Based on a transcript of a message preached by Rev. Foster in Penticton Free Presbyterian Church on Lord’s Day November 21st, 2010.
You can listen to the audio of this message here.
John 15 verses 13 and 14 is my text this morning. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:13-14 AV)
Our subject is: the friends of Christ. Here is an exclusive group indeed! What a blessing and a privilege it is, a rare thing to be among those that are described as the friends of Jesus Christ. Sadly like many other human experiences our notion of friendship has been degraded and devalued in these times. If, for example, we were to base our ideas of what this text means upon the definition of “friend” as used by facebook or some of these other online social networking sites, we would not think very much of what the Savior has to say! In those environments it is possible to have friends that you’ve never seen, know nothing, about care little for; and really they are not friends in the true sense or in the biblical sense of the word as it is used here.
Here is a very special relationship described. It is a truly wonderful thing to be described as the friend of Jesus Christ. What a wonderful relationship is suggested by that term. There is a warmth, an intimacy, a communication and fellowship, a companionship that prevails between Christ and His people; between Christ and His disciples, His servants. It is truly a marvelous thing.
Now, in the context the Lord Jesus is teaching his disciples about the common bond that unites them. They are to love one another. That is the primary thrust and application of the passage here. When he says in verse 13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” He is primarily making the application to the love God’s people are to have one for the other. The friendship that we have with Christ is to have this practical effect that we are to be friends one with another. That is one of the lessons that the Lord Jesus is drawing out of in a practical way from this friendship that He has with his people. If we are each the friends of Christ, then we are each to the friends of one another. Biblically friendship is to prevail among the people of God. When you see the church of Jesus Christ at large today in the condition that it is in where there is disunity and dysfunction, where there is breach of fellowship and a breaking down of that friendship that we could expect to exist between God’s people, it is all just a testimony to the loss of the friendship of Christ. When God’s people lose out with him, when that level of friendship breaks down, then the friendship between one another breaks down among Christ’s church as well. Here is a wonderful relationship that is to have a profound effect upon the interaction of God’s people. It will affect our assembling together; it will affect our fellowship together; it will affect how we feel one for the other, how we act one toward the other; if we have a proper view of that friendship that exists between Christ and His people. As we develop that friendship, as that friendship deepens and matures and our relationship with Christ develops as the Bible leads us to expect it ought to develop then that will be evidenced in our relationships one with the other as well.
When the Lord Jesus says “ye are my friends” we have to ask ourselves the question: who is He speaking about? Who are the friends of Christ? As we look at the passage here the question is answered for us. Even in the statements that the Lord Jesus makes in this text initially, and in the wider context, those statements define what it is to be the friend of Jesus Christ. I trust that as we look at this passage and consider the subject “the friends of Christ” we will learn something about that friendship which the Savior has in view actually is. I trust that there will be awakened in our heart as God’s people that desire to know more of Him, to be closer to him, to put away those things that hinder that friendship. May the Lord indeed work in our hearts to make us the close friends of Jesus Christ.
As we look at this statement in this text, I want us to learn first of all that the friends of Christ are the object of his self sacrificing love.
The friends of Jesus Christ, in short, are those for whom He died. That is who the friends of Christ are! That is an obvious inference that may be drawn from verse 13 especially. Even though the Lord Jesus here in this verse is addressing the relationship that is to exist between one disciple and another on a human level, there is that inference that sets before us His love by way of comparison. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” and then He goes on to say, “ye are my friends” and the obvious implication, that he would have them to consider is, I will lay down my life for you. That is why He had come to earth: to lay down his life for His people.
Now, here is the primary and really the indelible identifier of the friends of Jesus Christ. It is that they are those for whom He died. Put that way we have obviously we have a view of the friends of Jesus Christ from the divine perspective. Here is what settles the matter finally and eternally as to the identity of the friends of Jesus Christ! From God’s point of view they are those for whom He died. Now if you understand the theology and teaching of God’s word you will very quickly recognize that, put that way, that is a definition of the friends of Jesus Christ that we from our human perspective cannot always identify in that infallible, unerring way. We can make a mistake about those who are the friends of Christ simply because we cannot see what God sees. The elect of God do not bear that visible mark of their election in such a way that we in our human frailties can unmistakably identify. Here is a definition of the friends of Jesus Christ from the divine perspective.
