This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
– John 15:12-17
Jesus’ relationship with the disciples demonstrates the way and wisdom of friendship. Even Jesus, who is God, didn’t isolate Himself but pursued friendships. Even Jesus, who is the Messiah, sought the help of His friends. Over the course of years, Jesus spent countless meals, walks, workdays, and even parties with His disciples. At the end of His life, He called them His friends and said He would die for them.
We’re Friends of God
Read John 15:12-17 again. What does it mean that Jesus has called us His friends instead of servants?
In Christ we’re no longer enemies of God or slaves to sin; we’re now friends of God. No longer do we have to clamor to prove ourselves, get noticed, or live in fear. Jesus has made us friends with God. If you want to have real friends, you first have to know friendship with God through the cross of Jesus Christ. He forgave you of your sins, set you free from your bitterness, healed the wounds of your past, and gave you the love of God to be a friend. True friendship happens in no other way.
We’re Forgiven and Befriended
God’s love at work in our lives calls us to forgive others. Doing so will regularly draw us into deeper levels of friendships.
The new commandment Jesus gives us is to love one another the way Christ loved us (see v. 12). He wants us to seek friendship and unity with one another in such a way that the world will know we’re friends of Jesus. Forgiveness is an essential element of Jesus’ friendship with us. When we love as Jesus loved and are friends as Jesus is a friend, we forgive as Jesus forgave us.
Heart: Growing in Belief
Now let’s look inward to examine our hearts and beliefs. Think about your friendship history—the different kinds of friends and relationships you’ve had in different seasons of your life.
Starting with elementary school and moving through middle school, high school, college, and young adulthood and continuing to the present, think of your friends and the blessings of those friendships. In what ways were you a friend? What were the blessings? What were the hurts? How did you see God in those friends? How did those friendships end? How do your past friendships influence your current relationships?
Consider mapping your relationship with God through the various seasons of your life as well. What blessings, frustrations, pain, and confusion can you identify in that friendship?
Make space for a friendship in your life.
The small amount of time that’s scheduled for friendships in American life is astounding. We spend an enormous amount of time on errands, work meetings, church meetings, training, practice, exercise, entertainment, and social media, but we rarely schedule time to simply be friends.
Carve out time to pursue a friendship. It can be with an old friend or a new friend, a friend who follows Jesus or someone who doesn’t believe. As you spend time with them, try getting to know their heart. Here are a few ideas for what to do and a few questions you can use to go deeper in your conversations without being weird. As you do this, remember Jesus’ words in John 15:12-17.
Things to do:
- Invite a coworker to lunch and begin a friendship. Meals are a great way to break the ice with someone you’re seeking to know or know better. Instead of rushing through lunch to get back to work, use lunch as a moment of Sabbath to get to know a friend. Jesus got to know many people through shared meals.
- Call a sibling or an old friend and catch up on life. Friendship assumes availability. Use a commute or downtime to reconnect.
- Invite a friend to a sporting event or a movie. Shared experiences create a foundation to draw on in later conversations.
- Ask a friend to join you on an errand. Be willing to spend time without an agenda.
- Invite friends over for dinner or for dessert. Sharing your home deepens relationships.
Use the following questions to start deeper conversations. Deeper conversations open doors to share our faith. People are more willing than we may assume to have conversations about faith and belief. These conversations strengthen Christian friendships and help unbelievers see their need for the gospel.
About their stories:
- Where did you grow up?
- What was growing up like?
- How did you end up here doing what you’re doing?
About their dreams:
- If you could do anything right now, what would it be?
- What would be your biggest fear about doing that?
About their families:
- How did you meet your spouse? (Or, would you ever want to get married?)
- What’s parenting like for you?
About their faith (with people who know Jesus):
- What’s God teaching you?
- What are you reading in God’s Word?
- How are you serving?
- How can I pray for you?
About their faith (with people who don’t know Jesus):
- What impressions do you have of Christians?
- Has there ever been a time when you’ve considered the Christian faith?
- Would it be OK if I prayed for you?
Jesus, in His final days on earth, told His followers to love one another the way He loved them. We can do that here and now through our friendships.
This post was adapted from the Making Space Bible study by Jeff Vanderstelt.