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“I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father.
You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.” [John 15:15-16; HCSB]
Several days ago my wife and I were reading a daily devotional and came across a story of a Sunday school teacher who taught his young students a cute little song about Jesus being their friend. As the story progressed, the teacher became discouraged as his students grew up, and away, from the idea of Jesus was their friend. As they had gotten older, apparently the idea of having Jesus as a friend seemed increasingly irrelevant to them. It was a sad story, but it’s been on my mind ever since.
What is friendship? Considering my context, that’s a two-pronged question. In the western world of 2016, we’ve lost sight of what biblical friendship is. And considering the Bible verses I’m referencing, we have little or no idea what the term meant to the listeners when Jesus told them He considered them His friends. So, between 30 AD and 2016, today’s American Christian reads John 15:15 predisposed to misunderstand what Jesus was saying, and to whom. Therefore it follows that to us, verse 16 is fair game to be taken out of context and used to our immediate advantage, which we do all the time.
How many times have we heard someone reminding God in prayer that He promised to give us whatever we asked for if we prayed for it ‘in His name’? And so we recite our current litany of perceived needs and end the prayers with the magic words, “In the name of Jesus”. Done deal, right? Well He made the promise, and we faithfully used the magic words…but that doesn’t seem to work all the time, does it?
Verse 15 and 16 aren’t placed in a random position; there is a reason 16 follows 15, and we’re missing the point if we don’t see the order. In order for verse 16 to be “activated”, we have to qualify ourselves to be ‘friends’ in verse 15. It is critical that we know when we pray, with verse 16 in mind, that we are qualified to use it, and many of us are not because we have no clue what being friends with Jesus means.
First, Jesus spoke these verses to His disciples, and not to citizen camp followers. These men (and women) were His followers. They had shared the same hardships, and they had remained disciples through at least one falling away. They had spent 3 years eating the dust of the road behind their Master as His students, not His equal, and they understood Him that way. Their “position” had, up to this point, been behind Jesus, rather than in front or necessarily alongside of Him. They were students of Jesus, they knew it and they Followed. Christians today don’t Follow well. In our struggles to lead and be in front, we better mirror the disciples of Jesus as they constantly strove to be “important” amongst themselves. Jesus changed all this for His disciples in verse 15.
Secondly, the term “friends” used by Jesus in about 30 AD, was understood at the time to be a distinct term denoting a covenant relationship. In 2016, we have little or no understanding of covenant, and almost no relevant teaching on covenant principles from our current crop of Bible teachers. This is a great failure, since God is all about covenant – and He hasn’t changed.
David and Jonathan were in covenant as friends with each other, but we read about them and think they simply liked one another. Well, I suppose they did like one another, but their being in covenant with each other, bound them together in a way we do not understand today. In effect, David and Jonathan swore a blood oath together that everything one owned and was, was to be the property of the other covenanter, as needed.
By their covenant oaths of friendship, they had become, in their world view, one person, formed from two. They were significantly unified. Today we mirror that oath when we say marriage vows (at least we’re supposed to). In effect, they were stating, “My blood, and anything of mine is yours, if you ever need it.” Because of that binding, they were considered “friends”. Do you see how we’ve watered it down and missed it entirely?
For Jesus to be my friend, and for me to be His friend, we two must be bound together by covenant. It must be my blood for His, if need be, as He gave His blood for me. That’s
covenant friendship. Singing songs about Jesus being my friend, aside from the good intentions of the Sunday school teacher, was almost an ignorant, probably innocent mockery of a very sacred relationship. The students learned a song, and only a song, but memorizing the song did not qualify them to be in covenant with the Savior. In actual fact, Jesus never became irrelevant to them because He had never been relevant in the first place. He had only been mentioned in the lyrics of a childish song, and when they ‘put away childish things’ as they grew older, they put away the lyrics also. When we conclude our prayers with the words, “In the name of Jesus”, we are foreswearing out loud that we are praying to the Father as the covenant friends of His Son. We are making a sacred declaration into the eternal airwaves that this prayer we are offering up, is offered up to God with the authority of one entitled to claim friendship (covenant) with Jesus, the Son of God.
If that is indeed the case, we can know God will hear, and respond. If not, we can only hope…and that precludes faith.
John Miltenberger is a Christian blogger, visit John on his site: The Trip So Far
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