Let me turn you for a moment to 2 Timothy 2:19 – you might like to put a mark in this place as we will come back to it a bit later. “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” In the context he is speaking about that the foundational, basic work of God’s grace done in the heart of His elect. It stands sure and nothing can ever overthrow it. The Lord knows His people and you have that thought coming through here in this first defining mark of the friends of Jesus Christ. He laid down his life for his people. He knows whom He died for. He died for a particular people. His friends, if we might put it this way, are those whom He knows in the context of His redeeming purpose. Those whom He knows, He will die for. Those whom he knows, He will shed his blood for. They are His friends! No one – if we look at it the other way – no one who is a stranger to Christ in this sense of redemption can ever be His friend. No one whom Christ does not know as the redeemer can ever be His friend. Do you remember those that the gospel refers to in a number of places, that will stand before Christ in the day of judgment and He will say to them depart from me I never knew you, (Matt 7:23)? As God, as judge, He knows all things, he knows all things about all men, but there is a knowledge that Christ has as the redeemer of His people – those whom he died for He knows in this special way – they are his friends. The implication of this statement here taken together in verse 13 and 14 is: you are my friends because I have laid down my life for you. Redemption involves Christ taking knowledge of us; God taking knowledge of us in that loving, gracious, redeeming fashion.
In John 10 we have a different picture of the relationship between Christ and his people – the shepherd and his sheep. But the idea of friendship still prevails here. In John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” They are not strangers! They are friends, they are companions. He knows those whom He dies for in this special fashion.
In 1 Peter 1:2, we again have a reference to the knowledge of God only this time taking us back into eternity past and we read here that those who are believers are elect, Peter tells us, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father through sanctification of the spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. Without taking the time to look at the implications of all the statements here, you have in summary, Peter saying here, that those who are the believers that he is writing to, all believers are known by God in connection with the sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ. It is upon the basis of redemption that this friendship, this knowledge proceeds. Those who are His friends are those for whom He died.
But more than that as we look at these verses you will see that it is also clear that his friends are those who have experienced the application of the benefits of his death. It is one thing for Christ to die; it is another thing for the benefits of that death, the effects of that death to be applied to the individual. But you have evidence here that this is in the mind of Christ as He is speaking at this time. “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends ye are my friends.” The implication being as we are seeing, I will lay down my life for you. But see how He describes them as his friends. But, step back for a moment and remember. Christ did not die for those who were his friends at that moment when He died for them. He died for His enemies! So while we have those whom He died for being described as His friends, we have brought to our attention the fact that the benefits of Christ’s death have already been applied to them. They have been reconciled to God they are now the friends of Christ – those who were once his enemies!
What does Paul tell us in Romans 5? Well I’m sure they are familiar words to you. Romans 5:7-8: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Speaking of that love for his fellow man that prevails in the hearts of some where they are ready to lay their lives down even in the defense of their fellow human beings, for their well being some would even dare to die. But God commendeth or demonstrates his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:10: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” We were enemies. When Christ died for us we were His enemies! That is why He needed to die for us. To make reconciliation for the sins of His people that had estranged them from God.
Colossians 1:19-22“For it pleased [the Father] that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, [I say], whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:”
There is the effect of Christ death in the life of his people. They are made friends. The very use of that terminology by the Savior would set before us the glorious truths of the application of Christ’s death to his people. Once a sinner: now reconciled; now made the friend of God because Christ has died.
That is the experience of every genuine believer. They have had the benefits of Christ’s death applied to them. They have entered into, by personal experience, the effects of Christ’s death. Yes! Christ did die on the cross to reconcile sinners. Have you been reconciled? Have you been reconciled to God by faith in Christ’s death? Have you entered into the benefits of Christ’s death? Many people know that Christ died on the cross to save sinners but have never yet themselves come to a personal experience of the friendship that Christ’s death produced. These disciples were in the happy position where Christ would die for them and they now knew by experience the benefits of his death.
Here, as we look again at the words of the text, is a demonstration of the greatest love imaginable. The friends of Christ are the objects of Christ’s self sacrificing love. There is again a contrast to be borne in mind in the background to these words. “Greater love hath no man than this.” There is no higher display of human love, the Saviour is saying, than for a man to lay down his life for his friends, be ready to sacrifice himself for the best interests of those whom he loves. A man may lay down his life for his family, to spare them; a man may lay down his life for his country, and we salute the love that motivates such self sacrifice. We recognize that that is great human love but there is a love that goes beyond that. There is a love that the human mind cannot comprehend in the gospel concept that is seen in Christ: Him laying down his life of those who were his inveterate enemies to make them His friends. That goes beyond anything that any measurement of human love can define! And yet that is the love that the friends of Christ have been exposed to.
What love the Lord Jesus has shown to you if you are His friend today. It is a very appropriate and fitting thing for us to consider this love very often. To consider what He has done for me. Even in the terms of our human relationships it is easy to become selfish and to get wrapped up in what I do for others. How important it is, especially in terms of this relationship, that we stop to think how much He has done for me. The friends of Christ are the beneficiaries of his self sacrificing love.
Something else I would like you to notice here, in the second place: The friends of Christ as his servants.
