Sunday, April 11, 2021


Last week I brought up what the Apostle Paul said about being “slaves to righteousness.” He mentioned that it was not actually appropriate to use the term “slave” in describing our relationship to righteousness, but he said that he was using it because he had to speak in “human terms,” meaning there was no other word in the human tongue that would make the point he was explaining.

By using that word, he meant that instead of serving sin, as we did when we remained unredeemed by Jesus, now by the grace of God, we would serve righteousness—we would become slaves to righteousness.

His point was well taken. However, I would now like to introduce another subject concerning our relationship to God. These words I take from what Jesus told his disciples:

“No longer do I call you slaves, or servants (the two terms are actually the same word in Greek), for a slave does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

“A Friend of God”

I am certain that all of us present here would like to be called a friend of God. Very few people in the Bible have had a relationship so intimate with God that they actually were called “the friend of God.”

Abraham did. The New Testament writer James says of Abraham, “He believed God…and he was called God’s friend” (James 2:23).

It is also said that God used to speak with Moses face to face, “as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).

I am certain there were others who had this type of intimate relationship with God, but these two are the only ones for whom this special term was specifically used in Scripture. But Jesus also said of his disciples, “No longer do I call you slaves, but I have called you my friends.” 

How to Become of Friend of God

But how does one become a friend of God? Is it like sending him a “friend request” on facebook and hope He presses the “accept” button?

Jesus actually told his disciples how to become his friend. He states it very clearly: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

“Wait a minute!” you might be saying. “Doesn’t that sound a little presumptuous? Isn’t it like a child on a playground negotiating the terms of his friendship? ‘If you do what I tell you to do I’ll be your friend!’ ”

But of course it usually is not a good idea to compare God’s motivations with those of a person. If we back up a little in what Jesus said about being his friend, you will see what I mean.

As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.

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 be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:9-13 NAS)

To make what Jesus said more impactful, he spoke these words about laying down his life for his friends just hours before he was to be crucified for the sins of the world.

Also, as you will see in the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples, he summed up the obedience that he was demanding into one clear commandment: “That you love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus is not negotiating the terms of his friendship. He is simply calling his disciples to love as he has loved them. Besides that, he is telling them these things not for reasons of his own personal benefit, but so that his disciples can know a joy that is “complete.”

To be a friend of God, we must know that it is not a relationship that is to be based in control or in gaining personal advantage, but one that is based upon love.

This is the same sentiment that Peter wrote in the one of his letters, and with which I closed the sermon from last week: “Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 BSB).

Benefits of Friendship with God

Another aspect of correctly understanding the words of Jesus in regard to obeying his commandments is to understand that a relationship that is based upon love is not a one-way street. In this relationship, both the commitments and the benefits go both ways. If we back up even a little more in what Jesus told his disciples, we will see that this is true. Jesus spoke of this when he was explaining how to abide in him.

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you,” Jesus said, “ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7 NAS).

In a relationship that is based upon love, we can know that the motivation of Jesus in having us obey him is not so he can maintain dominance, but it is instead intended to give us lives that are productive and fruitful.

“By this is My Father glorified,” Jesus continues, “that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples… These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (John 15:8, 11)

Slaves and Masters, Disciples and Teachers

Jesus never referred to his followers as slaves. However, in giving his followers lessons about life, he did give examples using illustrations of slaves and masters. For example, when Jesus told parables, he often used the examples of slaves.

“Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes” (Matthew 24:45-46 NAS).

At one point, when Jesus was sending out his disciples to minister in the villages, he told them, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matthew 10:24 NAS).

In using this last example, Jesus was not speaking of differing benefits of masters and slaves. Rather, he was speaking of troubles that the disciples should expect to encounter as they entered various villages. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples very early in their time together. Then, three years later, on the very day that he was to be crucified, he recalls this time to them.

“Remember the word that I spoke to you:” he reminded his disciples. “‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; if they kept My word, they will keep yours as well” (John 15:20).

And now, as Jesus spoke these words about slaves and masters on the very evening of his crucifixion, he also tells his disciples that they are his friends. 

As a Friend to a Friend

In the world, the distinction between a slave and a master is not only that of social position, but also one of sharing of thoughts and of communication. As Jesus explains, a slave does not know what his master is doing. But Jesus told them, “I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you.”

Jesus was revealing all things to them, as a friend would to a friend. This goes beyond “doing whatever I command you.” This goes beyond obedience. Even an obedient slave often may not know all that his master has in mind when he is called to do a task. He simply obeys, and does what he is told to do, often without knowing how it is to fit into the total plan of the master.

But a friend not only knows what is expected of him. He also knows the reasons why.

It is perhaps something similar to a man building a house and instructing his slave to go to the woodshop and make the window frames that will eventually go into the walls of the house. The slave may be given the dimensions and other specifications that he needs to complete his job satisfactorily, but he does not know in what rooms each individual window frame that are being made are to be installed, nor where they will be placed in a wall. He is simply told things on a “need to know” basis.

However, if a friend comes to help the man build a house, the man shows his friend the plan of the house and explains his goals in building it so that the friend has the big picture of what he is to do. The man who is building the house also speaks of his hopes for meeting the needs of his family in the new house, and some of his personal aspirations.

With all of this information, the friend works with more of an understanding of how his task fits into the entire project. He is not just building another house, he is helping his friend meet his goals in life.

Thus, Jesus also told his disciples and he also tells us, “All things that I have heard from the Father I have made known to you.” Jesus does not just tell us things on a need to know basis, he wants us to know his goals and aspirations. He wants us to enter into his life.

