What a friend we have in Jesus! John 15:15 is an absolutely astonishing witness to the abundance of God’s goodness, how is it that the One in whom all things hold together wants to be my friend? I’m not just any acquaintance but a friend worthy enough to give his life for mine. What does this say about Jesus? What does this say about his heart for those who follow him when he says: “you are my friends.”
Just like other labels for relationships, our experience in the darkness of the world can cloud how the Father-Son-Spirit God wants to relate to us. Let’s face it, friends have failed all of us and we have failed our friends. With that in mind, how do we grasp what it means for Jesus to say to us, “you are my friend”?
A good friend of ours at Cor Deo, Richard Sibbes (1577-1535), answered this question by painting a beautiful picture of friendship in general, and with Jesus specifically. Here are a few highlights from what he said about friendship. [All quotes are from Works, 2.36-7]
Friendship: united in love. Sibbes proclaims, “Friendship is the sweetness, intimateness, and strength of love. In our friends our love dwells and rests itself. Marital friendship is the sweetest friendship. All the kinds and degrees of friendship meet in Christ towards his spouse. It is the friendship of husband, of a brother; and if there be any relation in the world wherein friendship is, all is too little to express the love of Christ.”
Did you catch the indwelling nature of friendship? True friendship is a spiritual relationship, where two are in conversation, with the Holy Spirit intimately involved. It isn’t an effort for this love to dwell; rather it dwells restfully, comfortably. This we have in Jesus above all else!
Friends have the same heart disposition. “In friendship there is a mutual consent, a union of judgment and affections. There is a mutual sympathy in the good and ill one of another, as if there be one soul in two bodies. There be mutual friends and mutual enemies. ‘Do I not hate them,’ saith David, ‘that hate thee?’(Ps. 139:21).”
According to Sibbes, friends are in agreement with the things worthy of love and hate. Friends have the same ambitions in life that they must chase after together. At times it may mean holding the other accountable to that ambition, or at another time encouraging the other to keep going. It makes sense; it’s hard to imagine having this kind of friendship described above unless both were mutually in agreement that Jesus was worthy of love. Or it’s inconceivable to be a friend of Jesus while being an enemy of his Father who is Jesus’ ultimate orientation and disposition.
Friends are freely vulnerable. “There is a liberty which is the life of friendship; there is a free intercourse between friends, a free opening of secrets. So here Christ opens his secrets to us, and we to him … It is the office of the Spirit to reveal the secrets of Christ’s heart to us, concerning our salvation. He does not reveal himself to the world.”
Jesus doesn’t reveal the depth of his heart to everyone in the world but only to those who share his Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-13). When we are united in our loves there’s a free flow of classified information. Only our closest friends know our most sensitive top-secret thoughts or feelings. This is the case in healthy marriages, loyal friendships, and with our relationship with God. Without love, without trust, without free communication there is no life in a relationship.
Friends like each other! “In friendship, there is mutual solace and comfort one in another. Christ delights himself in his love to his church, and his church delights herself in her love to Christ. Christ’s delight was to be with the sons of men, and ours is to be with him.”
It’s obvious isn’t it? Friends delight to simply be with each other. Spending time with friends is easy, fun, and comforting. Just as we love to spend time with our friends just to be with them, so too Jesus delights to be with us, he likes spending time with us!
Friends mutually respect each other: “In friendship there is a mutual honour and respect one of another; but here is some difference in this friendship. For though Christ calls us friends, and therein in some sort brings himself down to us, yet we must remember that this is a friendship of unequals … He that inspires friendship with others will undoubtedly keep the laws of friendship himself, will count our enemies his enemies. The enemies of the church shall one day know that the church is not friendless.”
Friends treat each other as equals with full honor and respect. There’s no sense of difference or distinction in terms of equality. Obviously there’s differences, that’s what makes friendship and relationships possible and great; we complement each other. It’s not only that we honor and respect our friends, but that we fight for it. To have a friend is to have a friend who will fight for you. He will not let your name be disrespected. A friend may even fight for you when you don’t want him to, by risking relationship with you to communicate things you may not want to hear. Friends are fighters. We have this in Jesus, who gives us his honor and fights for us despite his rightful status as one who is above us.
Friends may fail, but Jesus won’t! “And as his friendship is sweet, so constant in all conditions … If other friends fail, as friends may fail, yet this friend will never fail us. If we be not ashamed of him, he will never be ashamed of us. How comfortable would our life be if we could draw out the comfort that this title of friend affords! It is comfortable, a fruitful, an eternal friendship.”
May you find in Jesus a friend whose love dwells in you, who shares the thoughts of his heart with you, who likes to be with you, who gives you honor and fights for it, and who will never fail you.