Thomas Aquinas said, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” I’ve got a couple close friends who have been there for me through the ups and downs of life. These friends were there at my wedding, the birth of my kids, the death of my mom and sister, when I was going through counseling for depression, and when I felt like giving up as a pastor a couple years ago. A true friend is someone who is also there for you in the bad times as anyone can be present in the good ones. They don’t want anything from me except friendship. While you should be friendly to everyone, true friendships are rare and must be maintained. True friends do things with and for one another. A good friend is hard to find. When you do, don’t let them go. It’s hard to make new old friends.
The greatest friendship we can have is with the Lord. It must be our first friendship as it will shape all the rest. I love that Jesus calls us friends (John 15:15). Friends will fail us from time to time. I have not been the best of friends at times. I’m comforted by how Jesus called His disciples friends even when they let Him down at times. Peter, James, and John fell asleep three times when Jesus needed them to pray with Him in the garden before His death (Matthew 26:36-46). Peter even denied Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-75) after being with Him for over three years, and Jesus still went after him when he was ready to give up on God’s calling for his life (John 21). Jesus is the truest of friends because He never gives up on us even when we give up on Him. He never leaves or forsakes us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He’s the ultimate friend.
The word “friend” Jesus used in John 15:15 is not one of casual acquaintance and conversation but one of being in an inner devoted circle. It’s a word used for a best man at a wedding (John 3:29). This kind of friendship is the closest kind with the deepest commitment of service and loyalty. It is not just a “hangout with” kind of friendship but an “obey me” one as well. After all, John 15:14 says, “You are my friends if you do what I say”. Obedience is the evidence of this friendship. It says, “I trust You and will prove it by aligning all of me with all of You.” We can’t be buddies that spend time with Jesus only to turn away and never do what He says. Yes, He’s a friend, but He’s the Sovereign Almighty Lord Who alone is holy and righteous. In fact, disobedience to God is friendship with the world, and that is being enemies with God (James 4:1-4). In the Old Testament, Abraham was called a friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23), but he was also called a servant of God (Genesis 18:3, 5; 26:24). Being in the inner circle with Jesus is not about promoting but humbling ourselves and serving Him.
Being at the feet of Jesus is a sign to God we intend to love Him, learn from Him, lean on Him, spend time with Him, enjoy His intimacy, but simultaneously obey and submit to His Lordship. Unlike visiting earthly kings in a limited and scheduled fashion, friends of God have the divine privilege of approaching the King of Kings at any time. They also have the responsibility of obeying at all times. The good news is His throne is one of grace. We must not mistake His amazing grace as a license to disobey as “It teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12). His Holy Spirit enriches us as we enjoy His presence and that concurrently enables us to live out His commands. Abiding and obeying go hand in hand. Loving God and doing His will go together. We must not get them out of order as abiding with and loving God always comes first in importance, but abiding and obeying are to be lived out in tandem. It is out of His intimate friendship where we gain the desire to not just do what we want or like to do for Him, but all He commands in His word and He has prepared for us in advance (Ephesians 2:10). The proof of friendship is discipleship – becoming more like Him and doing His will (Matthew 7:15-20).
Serving the Lord is not the enemy of abiding with Him. Both are needed. Jesus didn’t rebuke Martha for serving Him, only for doing it without abiding with Him. We later see her serving Him (John 12:2) and He didn’t rebuke her that time as it seems she had learned and realigned her worship and work. We are to serve and do for Him, but it must flow from and lead us back to an abiding intimacy with Him. Martha was frustrated with her sister. I’m thankful our great Friend Jesus allows us to bring our frustrations to Him and that He corrects us. We must serve Him, but apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Oh how I love Him and call Him a friend! Oh how I want to spend time with Him as I do all He desires. In all humility and thankfulness, I must remember He first loved me at my worst, even while I was His enemy (Romans 5:8-10). He called me friend first. Friendship originated in Him. He’s the ultimate friend that lay down His life for me (John 15:13).