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Lesson 82: Are You A Friend Of Jesus? (John 15:12-17)

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February 15, 2015

Friends are an important and wonderful part of life. In seminary, Dr. Howard Hendricks told us, “Two things will most influence where you’ll be at ten years out of seminary: the books you read and the friends you make.” He added, “Choose them both very carefully!” Of course, that was long before Facebook came into existence, where you can “friend” just about everything and everyone you want!

But by far, the most important friend that you can have is the Lord Jesus. A number of hymns celebrate this wonderful truth:

“What a friend we have in Jesus!”

“Jesus! What a friend for sinners, Jesus lover of my soul!”

“I’ve found a friend, O, such a friend! He loved me ere I knew Him.”

“I’ve found a friend who is all to me, His love is ever true.”

“There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, no not one, no not one!”

But as D. A. Carson cautions (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 522), we need to be careful about being too chummy in calling Jesus our friend. In the Bible, God and the Lord Jesus call certain ones their friends, but no human ever refers to God or Jesus as their friend. It’s not a mutual, reciprocal friendship. The Bible refers to both Abraham (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; James 2:23) and Moses (Exod. 33:11) as friends of God. Jesus here calls the disciples His friends. But He is still their Lord and Teacher (John 13:13, 14). Although at the last supper, the apostle John laid his head on Jesus’ breast, years later when John saw Jesus in His glory, he fell at His feet as a dead man (Rev. 1:17). So as we consider whether or not we are friends of Jesus, we need to maintain John’s reverence.

The question I’d like you to think about and ask yourself is, “Would Jesus call me His friend?” Our text reveals four characteristics of those whom Jesus calls His friends:

Friends of Jesus love one another, obey His commandments, understand His truths, and are chosen to bear fruit that remains.

(For a somewhat similar treatment of this text, see John MacArthur on gty.org. I read his sermon after developing my own outline and content.)

Before we look at these characteristics, you need to know that Jesus is not automatically your friend or everyone’s friend. You especially need to know this if you’re inclined to think that you’re His friend because you’re a good person. The Bible teaches that by nature we’re all God’s enemies because He is holy and we all have sinned (see Rom. 8:7; James 4:4; 1 Pet. 5:5). The bad news is that you can’t have a worse enemy than God, because He always wins!

But the good news is that God sent Jesus to reconcile rebellious sinners to Himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19). The self-righteous, religious crowd scoffed that Jesus was a friend of sinners (Luke 5:29-32; 7:34; 15:1-2). But He gladly accepted that label, explaining that He didn’t come to call the righteous (in the context, He means “self-righteous”), but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). So the first step to being called the friend of Jesus is to come to Him as a helpless sinner, asking Him to save you. Once you’ve done that, then you can consider these characteristics of Jesus’ friends and seek to grow in them.

1. Friends of Jesus love one another just as He loved us (John 15:12-13, 17).

John 15:12-13, 17: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends…. This I command you, that you love one another.”

If these commands sound vaguely familiar, it’s because Jesus already said (John 13:34-35), “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Why would Jesus repeat this command on the same night? He repeated it because He was the master teacher and He knew that repetition is the key to learning, especially learning something that isn’t easy. It takes more than one hammer blow to sink a nail. It takes more than saying it once for us to learn to love one another!

During the last supper, the disciples got into an argument about which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). While we can sit as armchair quarterbacks and say, “What a petty squabble!” the embarrassing truth is that many of our conflicts stem from the same self-centered motives. As James (4:1-2) says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.” The Lord knew our propensity towards selfishness, so during His final hours with the disciples He hammered on this command to love one another. He wanted them to remember this one thing, because love is not optional for those who follow Jesus (1 Cor. 13). Note three things:

A. Jesus’ love for us is the supreme standard for our love for one another.

Just as He stated when He gave His new commandment (John 13:34), so here Jesus repeats, “… just as I have loved you.” Jesus’ love for us is most vividly seen at the cross, where He offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2). We can define Jesus’ love as “a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.” The highest good for all people is that they would have their sins forgiven and receive eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. And, once a person has come to know Christ, his highest good is that he be conformed to the image of Christ. Those goals should be our aim in all of our relationships.

Because love is primarily a commitment and not a feeling, it can be commanded. The Bible does command certain feelings, for example, “Rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16). Or, “Be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6). And love should not be devoid of feelings. It is a caring commitment; people should feel our genuine feelings of love for them. But even when we don’t feel especially loving, we need to obey God by sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others. I’m sure that the cross didn’t feel good at the moment, but Jesus endured it because He was focused on the future joy of having us with Him in heaven for all eternity (Heb. 12:2).

