By Richard Lim
Relationships define life – relationship with God and relationships with people. You take that away and you will be left with an existence, not life. That is the difference between a robot and a human being. You take relationships away, and your home will be just a house, this church will be just a building. Yet little is taught about relationship growing up. We learn more about academic subjects than about relationships. We learn many technical skills but little people skills. We have high IQs but low EQs. Relationships are complicated and complex. It takes effort and lots of wisdom to nurture relationships.
Recently, a question was asked in a Bible class whether is it necessary for children to tell their parents where they are, whether should parents know where their children are. Interestingly, one parent in the audience answered rather quickly with an astounding “yes.” Yet there are many young ones who will argue that why should there be a need to inform their parents of their whereabouts.
Some would even chide “helicopter parents.” Perhaps we have heard of the phrase “Don’t ask, why you don’t trust me?” being used by children to their parents. Let me say to these children that trust goes both ways. For a relationship to work, both parties must have the same trust towards each other.
Likewise, in the church do we trust each other as brethren? Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says, “O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you; our heart is wide open” 2 Cor. 6:11. “Open your hearts to us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have cheated no one” 2 Cor. 7:2. I guess the question for us as members of the Klang church is, are we really open to each other? Are we lacking in trust among our brethren? Friendship is one of the highest relationships possible among human beings.
In the marriage relationship – researchers say the single greatest factor determining the quality of your marriage is the quality of your friendship with your spouse. In parenting – when our kids are little, we have to manage them a lot. But there will come a time when they become adults, how then do we relate with our children? As friends.
I Samuel chapter 18 describes to us the type of friendship that Jonathan and David had with each other. “Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” 1 Sam. 18:1. Ephesians 4:16 describes to us what the church should be, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
In the discourse recorded by John in chapter 15, Jesus gives the disciples a lesson on relationship based on friendship. They are no longer called slaves but they are called friends (John 15:15). The word “friend” is tossed around freely these days. But Jesus is not talking about a casual friendship that you and I are so familiar with in our culture. We make friends on Facebook, not face-to-face. We connect more in the virtual world than the real world. We have cyber friends, virtual friends. The number of friends that we have on Facebook may be a feel-good factor but it means nothing in practical terms. The problem is we don’t even know some of the friends on our Facebook. There are others who we have never met. They are just acquaintances. If I’m in need of desperate help, I can’t knock on their door especially at two in the morning. Our friends today are fickle.
Thankfully, that’s not the friendship Jesus is referring to here. The word used for “friend” in this text is the same word used by John the Baptist in his reference about his relationship to Jesus in John 3:29 “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore, this joy of mine is fulfilled.” John the Baptist is using the word “friend” to refer to himself with reference to Jesus as the “best man” in the wedding. When you choose the best man in your wedding, you choose the person who you are really, really close to you!!
The friendship that Jesus related to His disciples has three aspects.
Firstly, in this discourse Jesus tells them that the friendship He offers originates from sacrifice. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” John 15:13. The ultimate expression of love is your willingness to give your life for someone. Ask yourself this question: who are you willing to die for? Or who is willing to die for you? If you are willing to die for a person, that person is very near and dear to you. You will trust them with no reservation because they have your best interest at heart.
Jesus expresses this relationship through His act of sacrifice on our behalf. God and humanity were not always friends, far from it. We were hostile enemies with God. We rebel against His will; make our own self-centred choices and we were headed towards self-destruction. But He takes this initiative to bridge this gigantic chasm. It is not us; it is God. That’s what made the Christian faith so unique!! Thus, as members of one another, do we love our brethren to the extent of willing to die for them? “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” 1 John 3:16.
Secondly, the friendship He offers is based on obedience. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” John 15:14. When you are a friend of Jesus, you do what He commands you to do. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Anyone knows that’s not a good way to make friends. You will not find this principle in Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people.” If you say to someone, “You be my friend if you do everything I tell you to do” – who would ever want to be your friend?!
While we use this language of friendship in our relationship with Jesus, you need to know that it does not negate the need for obedience. In fact, it is this obedience that characterizes this friendship. But it still brings us to this question, “If Jesus is our friend, why can’t we be just buddy, buddy? Why does He still commands obedience?”
That’s because Jesus wants the best for us. John 15:10-11: “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. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”
The reason Jesus your friend wants you to obey is because He wants the best for you. The pathway to joy comes through obedience. When Jesus tells us to do what He commands us, it is not to spoil our fun or to stifle us but it is keeping our best interest in mind. That is the essence of friendship. He cares about you and wants to protect you from hurting yourselves. The commands of the Lord are not burdensome, it results in freedom, life, and joy and it keeps us from self-harm. Likewise, if you care about your friends or your brethren, you are not going to allow them to hurt themselves.
Thirdly, the friendship that Jesus offers is nurtured through communication. There is a difference between why a slave or servant does something for you and why a friend does something for you. Slaves do it because of obligation, it’s required of them, it’s a command, they don’t have a choice. But friends have a different motivation when they render you a helping hand.
If a person washes your laundry, cleans your house, washes your car, but never have coffee with you, never wants to go for a walk with you, never want to share his or her heart with you, would you consider them your friend? No. Because friendship involves communication.
Jesus says, “Everything that I have learnt from the Father I have made known to you” John 15:15b. Friends confide in each other; they share their heart. When you go to a coffee shop and talk to a friend for hours, it feels like minutes. When you talk to your boss for a minute, it feels like hours. Why is that? It’s because you don’t tell your boss your parenting struggles, your marriage problems or your disappointments because your boss is not the person in whom you confide in, it’s a professional relationship. But a friend has time to listen to you. Psa. 25:14: “The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant.” The Hebrew word for “secret” is the same word for friend. “Secrets of the Lord” – friendship of the Lord. In the English Standard version, it reads, “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” A friend is someone you let into your secret places of your heart.