Now we come back to John’s Gospel (finally). But once again I’m faced with such an iconic passage, packed with so much “meat,” that I hardly feel like I can do it justice.
Several years ago, when we had President Bill Clinton, I remember how he came from Arkansas and brought along with him a lot of close supporters and confidants. They were called “Friends of Bill,” or “FOB's,” to show that they'd been a supporter and adviser when he was just a governor in Arkansas. Now they were considerably moving up the political scale, advising the President of the United States, coming in and out of the White House and having vastly more influence and power than they ever had back in Arkansas.
Now Jesus offers to us the title of “Friends of Jesus.” What do we know about this elite group, how do we join, and what are the benefits?
Of course, right now, FOJ’s don’t seem to have a lot of influence most of the time. They’re out of power, often mocked and persecuted, and most often aren’t seen occupying halls of power (America being the blatant exception at times).
How do we join this group? By loving Jesus and by loving fellow believers.
And how do we love Jesus, or at least show our love to him? By doing what he says. By following his instructions.
I don’t know when I noticed this, but I find it slightly ironic. John’s Gospel is the only one of the four in which Jesus explicitly links obeying him and loving him: "If you love me, keep my commands." and then we read “You are my friends if you do what I command.” And what is the only command in John’s Gospel? “Love each other.” I thoroughly believe that the other Gospels are accurate records of Jesus’ commands as well: Love your enemies, freely give just like you’ve received, turn your cheek, etc. But here in his Gospel (written by “the apostle whom Jesus loved”), John only lists one command of Jesus.
And what are the benefits?
Well, first and foremost, we know that Jesus laid down his life for us. I believe in a sense he laid down his life for the entire world, but in a special and intimate way, he laid down his life for us, his friends. And of course, as often quoted, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."
For the second benefit, I’d like to remind you of one of the father of the faithful: Abraham. He was called God’s friend, and the Lord included him in on things which no other human knew on earth. When God was planning something, he said to himself, “I’d better include Abraham in on this.” In the same way, we have intimate knowledge of what Jesus is doing. Does this mean that we know everything that our Savior is doing? No. And of course there’s a sense in which we’re still God’s servants. But that’s not what he calls us. He calls us his friends, and we have the "inside scoop" of his plan and purpose. And there’s more to this than mere knowledge of facts. A servant is told what he needs to know, and nothing more. A Master of a servant doesn’t bare his heart to his servant, at least not normally. But Jesus has, to a large degree, opened his mind and heart to us.
And finally we have the third benefit: Lasting fruit which leads to answered prayer. He chose us to be his friends, and thus we bear fruit. The interesting thing is that we would tend to think the reverse—We pray for fruit, and then the Father gives it to us. And I’m not saying that doesn’t happen. But here fruit precedes answered prayer. Why? Because as his friends, we have more intimate knowledge of his plans and purposes. So of course you’re going to see more answered prayer: What you’re asking for is more in line with what Jesus wants. That’s what he means by asking “in [his] name”; it doesn’t mean tacking on “in Jesus’ name” on the end of your prayers like a lucky rabbit’s foot or a four leaf clover.
You see, it’s all linked together: Jesus’ friends 1) Remain in him, 2) Are pruned by the Father, 3) Get answered prayer, 4) Obey Jesus’ commands, 5) Bear lasting fruit, and 6) Love fellow believers. You can’t have any one of these without the other five. It's all a package deal.
So how’s about you? How’s about me? Can I call myself a friend of Jesus?
Lord Jesus, I know that you call me a friend, but often I don’t act like one. By your grace, I want to be known as your friend, and I want to demonstrate all the marks of that title.