In verse 13, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” Some have said, “To lay down your life for your enemies is greater than doing it for your friends.” Paul points out (Rom. 5:8-10) that this is in fact what Jesus did: He died for us while we were still His enemies. And in another context, Jesus commanded that we love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). But in this context, Jesus is speaking about love among friends. He will demonstrate His love for the disciples the next day on the cross. That’s the high standard for our love for one another. Of course, we can never die as a substitute to save others from their sins, as Jesus did. But He sets the standard for our love as laying down our lives for one another.

Every once in a while I’ll read a story about someone who literally sacrificed his life to save someone else, maybe on the battlefield or to rescue a drowning person or to save someone inside a burning building. While not giving their lives, I’ve read about people who have donated a kidney for a perfect stranger. And I’ve thought, “Would I do that?”

You can sit around and speculate about whether you would do such heroic deeds if you were thrust into those situations, but the place we all need to apply this is by confronting our selfishness in small, daily matters. Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). Do you? You say, “Oh, sure, I’d die to save my wife from an intruder that was trying to kill her.” But do you die to yourself so that you can serve her? Do you turn off the TV or leave the computer and help her clean up the kitchen or get the kids into bed? Do you give up your own pursuits because you delight to be with her? It’s in these small, daily ways that we should be practicing sacrificial love for one another.

B. We can only love one another if we abide in Christ’s love.

In John 15:9, Jesus said, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” Now Jesus applies abiding in His love to our relationships to one another. Abiding in His love is the key to loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. These, of course, are the two great commandments that sum up the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:37-40), that we are to love God and love our neighbor. But the point here is that it is God’s great love for us, as seen in giving His own Son while we were yet His enemies, that motivates us to love others.

Also, note that in John 15:17, Jesus repeats the command for us to love one another immediately after He has repeated the concept that He saved us so that we would bear fruit. The two are intertwined. When He gave His new commandment (John 13:35), Jesus said that others would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another. Here, He ties our ability to bear fruit with His command that we love one another. As people see the love between Christians, they will be drawn to the source of our love, our Savior who gave Himself for us on the cross.

But sadly, the church has often failed on this matter. I never read it, but years ago Leslie Flynn wrote a book with an intriguing title, Great Church Fights. I’m sure that he had to choose his material selectively, because there have been thousands of “great” church fights! And on a lesser scale, there have been tens of thousands of conflicts among believers over relatively petty matters. It’s always grievous and a black eye for the name of Christ when believers don’t judge their selfishness and work through conflicts out of obedience to Christ’s command to love one another.

“But,” you say, “you don’t know how difficult that other person is to love!” That leads to the third thing here:

C. The others that we are commanded to love are imperfect sinners, just as we are.

It is both interesting and instructive that Jesus did not pick a homogeneous, cohesive group for His apostolic band. Most glaringly, He picked Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot! The Zealots were a radical political party whose main objective was getting Roman rule out of the Holy Land. And they viewed tax collectors as despicable traitors who had sold their souls to Rome. They took advantage of their fellow Jews by milking them for excessive taxes that they pocketed. I don’t know whether Jesus picked Matthew first or Simon the Zealot first, but it’s humorous to think of what the one who was already an apostle must have thought when Jesus picked the other one! “What was He thinking?” And then Jesus commanded them to love one another!

He still does that, you know! He picks people for His church that I never would have picked and He commands me (and you) to love them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to like them, but you do have to say no to your selfishness to help them become what the Lord wants them to be. Friends of Jesus love one another, just as He loved us.

2. Friends of Jesus obey His commandments (John 15:14).

John 15:14: “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” This repeats the thought of John 15:10, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” It doesn’t mean that obedience makes you Jesus’ friend, as if it were earned. Rather, it describes what Jesus’ friends do: they obey Him. He isn’t friends with any who live in disobedience or self-will. As we saw in John 14:21, 23, the Lord will disclose Himself to and make His home with those who keep His commandments.

On one occasion, Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived to see Him at a time when people had crowded into a house to listen to Him. When someone told Jesus that His mother and brothers were outside looking for Him, He gave an answer that must have jolted them (Mark 3:33), “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Then, looking around at those who were listening receptively to His teaching, Jesus continued to shock by answering His own question (Mark 3:34-35), “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Jesus’ true friends are those who obey Him. Do you qualify?

3. Friends of Jesus understand the truths that He made known to us from the Father (John 15:15).

John 15:15: “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Even though Jesus here elevates the disciples from being slaves to being friends, the master-slave relationship is not eradicated. Just a few sentences later (John 15:20) Jesus implies that He is the master and they are His slaves. Paul, James, and Peter later delighted to call themselves “slaves of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; “bond-servant” is literally, “slave”).

