John 15:9-15 – May 10, 2015
“Friends, Not Servants”
How would you like to have no friends? None, at all? According to several recent surveys, a significant number of American adults say that they have no friends. Today, in this fast-paced world with so many people rushing to and fro, and so many things filling our lives, who has the time for real friendship? Who has the commitment? How do we meet friendly people? How do we make room in our lives for genuine, honest relationships?
Another name for having no friends is being disconnected, or cut off. This idea of being cut off, with no friendships or relationships, to my mind, is like living without love. It is exactly what condition I am in without God.
Without God in my life, without a vertical relationship with my loving Heavenly Parent, I am lost. I am hard-pressed to find any joy in my life. This makes it very difficult for me to connect with other people in a horizontal way, in any meaningful way.
Let’s turn to our gospel reading for today. One of the important points He makes when He is talking to His disciples, our Lord Jesus mentions servants. As the Greek word doulos is translated, slave. Jesus describes His disciples being called servants, or slaves.
That image struck me. I know something about slavery at the time of the 1st century of this common era, when our Lord Jesus was here on this earth. I know about the imagery that the Apostle John brings up here in chapter 15 of his gospel: the image of slavery. Bondage. This image was very familiar to the people of the first century; ancient society was built on slavery. This image is less familiar, even distasteful for us, here in 21st century America, but John uses it several times in his gospel, including here.
If I consider a similar passage about believers being servants—slaves in Romans 6, where the Apostle Paul also talks about being a servant, a slave, I find out some interesting things. Slaves became slaves through a number of different ways: through economic hardship, by becoming prisoners of war, or by being children of slaves. Slaves were utterly dependent on their masters, and were looked upon with scorn in the world of the first century. Slaves have no rights, no voice, nothing at all except to do the will of their master. The Apostle Paul says sin is our master. So sin claims our allegiance and service.
Except—Jesus through His death on the cross has transferred us from being slaves, or servants of sin to servants of God. To me, that is good news indeed!
But wait, there’s more. Much, much more.
Jesus talks with His disciples for the last time here in the room where they ate the Passover dinner, just a few hours before He is arrested and tried. He tells them all kinds of really important things, like how to be close to Him, how to treat each other, and even commands them to love each other. Here, in this reading today, our Lord Jesus makes a tremendous statement: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.” That’s friends! Of our Lord Jesus!
When I was doing some study last week and preparing this sermon, I happened upon a biblical reflection about this particular passage from John 15. A pastor named Melissa Bane Sevier made the following observation.
A few months ago this pastor was eating pizza with some of her church’s youth on a Sunday night at youth group. She asked them what it means to be a friend. She wrote down all the definitions, because they were better than any she could come up with. “A friend is someone who is herself.” “A friend cares about you, listens to your problems, and helps you.” “A friend thinks about you before he thinks about himself.” “A friend cares about other people’s opinions and beliefs, and respects them.” Astute descriptions coming from these teenagers. They are showing wisdom beyond their years.
Just imagine: that’s what these teens thought were the attributes of a good friend. Here, in this passage from John 15, Jesus is offering us friendship, a relationship, intimacy with God! I repeat Jesus’ words: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.”
The Greek verb in this verse is significant, too. The Greek word for “called” is the verb “ereo.” This verb means “to declare,” or “to promise.” So, our Lord Jesus is not only calling or mentioning we are friends, He is declaring, or promising that we are now friends. This change in our status did not happen because of anything that we did or said. No. This change in status was totally up to Jesus. It’s all Him. He decided, He declared that we are now the friends of God!
This was rare in the Hebrew Scriptures. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to a friend,” the book of Exodus says (33:11). Absolutely, the Lord extends His friendship and favor to Moses. In the book of Isaiah it is God and God only who says the same thing of Abraham. “Abraham, my friend,” God says of him (41:8). It is a staggering thought. Think about it! The friendship of God?
During the time of the first century, there was a special designation for certain, very special people. They were called Friends of the Emperor, or Friends of the King. They had the privilege to have access to him at any time, day or night. The Friends of the King had the closest and most intimate connection with him of anyone.
I have news for you—we are friends of the King. The King of Kings. We have the ability to talk to our Lord Jesus at any time, night or day. That is a tremendous opportunity, a wonderful privilege. You and I no longer have to stand afar off like servants, with our eyes lowered and faces to the ground, like servants who have no right to enter into the presence of the master. No! Jesus gave us this intimacy with God, so that God can be our best friend, our heavenly Friend!
We can see from our Lord’s words that God wishes to reveal Godself to us. Jesus tells us that He has revealed the things of God to us. That is what a friend does. How many people can you go to, can you reveal deep troubles to, or share wonderful joys?
Jesus wants to be friends with us! Good friends, the best there is!
And Jesus not only is friends with us, but He wants us to be friends with each other, to love one another. We know from experience what kind of friend Jesus is to us. His command to us is to be that kind of friend to others. “Love one another,” He says.
And friendship is a two way street. Relationships go both ways, otherwise they are not much of a relationship. I urge you to think about yourself, about your friendship with Jesus. What kind of a friend are you to Jesus? And consider: what kind of friend is Jesus to you?
What an opportunity to have the relationship of our lives!
Praise God that God has sought us out, and offers us the opportunity to be friends with God. Good friends, the best friends there is. We can tell the Lord anything—absolutely anything at all, and we will receive understanding, help and encouragement from a loving, caring God.
What a tremendous gift! And what a tremendous God.