So I don’t want to brag or anything, but I have over 900 friends…On Facebook that is. Admittedly I haven’t actually met all of them in person and I have a tough time remembering how exactly I know a large portion of them. Some of them get on my nerves so much that I’ve opted to hide their posts, but they are all my friends in the official Facebook sense of the word.
But how many of them would I call in the middle of the night to confide in about an ongoing personal struggle? That number would be considerably smaller. Those kind of friendships are harder to come by.
There are more ways to connect than ever, but authentic connection often eludes us. We may have lots of acquaintances, but perhaps especially as we get older, it is difficult to develop real and lasting friendships. Many people who are even living in the midst of densely populated cities with a thousand Facebook friends still struggle with deep loneliness. Our Gospel message today is good news indeed for the lonely and friendless. Even if we don’t have a single friend in this world, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has called us his friends. This is truly remarkable.
The great philosopher Aristotle famously claimed that there could be no friendship between mortals and gods. Friendship, he said, can only exist between equals. What can mortals possibly have in common with a god? He wrote, “When one partner is quite separated from the other, as in the case of divinity, the friendship can remain no longer.”
Aristotle was writing from a pagan perspective generations before Christ. He could not envision the incarnation of Jesus in which God took on flesh and lived a mortal life. The impossible fact that God calls us friends is only possible because he became one of us. God has bridged the gap in Christ. Without in any way diminishing his divinity, God the Son has drawn near to us on a human level. Not only did he share in every way our human condition, but he has also raised us up with Christ to be partakers of his divine nature. Because God and man are joined together and reconciled in Christ, we are more than servants, we are friends.
The difference between a servant and a friend is that a servant does his master’s will in order to earn his love and favor. Friends serve one another out of a mutual love for one another. Their works are an expression of the love that they already enjoy. They are not out to earn it.
The work of a servant is an external obligation of an inferior to a superior. The work of a friend is an inner expression of gratitude and affection.
By nature there is an absolute inequality between man and God. Under God’s law we are obliged to obey God as our creator and Lord. We are justly deserving his judgement if we disobey him. God has no such obligation to us that we can presume upon. God is in heaven and we are on earth. This is why in Islam, for instance, it is considered the height of arrogance to speak of God in intimate and familiar terms.
By grace, however, God chose us for fellowship with him. This is a unique characteristic of friendship. It is chosen. A servant’s relationship to his master is dictated by the requirements of hierarchy. Even siblings may have certain duties to one another because of their close relationship, but (parents you know this) no one can force them to be friends, that they must choose!
Christ has called us friends. Will we accept his friendship and walk in his love? What does it mean to be friends with Christ?
Many human friendships originate in gratitude for a kindness shown. When I was new on the job you invited me to lunch and made me feel comfortable. When my lawn mower broke you leant me yours. Accepting the friendship of Christ means first expressing our gratitude for the great kindness and generosity he has shown us by saving us from sin and death at great personal sacrifice.
In order for friendship to grow there must be admiration. Accepting the friendship of Christ means admiring his character and wonderful attributes and seeing them as worthy of imitation.
Friendship also means that we delight in the company of the other. We look for opportunities to spend time together and make it a priority. Friendship with Christ therefore means entering into his presence with joy and thanksgiving. We do not see prayer or worship as a duty or a chore but as a privilege.
Friends share their most intimate hopes and desires. They trust one another with all of their struggles. A true friend is one who will always lend a sympathetic ear and offer you support in your time of need. Friendship with Christ means turning to him in our time of need and pouring out our hearts to him in prayer. It also means that we are always looking out for ways in which we can be a service and support to him. In his divine all-sufficiency Christ does not need our help, but he nevertheless delights to allow us to serve him as co-laborers in his mission.
God has let us in on his plans. Jesus says, “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” In 1 Corinthians Saint Paul explains how we have been privileged to be shown even the depths of God. He writes this, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cornithians 2:11-12). God has shared with us his own Spirit so that we can understand his plan for us and be empowered to be his agents in the world.
Friends have common goals and common concerns. Christ desires that we share with him a passion for his Father’s glory and the Kingdom. Friendship with Christ means that we make his concerns our own. Finally, it means that we love the things that he loves. We love God’s word and God’s law at least in part because Christ loved them. Because they were valuable to him they are also valuable to us. Christ loved the poor and the marginalized and so we too should love them.
Christ said that we must love one another as he has loved us. The friends of Christ are our friends as well and so we love our fellow Christians. This is how the world will know we are his disciples, if we love one another.
In a world so desperate for authentic relationships, the real love and fellowship that Christ calls us to have for one another will make the world notice. True friendship is meant to serve as a sign and symbol to the world of the love of God in Christ.
One such friendship is described in the Bible between King David and Jonathan. The soul of Jonathan we are told was bound to the soul of David and he loved him as his own soul. He made a covenant with David and handed over to him everything that he had. He was faithful to David to the very end. What a beautiful picture this is of the bond that exists between Christ and the believer! Our soul has been bound to Christ forever and he loves us as his own soul. Everything we have, our whole heart, soul, and mind, is not enough to repay what he has given us. He has given to us an unfathomably precious gift, his body, blood, soul and divinity.
He himself has shown us true love and friendship. He himself fulfilled his own words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” Dear friends, let us love one another as he has loved us.