In this passage our Lord calls us his friends and gives us four tests or proofs, or signs of the friendship. Two signs or proofs are on his side and two signs or proofs of the friendship are on our side. This beautiful passage is perfectly balanced, like a poem that summarizes the whole Thursday night discourse to his disciples.
The first proof of friendship: What I do for you
First, two proofs of the friendship come from his side: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." That's the first proof of the friendship. Jesus says this on Thursday night when the disciples cannot really understand what he's talking about because they're still feeling the victory of Palm Sunday, when great crowds came out to see Jesus.
They don't know a conspiracy is brewing. They don't know that within hours Jesus will be arrested. They have to wait until later to understand what Jesus means. But at this point, he still makes the promise to them: He says, "I'm your friend."
Here's an ancient proof: the proof is what I do for you. Sometimes we put it crudely, but we use that ancient proof all the time. We test a friend by what he does for us. That's how you know a friend.
Suppose you were driving your car on a rainy night, or an extremely hot night. In California you can have it either way; we don't know how to handle rain. Suppose you're on a deserted road, your car breaks down, it's pouring rain or it's 110 degrees, and you don't have an institutional friend like AAA.
It's one o'clock in the morning, and you're trying to think who would come out with their car to help. Notice how quickly your brain will compute your friendships by this ancient standard.
You go right through the Rotary roster, the Kiwanis roster, the Berkeley Tennis Club roster, maybe the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley roster. You think of all the acquaintances you know, and if you're fortunate, there are one or two friends you might have who would take their shirt off their backs for you.
When you get on the phone and say, "My car is broken down. Would you mind coming out?"
"Hey, no sweat. Glad to come. Be right there." That's a friend. Right?
Your brain calculates your friendships on the basis of the same ancient standard that Jesus gives. You know a friend by what he or she does for you. Notice how our Lord makes himself an event and makes his proof of friendship an event that happens, like someone actually showing up at one o'clock in the morning. That's friendship, not a Hallmark card.
Jesus says, "That's what friendship is, and that's how you know I'm your friend." Do you know that about Jesus Christ? Did you know that he lays his life down for you? That's the proof of his friendship.
The second proof of friendship: I confide in you
The second proof of his friendship is an expansion of the first, but it's not put in heroic terms, as is the first. The first is put heroically: I'm your friend, and I prove it by laying my life down for you. The second proof of friendship from our Lord's side is an expansion of the same principle. He says, I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you."
A friend is someone who takes you into his or her confidence, talks things over with you. That's another ancient proof of friendship. We calculate our friendships that way also. I'll give you a sweaty-palmed student illustration.
Suppose you're a student at UC Berkeley. You're at home for the weekend, and you
know there's a midterm at ten o'clock on Monday morning. At home you fritter away the whole weekend. You go to a ball game. After all, it's the last time the Giants will win in Candlestick. You did other things, and now it's Monday morning. You're counting on the travel time to Berkeley to study up for the midterm. Otherwise, you will flunk out of Cal and never be able to come back to the school again.
I'm going to make this illustration complicated. You're standing on the train platform, and you see an acquaintance, but that person doesn't see you. Here's a moment of truth where your brain with lightning speed will calculate the friendship. You see that person and you think if you ride together, he'll talk all about his trip to Europe, and he'll tell you about his family problems. That will take the whole trip to Berkeley, and you'll flunk the exam.
What do you do? You calculate the friendship. He's a nice guy, but I can't talk to him today. And you start reading the newspaper intensely, watching out of the corner of your eye to see what car he goes into. You go into a different car. You don't want to snub him because that would be a social faux pas. So, you just don't see him. You get on the train, and you study.
All right, now let me make the plot romantic. Suppose you stand on the platform, and here is the boy or the girl you've been trying to get a chance to talk to. Suddenly you see him or her. You say to yourself, "Oh, man, I could take this exam any old time. If I flunk it, I'll take it next year. I mean, this is the rest of my life." So you talk all the way to Berkeley. You calculated your priorities with lightning speed.
Supposing you saw a really good friend. You could say, "Don't open your mouth the whole way. You can sit next to me and pray, because I have a midterm, but don't say one word."
Now, that's a friend. You took him or her into your confidence, and that's what Jesus was talking about. He's saying, "You're my friends, and the proof of it is I take you into my confidence. I chose you. I saw you on the platform, and I wanted to ride with you." That's the ancient proof of friendship. Our Lord gives that proof to us.
Have you ever thought that God wants you here because he wants to do something with you? He chose you to be with him on this train, and he wants to know what you think.
In Hebrew, intercessory prayer means to think things through with God. God wants your thoughts. That's a mystery, but it's taught in the Old and New Testaments.
Here our Lord teaches it. He says, "You're not slaves. A slave doesn't even know what the master's doing. But I told you everything my Father's doing. I've taken you into my confidence. You're my friends, and there's the proof of friendship."