The friends of Christ are His servants. “Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you”. Now, remember we looked a moment or two ago at the words of 2 Timothy 2:19. Let’s look again at that text. Here is this unmovable, irreversible foundational work of grace that Paul is speaking about. When God saves a sinner he does a work that can never be undone. You know how you may have a piece of jewelry or some other valuable article and there will be a hallmark stamped on it. That hallmark is a mark of authenticity. That it is what it claims to be. Well, here is the hallmark on this saving work of grace. The hallmark is described here as a seal. The foundation of God has this seal This work of God’s grace has a seal stamped upon it that has two sides – one side visible to God: “the Lord knowth them that are his.” We’ve already considered that side of the seal in the words of the Lord Jesus to his disciples, “I died for my friends.” That is the definition of this friendship that is primarily visible to God. But the other side of that seal, Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:19, is “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” There is always the evidence of what God sees. Here is what God sees – but made visible to human eyes. The evidence of election, redemption, the evidence of being a friend of Christ, from a human perspective is that everyone that nameth the name of Christ departs from iniquity. There is this holiness, a certain way of life, that is the evidence of this work of grace having been done in the life. You see a reflection of this in the words of the Lord Jesus: ye are my friends, those I have died for; those who, in the ultimate sense, are only known to God. You are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command. Identity as a friend of Christ therefore hinges upon specific activity. Here is what it comes down to. Here is how we may tell, looking at one another whether one is truly Christ’s. What do they do? The word that the Savior uses here is really an equivalent of the English word ‘practice’. What is their practice? What is your practice?
You know the difference between habitual practice and something you just do now and again. You know the kind of golfer who is never going to be any real kind of use because he only golfs once a year. It is not his practice, it is not his habit. But then equally you may know somebody who is out there every week or twice a week: it is their practice, it is their habitual activity. Now the Lord Jesus is saying here that His friends DO something. They live in a certain, habitual way. There is a practice that marks their lives. We understand the difference between a friend and a casual acquaintance. We understand the difference between somebody that we describe as our friend and somebody that we meet casually in the store or on the street. We might exchange a warm hello with them, or warm greetings but we don’t know who they are. We know nothing about them. We may smile at them but they are a stranger before we meet them, they are a stranger after we meet them; they come and they go from our lives. You’d never think of calling that person a friend. The kind of person you call a friend is the kind you have habitual contact with, habitual communion with. It is possible to have a very close friendship with someone you are removed from geographically by a great distance but you lift the phone and you speak with them or though other modern means of communication. You maintain contact. There is habitual contact and interaction – that is what friendship depends upon. There is a habit that is in view here: repeated activity.
What is that activity what is that practice that the Savior is saying really defines friendship with him? It is “whatsoever I command you.” If ye do whatsoever I command you.” This activity is regulated then by the command of Christ. There is emphasis in the original text upon the pronoun “I”. It is whatsoever I command. He is the master, He is the Lord. He refers to himself in that kind of language even in the passage here as he speaks of them as servants – although not merely servants – they are servants that are friends. But, nevertheless, that master servant relationship is very much to be borne in mind in the context here. You see it referred to in the verse 15. He is to be the single Lord and Master of His people. That is what it means to be a friend of Christ. It is to have Him as our master exclusively. In a sense, this a very exclusive friendship. There is a relationship in view here – in terms of Christ and the individual disciple – that allows for no other friendship. “No man can serve two masters”! And every other relationship that we find ourselves involved in on a human level is second to this one relationship with Christ as master. Every other wish, every other will, every other inclination, every other pressure is secondary to what I command. This is what the Lord is saying here.
He has clearly revealed his will, he tells us in the verse15, which is the will of God. “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” That is a definition of friendship. The friend will be a servant. The servant is informed of the duty that is required of him. That is what makes the servant a friend here. “I call you not servants” not merely a servant. You are not just a slave, not just a servant for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth but I have called you friends. Yes you are to be a servant – but a ‘friend servant’. And what is it that makes this servant a friend? All things that I have heard of my Father I have made known to you. That is what sets the friends of Christ apart in the area of service. They know His will. They’ve been taught His will. We find it revealed in the words of Christ communicated to us in all of scripture. Christ is our prophet: working through the Old Testament prophets; working through the new testament writers; communicating the will of the Father to His people. That is what defines the friend. You know there’s no such thing as a friend of Jesus Christ who does not have regard for his book. You cannot be a friend of Jesus Christ and discount scripture because this is what defines a friend. He has had revealed to him the will of God for his service.
Look at the words of Matthew 12. Again we are changing the picture a little here. You will understand that the relationship between Christ and his people is presented to us under many different pictures through scripture and here we have a family picture used. But clearly the concept of friendship is still very much in view. Matthew 12:46-50 “While he yet talked to the people, behold, [his] mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
He may as well have asked, Who are my friends? Who are those who are related to me? Who are those who are in my family? Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? In a sense we can say that those who obey God are the blood relatives of Jesus Christ. They are tied to him by blood. They are friends/relations because they obey. Whosoever shall do the will of my Father. That’s who the friends of Christ are!