This does not mean, of course, that we understand everything that has been told to us. We know a bit. We have somewhat of an understanding, but do not know all that is involved. Yet, it is not because some information has been withheld from us. It is simply a question of either our lack of ability to comprehend matters of eternity, or it also may be that all has not yet been completed or fulfilled so we are not yet able to see.

As the house of God nears completion, we will be able to understand more.

Ask Whatever You Wish

As we learn to abide in Jesus, he makes this promise: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7 NAS).

Consider those words, “Ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.”

Do you recall that at the time that Jesus was having this discourse with his disciples about abiding in him, they had left the upper room where they had been having their last meal together before Jesus was arrested later that night? As Jesus talked, they were en route, as it were, between the upper room and the Garden of Gethsemane.

It was only a few sentences after he spoke the words about asking and receiving that he repeated basically the same thing, saying, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you” (John 15:16 NAS).

If you think that you had read those words yet some other place quite recently, you are correct. While Jesus and the disciples were all still in the upper room where they shared their last meal together, Jesus had also told them the same thing, saying it twice in almost one breath.

There he said, “And whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14 NAS).

And this is not the final time that evening when Jesus would repeat these words. Even before they reached the Garden of Gethsemane, he told them again, “Truly, truly I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you” (John 16:23 NAS).

That evening, Jesus made this promise to his disciples five times. The promise is also made to us if we truly are his disciples. Is this an empty promise? Does Jesus always answer every prayer that we have? I am pretty sure that we all have had things that we had asked God for, and they have not come to us.

Of course, what the New Testament writer James says about this is that we ask and do not receive because we are asking with the wrong motivations (James 4:3). 

If so, then what are the correct motivations?

Asking Like a Friend

Even in these four or five instances when Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, we can learn much about having correct motivations for asking.

In the first two instances, while still in the upper room, before telling his disciples that he would do whatever they asked in his name, Jesus told them this: “Whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I am doing. He will do even greater things than these” (John 14:12).

The next time that Jesus made the promise, he prefaced it by the words, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you…” (John 15:7).

The fourth time he said, “I appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will remain” (John 15:16).

The last time that we see Jesus saying these words, he was speaking in more of a futuristic sense, both the immediate future for the disciples after he was again resurrected from the dead, and also into the ultimate future at the completion of all things. He told them this:

You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

In that day you will no longer ask Me anything. Truly, truly, I tell you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

I have spoken these things to you in figures of speech. An hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you this way, but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world. In turn, I will leave the world and go to the Father. (John 16:22-28 BSB) 

There are many motivations in asking Jesus for something. James told us that sometimes we ask and do not receive an answer because we only want to “squander it on our pleasures.” But of course, that is not always the case. Many times we are asking not for our own benefit at all, but for the benefit of another. We believe that we are asking with all the right reasons and motivations.

But did you notice that in all of the instances where Jesus is making his promise, he is giving it to one who would be a friend to him? He is not a genie who grants wishes, nor is it his desire that our relationship with him remains one in which we merely look upon him as someone who has the power and resources to help.

He wants to call us “friends.”

“You Did Not Choose Me”

One thing that makes our friendship with Jesus so amazing is that he chose us to be his friends. “You did not choose me, but I chose you!” he tells us.

If we think about friendship in normal human relationships, it is not usually the case that the person of a higher position in society or in a work environment takes the initiative to make close friends with another person who all consider lower in the social structure. It does happen, of course, but it is not the usual way in which these friendships are made.

Normally, the person of a lower state begins to demonstrate his potential to the higher person, perhaps by assisting or serving him or her in some way until this person in the higher position sees the benefit of friendship with the lower person.

It is not so with Jesus and us. In our case, it was Jesus who took the initiative to begin and to establish the relationship. Jesus said the to the disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you” (John 15:16 NAS).

The Apostle Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:3-4 NAS)

Greatest among the principles of the Bible is the principle of God seeking a relationship with us. He is seeking a relationship with you. From the very beginning, God first created men and women so that he could “walk with them in the garden in the cool of the day,” as he did in Eden with Adam and Eve. He created us to be his friends.

It is an astounding thought that by in large, mankind has rejected this friendship. They have twisted the love of God into a lie and have rebelled against his friendship. But even then, God continued to reach out to us. He sent prophets to make further overtures of friendship to us.

Those prophets were mocked and killed.

Nevertheless, God continued to reach out to mankind by many means, and lastly even again came Himself, born as a man, and yet also as the Son of God. This man Jesus, the Son of God, they also mocked and persecuted, and in the end, they also killed Him.

A Friend Request

But God still did not abandon us, at least—not yet.

I earlier mentioned sending God a “friend request” on facebook, and of course you knew I was speaking nonsense. Actually however, it is not so nonsensical as we might think; it is just that we are looking at it backwards. It is not we who send a friend request to God, but He who sends one to us.

In each case, he wants us to press the “accept” button. Not to just be a friend like we might have on a social media site, but a real friend—an intimate friend, a friend who will share in every aspect of our life and who will always have our back.

What will you do? Are you going to press “accept,” or will you simply continue to scroll down and continue to waste your time with the drivel of your mediocre life? I’m afraid that most who call themselves Christians never do accept. They may follow what God is doing. They may know about Him, but they never know what it means to become a friend of God.

This is a disappointment to God. Jesus was even disappointed with one of his disciples, when Philip wanted Jesus to show them the Father.

“Have I been with you all this time, Philip,” Jesus asked him, “and still you do not know Me?”

How many of us have been with Jesus for much of our lives, but still do not actually know Him?

Jesus says to us that “the one who comes to Me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). He will never drive you away; he will never reject you or delete you. He is seeking friendship.

The friend request is out there. It is really up to you what you will do…

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