A master could command a slave, “Fix dinner for 50 guests tomorrow,” but he didn’t need to explain why he was having so many for dinner. But a master who viewed himself as a friend to his slave would have explained the situation behind such a large dinner party. Jesus’ point in our text is that He has openly shared with the disciples the things that He has heard from the Father. By “all things,” He means all things necessary for them to know at this point. He later (John 16:12) tells them that He has many more things to tell them, but they could not bear them yet. After the resurrection, He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures in ways that they could not understand before His death (Luke 24:45).

Now we have the Holy Spirit and the Spirit-inspired Word of God to reveal to us all that we need to know for life and godliness (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:9-13; 2 Pet. 1:3-4). If you know Christ, you know things that the most brilliant scientists and philosophers in the world don’t understand! You know the living and true God, who spoke the universe into existence! You know His plan for history. You know how to have your sins forgiven. You know why He put you on this planet. You know that you will spend eternity with Him in glory. You know how He wants you to conduct yourself in all of life’s difficult situations. All of this and more is revealed to us in God’s inspired Word!

So, friends of Jesus love one another, just as He loved us. They obey His commandments. They understand the truths that He has made known to us from the Father. Finally,

4. Friends of Jesus are chosen by Him to bear fruit that remains as they depend upon Him through prayer (John 15:16).

John 15:16: “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” Note three things:

A. Friends of Jesus are chosen by Him.

Probably Jesus’ primary reference here is to choosing these men as His apostles, not to their election to salvation (even Calvin says so!). But the Bible is abundantly clear that God both chooses us for salvation and also sovereignly determines our spiritual gifts and station in life (1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Cor. 12:11, 28). If it had been left up to us, none of us in our proud, fallen, rebellious state would have chosen Christ. Rather, the Father graciously drew us to Him and opened our blind eyes to see the glory of Jesus (John 6:44, 65; 2 Cor. 4:4-6).

But why does Jesus mention this truth here? D. A. Carson (The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus [Baker], p. 107) points out that “often in John’s Gospel election is introduced just at the point where human arrogance may need a gentle lesson in humility (e.g., 6:70; 13:18).” He adds, “This truth is of overwhelming importance if we hope to escape the puffy spiritual arrogance that talks almost as if Jesus has been blessed by our presence, as if we have done him a favor by choosing him.” He adds that while we are responsible to repent and believe the gospel, no one in heaven will be able to claim that he made it because he made the right choice. As Paul told the proud Corinthians, God chose them as foolish, weak, unimportant people, “so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:29; cf. 1:26-31). If you’re a friend of Jesus, it’s because He chose you. That’s why you chose Him.

B. Friends of Jesus are chosen to bear fruit that remains.

“Fruit” here mostly likely refers to converts who come to Christ through the proclamation of the gospel. They will remain because Jesus promises to keep them (John 6:39, 40). A main reason that God chose to save you is that you would help bring others to know the Savior. As Paul put it (2 Tim. 2:10), “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” Paul suffered so that God’s elect would hear the gospel and be saved. That should be our aim as well.

C. Friends of Jesus bear fruit that remains through prayerful dependence upon the Father.

In the Greek text, there are two parallel clauses. The first shows why God chose and appointed the disciples; the second shows how that purpose would be fulfilled. We could paraphrase it, “I chose and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, abiding fruit, which you will do by asking the Father in My name.” While it’s good to receive training in how to share your faith, we always need to keep in mind that making converts who go on with Christ is not dependent on our methods or on using sales techniques to close the deal. Only God can produce a convert who abides and He does it through the supernatural new birth. He has to give life to the spiritually dead. So prayer is the God-given necessity behind evangelism. Before you talk to a person about God, talk to God about the person.

If you haven’t done so, make a list of the people in your daily life who don’t know Christ and begin to pray for their salvation. Understand that you may be the means that God uses to bring them to salvation! So always be alert for opportunities to turn the conversation to eternal issues. Be equipped to know some verses to explain the gospel clearly. But prayer is the foundation for bearing fruit that remains.

Conclusion

So, would Jesus call you His friend? He would if you are loving others, especially those in your home and in the church. He would if you are seeking to obey His commandments. He would if you are growing to understand the truths revealed by the Holy Spirit in God’s Word. And He would if you know that He chose you to bear fruit that remains and you’re seeking to bear that fruit through prayer. And if you wonder, “How do I know if God has chosen me?” the answer is, “Have you believed in Jesus as your Savior and Lord?” If you have, that didn’t come from you! You believed in Him because in love He chose you before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). That way, He gets all the glory!

Application Questions

  1. Why is friendship with Jesus not reciprocal? Why is it important to keep this in mind?
  2. Practically, how can you love someone you don’t like? What does this look like in daily life?
  3. Some imply that to preach obedience is to be legalistic. Why is this fallacious? Can obedience become legalistic? How?
  4. Why is the doctrine of election important for growth in humility? What other practical applications does it have?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life