Friendship truly is one of the great joys of life. Everyone wants at least one good friend with whom to share joys and sorrows. Friends encourage us when we are down, and we encourage them when they need their spirits lifted. We work together with friends on common aims and interests. Whether we are rich or poor, young or old, male or female, we all treasure friendship.
The depth of the love exhibited in friendship is seen most clearly when we are willing to lay down our lives for our friends (John 15:12–13). When Jesus said that to the disciples, however, He was not only defining love for us but also alluding to His own death on the cross. We know this because in today’s passage, He explains what characterizes those who are His friends. Having told us that true love makes people willing to die for their friends, Christ outlines what it is to be one of those for whom He shows such love.
Jesus says that His friends are those who do what He commands (v. 14). That makes sense immediately on one level. After all, friends love one another, and Jesus has already told the disciples that if they love Him, they will keep His commandments (14:15). But we typically view commandment-keeping as something only a servant does, not a friend. And yet, He tells the disciples in today’s passage that His commandment-keeping disciples are now His friends (15:15).
Here we need to be careful not to read modern notions of friendship into our friendship with Jesus. Typically, we are on the same level as our friends, and certainly we will not have a friend for long if we issue him commands as if we were his superior. But, though we are friends with Jesus, we still receive commands from Him that we are to obey (v. 14). The contrast between servant and friend that Jesus makes in John 15:15 is not one that makes His friends His equals or that takes away our responsibility to serve Him. The contrast is between those who know the will of the Master and those who do not. We are His friends because He has revealed to us all that His Father has told Him—that is, as John Calvin comments, He has revealed the plan of salvation most clearly to us and has told us everything we need to know for our redemption (v. 15). Ordinary servants do not get that privilege. They are to do what they are told and are not given an explanation regarding the Master’s overall plan. But the friends of Jesus get that explanation. And they get it not because they are inherently worthy but because He has chosen them (v. 16).
We have the honor of being not only servants of Jesus but also friends to whom He has revealed God’s plan of salvation. Let us not fail to be grateful for that honor, and as we remember that we are friends of Jesus, let us also continually submit to Him as Lord and seek to obey His commands.