You’ve heard the comment, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” Not everyone with whom you happen to be acquainted would you classify as a friend. A friend is someone from among your acquaintances who cares about you and demonstrates loyalty to you; and someone to whom you feel responsible to care about in return. With how many people are you acquainted? How many among them do you count as friends? How many people call you their friend? A very few people, maybe even only one, you may call your “best” friend. If you’ve been around long enough you may have found that the identity of your “best” friend may have changed at different times in your life. Today we hear our Lord Jesus call us, his followers, his friends. By faith in Him, He is saying, our relationship with God has changed from enemies into friends. Our text today speaks of both the privileges we enjoy as friends of God and the responsibilities we have because of that heavenly friendship.
It is good to be reminded, often, of Jesus’ words, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (v. 16). We need always to be reminded who, ultimately, is in charge, who is the cause or author or creator of our identity as Christians. It is a privilege that Christ has chosen us and not something we either deserved or earned. In fact none of us are able to choose Him. When it comes to spiritual matters we are, as the apostle Paul wrote, “dead in the trespasses and sins …. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:1-2, 4). He made us alive by choosing us out of His great love and grace.
That choosing happened by means of the second privilege we have, namely, His opening of Himself to us, as He says, “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” (v. 15). He has made known to us the truths regarding His redemptive work for us. By His Spirit we understand how His incarnation and birth, His holy life, especially His sacrificial suffering and death, His mighty resurrection and ascension were all in order to redeem the world, to buy us back from the slavery of sin and death. Furthermore He has made known to us that His forgiveness and life are given to us as He comes and chooses us, adopts us back into God’s family by our baptism into His name. He continues to dwell with and in us as we continually share in His body and blood in the sacrament of the altar. In His Word and Sacraments He continues to reveal to us the precious truths of His Word.
One more precious privilege He promises, namely, “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (v. 16). Now because He has opened our minds to understand spiritual things we know that the “whatever you ask” is not according to our selfish, earthly values, but according to our new nature in Christ that, informed by His Word and will, knows to ask for what we truly need. From experience it doesn’t take long to figure out, and therefore to include in our prayers, that we need all those fruits of the Spirit. Do you need help to love others, especially those we find, for some reason, more difficult to love? “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” Ask in the name of Christ and the Father will give it to you. Do you need help finding joy in the midst of your trials or peace in the midst of conflict? The fruit of the Spirit is joy and peace. And who doesn’t need more patience…? kindness…? goodness…? faithfulness…? gentleness…? self-control…? Ask, and it will be given to you (Gal. 5:22-23).
We have these privileges as friends of Jesus. He has chosen us. He opens Himself to us. He promises to give what we ask in His name. Now, as with any friendship, the privileges we have imply also certain responsibilities.
“You are my friends,” He says, “if you do what I command you” (v. 14). To do what He commands means, of course, first of all, to have heard and to know what He has said. We do not follow every wind of teaching that comes along but bind ourselves only to the sound doctrine of His Word. The only problem with being dedicated to and subscribing only to the clear and objective truth of God’s revealed Word, the Bible, is that doing so automatically sets us against the spiritual dark misunderstanding of the world around us. In the word immediately following our text Jesus says,
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (Jn. 15:18-20).
Living in the love of Christ carries with it the responsibility to love each other. “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” Remember the kind of love Christ is talking about. It’s not a love that is necessarily attractive. The “agape” love of God is “the love of intelligence and corresponding purpose.” It is that love that sees a need and rushes to meet or supply for that need regardless of how “loveable” is the object. It is the same love that drew Christ to love and redeem and save you. This love expresses itself in carrying each other’s burdens, overlooking each other’s weaknesses, forgiving each other’s sins. It is the love that never ends or gives up (1 Cor. 13:8).
The final responsibility of friendship with God is that we are to bear fruit that lasts. “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (v. 16). The fruit includes all manner of good works which, in turn, ultimately point to the proclaiming of God’s Word and will to the whole world. The greatest fruit that abides is when we support the faithful preaching of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments, the continued ministry of the Gospel in His holy Church. That includes not only the regular activities of the local parish, like the Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, but also the ministry through our sister congregations in our synod and beyond. At this time of year we do well to remember also our seminaries as the need for pastors and preachers continues to grow as the future continues to grow closer.
“You are my friends” is the Word that greets us today, the Word that reminds us of both the privileges of being made part of God’s family and the responsibilities of that friendship. May this friendship, above all, result in greater love and joy in and through us to one another and to the world.