’s mission together

     When people see that happening here, they will want to be a part of it.  They’ll know we’re Christians.  And believe me, it will all be… to the glory of God.

To His glory,

Dr. Greg Waybright
Senior Pastor

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Greg Waybright • Copyright 2015, Lake Avenue Church