Tuesday, May 8, 2018

God As Our Friend

John 15:9-17

One of my foolish moments when I was a young pastor, probably 23 years ago, was while teaching an adult Sunday School class. We were talking about metaphors for God, of the names of God in the bible. Things like God is our rock, our shepherd, our father, and so on. In the class I asked people to name their favorite biblical name for God.

One of the women said, “Friend.”

And I being very sure of myself, said, “That’s not in the bible.”

There was an awkward moment and then she angrily replied, “Yes it is.”

Well, it didn’t take very long for me to discover that it was in fact in the bible, and I had to apologize for being wrong and assuming that I knew everything about God and the bible. Hopefully the woman forgave me for my arrogance.

Today’s passage is the one that most shows how wrong I was during that Sunday School class. You can count how many times I was wrong if you like . . . Listen, this is John 15:9-17

“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.

Clearly here, Jesus uses the word friend several times. I counted three. He explains that he is moving from treating us as servants who relate to a master, and that he now views us as friends. If he calls us friends, it only seems natural that we can turn it around, call him a friend.

So, as I was reading this passage, I began to reflect upon the word friend and further what does it mean to be a friend of Jesus, or a friend of God? Is it just someone we like? Or is there more to it?

Looking at the scripture, part of what Jesus seems to suggest is that the expectations for us as friends are different than those as servants.

George Hermanson says that, “The phrase "no longer servants" changes the dynamic of personal relationships. It is a concept of equality. In John's time, one was connected through kinship networks or institutional relationships like master/slave. Friendship as we know it - having the freedom to be friends across gender, class and ethnic barriers - did not exist. But the aim of God to love, the call to us to love one another, moves us into new ways of relating. It is a call to organize our world where we care for all, even those who are outside our familiar networks. It is to be friends in Christ.”[1]

So friends operate on a more equal basis, but that still begs the question, do you have higher or lower expectations of a friend than you do for a servant? Since they are equal with you, do you expect more of them or less? In other words, if Jesus sees us as equal with himself, does he expect more of us or less?

In some ways to be a friend requires more than you would expect of a servant, and in other ways it is less. I found this wonderful list of healthy and unhealthy expectations of friendship at LiveAbout.com.

Reasonable expectations in a friendship:

·         Your friend treats you with respect.
·         Your friend tries not to hurt your feelings.
·         You and a new friend get to know each other at a pace that is comfortable to you both.
·         You like friends who make you laugh or lift your spirits.
·         You appreciate friends who value you.

Unreasonable expectations in a friendship:

·         You meet someone and instantly think you have a bond that makes this person a best friend.
·         When you like people, you share your deepest darkest secrets and insecurities within a short time of meeting them.
·         When you click with someone, you expect to see them right away again so you can start hanging out.
·         When you need to vent, you expect your friend to listen no matter what.
·         When you're lonely, you expect your friends to be there for you no matter what's going on in their lives.[2]

The second list almost expects the person to be a servant who is always there for them, on their beck and call, and expects them to do a job without a sense of developing a relationship, without a sense of equality and mutuality.

So I started think about this list in relationship to God. At first that was hard. Why would it be wrong to see God as our instant best friend, our confidant for our deepest darkest secrets, the one who wants to spend every hour of every day with us, the one who lets us vent, and the one who is with us no matter what. Is it wrong to think of God that way?

As I thought about it, I looked at this scripture again. Does what Jesus says about his friendship with us suggest these are not the way to view God?

Yes and no. What Jesus says about friendship with him is that as friends we are expected to live in love, we are expected to keep the commandments. Love clearly wants to hear what another person has to say, love clearly is a safe place of sharing our hearts, and finding deep connection. Love wants to be with the other person. The relationship is much more complex than simply having Jesus at our beck and call at all times.

Also, love with obedience to the commandments has boundaries. If we use God just to vent our anger with others, we are not being loving toward those others. If God becomes our only friend with whom we spend all of our time at the exclusion of others, then we are not living fully the love we are called to. If we think God is always going to agree with everything we do, if we think God will not judge us or call us to accountability, then we have the wrong idea of God’s friendship. Sometimes friends are willing to challenge us.

Johnny Dean tells about the time when “Several years ago, a good friend and colleague in ministry came to visit me at the church I was serving in Memphis. After we exchanged greetings, he put his arm around my shoulders and said, "Johnny, you know I love you. That's why I have to tell you this." And he proceeded to gently, lovingly scold me for the way I had been handling a particular situation in the church. And he was absolutely right. I knew that the way I had been dealing with that situation was not the right way to handle it. My motivation was good, but my actions were wrong. And after he left, I knew that here was a friend who would stand beside me in tough times, because he loved me enough to risk damaging our friendship by confronting me with my mistake.”[3]

So as friends of Christ, he does have some higher expectations of us. He expects to be able to correct us and stay in relationship.

And so he actually expects a different type of obedience from us than he would from a servant. Rather than just doing what we are told, we are to be striving to please Christ because we love him, or we listen to him because we respect him and value his opinions. Our motivation for doing what we do as his friends is different than our motivation if we were just servants or followers.

Okay, so that was all interesting, but what are we supposed to do with it when we leave here. I think there are two things we can do with this knowledge that Christ is our friend.

First, it can change how we interact with God. It can change our motivations for obedience, for learning from God, and our expectations of God. God isn’t our servant subject to our whims, nor are we simply God’s servants, subject to the whims of God. We are beloved friends, who are valued by God and who value God, and our relationship with the divine starts there.

Secondly, our loving friendship with God has the potential to teach us to love as friends those who are our neighbors, our enemies, and all in between. As we discover the difference between treating God as a servant or receiving God as a friend; as we discover the difference between God treating us as a servant or receiving us as a friend, we begin to understand what it means to treat others as our friends – even those we might not immediately think of that way. We begin to remember that we are bound together by the bonds of friendship through Christ who is friends with both of ourselves and those others.

It really comes back to what George Hermanson said, “The phrase "no longer servants" changes the dynamic of personal relationships. It is a concept of equality.” That God would apply it to us is humbling and amazing. That we must likewise apply to others is the challenge of our lifetime and perhaps its greatest reward!

[1] Friendship by George Hermanson
[2] https://www.liveabout.com/what-are-your-friendship-expectations-1385629
[3] ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., ChristianGlobe Illustrations, by Johnny Dean

No comments:

Post a Comment