You’ll notice that the obedience of the friends of Christ is presented here as unquestioning and unstinting. These ideas are in that little word, whatsoever. “Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you”. What friendship is involved in that kind of service! Anything, anything the Lord asks. How difficult, how challenging, how painful, it does not matter. What obstacles are in view, it does not matter. Whatsoever! The friend of Jesus Christ is one who is ready to do anything for him. That is the ideal standard of friendship. Those whom Christ has died for, those whom He has redeemed ought to manifest this level of obedience toward the Saviour. If it is the will of God than it does not matter what it is; or what it requires of me; or what sacrifices I have to make; or what a price I have to pay; I’m going to do it. I am His friend and I can do no less. How close a friend to Christ are you? Are we close enough a friend to Jesus Christ, in close enough fellowship and friendship with him today, to give hearty assent to the words Mary spoke in John 2:5 “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” Whatsoever! Our response to that whatsoever is a measure of how close we are in our friendship with Christ. Whatsoever he saith, do it.
In conclusion, I have to make the obvious point here that: The friends of Christ are those who love him.
They are those who love him. After all, that is the literal meaning of the word “friend” as it appears here. There are two terms that appear even in our text for love. In verse 13 you have a strong word. It is the greek verb agapao, to love. Another verb lies at the root of the word friends that is slightly weaker in its meaning but nevertheless less still meaning “to love”. You may call to mind that interesting exchange between the Lord Jesus and Peter in John 21 where the Lord asked Peter, “Do you love me?” The Lord used the strong verb when he asked that, “Peter do you love me?” Peter’s reply was “Lord you know I love you” he used the weaker form of that word that appears as the word “friends” in our text. Again the Lord says, “Peter, do you love me?” He’s using the strong verb. Peter says, “You know I love you.” He uses the weaker form. In then in the third question the Lord asks him, “Peter do you love me?” This time, the Lord used the same word that Peter had used. Peter said, “Lord, you know all things, you know I love you.” And even in that exchange Peter seems to have been conscious of the frailty of his love for Christ. He had just days before denied the Saviour! He couldn’t, as it were, use the strong verb when speaking of his love because he was conscious of how faulty and failing his love was, nevertheless there was one thing he knew: he loved the Saviour. He said, “Lord you know I am your friend”. “My friendship, my love is not what it ought to be. I am conscious of the weakness but Lord, you know I love you.” That is very much the idea that is in the words here, “my friends”. You are those that love me – those that are friends of Christ are those that love him.
This love is always the motivation behind the service that is spoken of here. Look at John 14:15 and even though it’s the stronger term for love that is used here yet the thought is the same. “If ye love me keep my commandments”. Doing whatsoever Jesus says – that’s the mark of a friend; that’s the mark of one who loves Him.
This love is a reactionary love: we love Him because He first loved us. His love to us in laying down his life is the root cause of our love to him. If it had not been for that work of redeeming grace I would never have loved Christ. I would still have hated him, still be in my sin, still in my inveterate rebellion against God, had He not laid hold of me in dying love. Loving friendship of Christ is always nurtured by a consideration of his cross-work. How He laid down his life for us, He died. As we take the literal sense of the words here: He died for those who are now his friends, i.e. for those who now love Him. We love him because He died for us and our love for Him is strengthened, nurtured and matured as we take time at the cross.
Did Paul not say in those well-known words in Galatians 2:20 “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Here is the price of friendship: I am crucified with Christ. Paul describes his daily life as bearing the cross and crucifying the flesh – “I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me”. Everything that is involved in my Christian service, he says, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”. We could look at that verse and simply ask Paul a question: “Paul, why do you love Christ enough to crucify the flesh daily? to bear the cross of service day in and day out?” The answer: Because He loved me and gave Himself for me. How can I be anything else but a friend to Him? He who came to die as sin offering for me: how can I do anything less than say, “Lord Jesus, I am your friend. I am going to go outside the camp to bear your reproach, to stand with you, to love you and serve you?
Do you love the Saviour today? Can you put on record, as the Psalmist did in Psalm 116:1, “I love the Lord because he hath heard me, because he hath heard my voice”? He’s heard the voice of my supplication. I love the Lord. Can you say with Peter – yes, brokenly consciously and grieved as Peter was in John 21 – “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you”? Are you the friend of Christ? A friend as He defines it here? Not just some fair weather friend that is no friend at all, but a friend who loves and serves. Those are the friends of Christ. May God grant that you’ll be among them, that as we serve God together we will know something of that friendship – even on a human level – in fellowship and closeness one with the other that reflects our relationship with Christ. May the Lord write his word on our hearts.