Those words are the title of a spiritual song with which many of us are quite familiar. The words of the song’s chorus are:
I’ll be a friend to Jesus,
My life for Him I’ll spend;
I’ll be a friend to Jesus,
Until my years shall end. [Public Domain, words
by Johnson Oatman, Jr., music by John W. Dennis].
Do you think it is even possible to be the Lord’s friend? Abraham was. Jehovah called him “Abraham My friend” (Isaiah 41:8), and in James 2:23 he is described as “the friend of God.” In James 2, we are reminded that Abraham believed God, submitted to His will, and was willing to sacrifice his son for Him. By showing such devotion, he was counted as the Lord’s friend.
Under the new covenant, is it really possible to be Jesus’ friend? It certainly is, but let us observe first that not every single person in the world is His friend. Jesus had adversaries when He lived on earth (Luke 13:17), and today there still are those who openly oppose Him and His teaching. But what about a person who wants to be non-committal? He does not openly embrace the Christ, yet he does not count himself as His opponent, either. The Master declared, “He who is not with Me is against Me . . .” (Matthew 12:30), so there can be no neutral ground. Either one is Jesus’ friend (he is with Him) or he is not His friend (he is against Him).
In John 15:13-15, we read a portion of Jesus’ message about friendship. As He spoke to the apostles about their need to love one another as He had loved them, He said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (15:13). Friends sacrifice for each other, being willing, if need be, to give their lives on behalf of one another. Jesus did that.
Jesus continued: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (15:14). According to this statement of our Lord, there is a condition of being His friend. What is it? To do whatever He commands. Biblically speaking, there is no way to be a genuine friend of God’s Son without obeying His instructions.
Look at Jesus’ next declaration about friends that is recorded in John 15: “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (15:15). The idea is not that they ceased being His servants, but rather now they are more than servants . . . they are His friends, too. It is similar to Onesimus’ scenario. When Paul sent him back to Philemon, he still was a bondservant, but since he had become a Christian, he was more than a servant. He now was a brother, too (Philemon 16). Remember, those who have Jesus as their Lord obey Him (Luke 6:46). Ditto for His friends. In fact, His friends and His servants are the same people.
The Bible says, “A friend loves at all times . . .” (Proverbs 17:17). That is true in the friendship between two humans, and it also is true in how Jesus’ friends treat Him . . . they love Him at all times. If one is a friend of Jesus, his love for the Master is continuous, unconditional, and unending. As we pledge in the words of the old song, “I’ll be a friend to Jesus, until my years shall end.”
The evening before Jesus went to the cross, some of His friends let Him down. One of them (Judas Iscariot) betrayed Him. One of them (Simon Peter) denied Him three times. That night the twelve apostles did the unthinkable when they all forsook Him (Matthew 26:56). In Jesus’ hour of trial, a number of His friends did not act like true friends, did they? Is our loyalty to Jesus any better than what the apostles showed that fateful night? Are we big- talkers and put on an appearance of being strong when we are with God’s people, but act nothing like a real friend of Jesus when we are with unbelievers, weak members, or by ourselves?
You and I have got to make a choice: are we “in” or “out?” Either our loyalty is to Master Jesus or else it is to someone or something else. Jesus’ friends obey Him. By one’s initial obedience to the gospel, the Lord adds Him to His family, the church (Acts 2:47). After that, Jesus keeps on saving His friends as they obey Him (Hebrews 5:9). Are You a friend to Jesus?
— Roger D. Campbell