The third proof of friendship: Love as Jesus loved
There are also two proofs of friendship from our side. The first one took me off balance when I first read it. It doesn't seem like friendship. Listen to it:
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command."
While writing a commentary on John's gospel, I remember saying, "Oh, Jesus, I love what you were doing up to that point, and then you ruined it!" I was disappointed.
Were you a little disappointed when you heard that? "You're my friends if you are like a doormat and just say, 'Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!' all the time. Then you can be my friend."
It almost sounded as if he meant that. In fact, I've actually heard messages on this passage where it is taught as an obedience passage with Jesus saying that in order to be his friend you have to obey all his commandments. That's the Sermon on the Mount. It's impossible. Does that mean no one can be his friend?
When I looked closely at the text, I realized this was not an omnibus passage on obedience. Jesus is not teaching obedience here. He's teaching friendship here, and he has only one command here. Don't misunderstand me. Our Lord does want you to obey his commandments, but here he's not talking about obedience. He's not making that the test of friendship here.
Look closely at the context. "This is my command: Love one another. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command." He has one command in mind in this passage, that we love one another as he loves us.
In case anyone misunderstands him, he repeats it again, as would a good Hebrew poem. He repeats the line at the end of the passage, "Did you miss my commandment? The commandment I have in mind is that you love one another." That's how you prove your friendship.
This is a friendship passage, and Jesus here has one command to prove the friendship. When you love as I loved you, then you prove you're my friend. Let me see if I can illustrate this with an off-the-wall illustration.
When I was a boy, I lived just five miles from the Randolph Hearst estate on the McCloud River. A castle was brought from Germany stone by stone and reassembled there. It is incredible. I'd been there several times for the parties Mr. Hearst gave for children.
Suppose you're being given a tour of the estate by your friend, the caretaker. You see the manicured lawns, two swimming pools, and the beautiful imported marble from Italy. You go through the massive front door, and your eyes bulge as you see the dining room table that seats 45 or 50 people, and imported tapestries on the walls. Can you visualize Mr. Hearst at the head of the table?
You walk into the grand hallway and see the stairway going to the upper rooms. In the middle of this beautiful hallway is one table holding an alabaster vase imported from Egypt. The light is shining through the vase, and there's a single daffodil in the vaseunderstated, you know.
You say to your guide, "I have never seen such a beautiful vase as that alabaster vase."
Your guide says, "You like that vase? Take it. It's yours. I'm a good friend of the owner, and he'd want me to give it to you."
Now, I have to stop and rule out two terrible possibilities, or my parable is ruined.
Here's the first possibility I have to rule out: Suppose your friend has worked in the estate too long and has become a little confused, like somebody at Wells Fargo who begins to think the money is his. That would ruin my parable if he were giving something away he has no right to give.
Let's rule out another possibility that's even worse: Suppose your friend is a robber, and he's using you to sneak out the alabaster vase. That ruins the parable because he's a robber.
If you can rule out those two possibilities, what has your friend just proved to you when he gives you that vase? He's proved to you that he's a very good friend of the owner. That's what Jesus is talking about here. Jesus is saying, "I'll tell you how to prove you're my friend. Give away the best treasure in the house: my love."
This is evangelical ethics. We love others because he first loved us. Beloved, let us love one another. How do you prove you're forgiven? When you forgive others. Martin Luther in his incredible commentary on the Sermon on the Mount points out why you have the antiphonal part of the Lord's Prayer, where our Lord said, "Forgive us our debts, our trespasses (or our sins), forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us, who are indebted to us, who sin against us."
Martin Luther wondered why it's antiphonal. He said, "Our Lord put that in the Lord's Prayer so that we would have assurance of our forgiveness." The only way you can be assured of your forgiveness is when you're able to forgive others.
I've been a pastor long enough to know that when I meet someone who cannot forgive other people, I know that they themselves don't know about their own forgiveness. They need to discover forgiveness so they can be freed up to forgive.
When I meet someone who's selfish and grasping, I know that person hasn't experienced God's love because they're not giving the treasure away. They need to know God's love and forgiveness. Is that where you are today? Is it hard for you to forgive? Then experience forgiveness. Experience the friendship of Jesus Christ, and you'll be able to give away his treasures.
My wife and daughters like detective stories, so for a long time, we faithfully watched Magnum P.I. I didn't like the show that much, but Higgins was my favorite character. He's my kind of charactera little bit of a phony, with all those war stories about Burma. Probably he never was in Burma, but I liked him.
I never bought the story line, however. In the story there's a huge estate in Hawaii that belongs to Robin Masters, who's supposed to show up that night or the next day for a visit. He never comes. Higgins is always worried sick that Robin Masters will come and fire him for something he's done wrong.
Look what Higgins does. He allows Tom Selleck to stay at the estate without paying rent. He lets Selleck use the Ferrari, which gets wrecked about every other episode. There are dogs running all over the garden, digging up plants. They hold huge garden parties. In about every third or fourth episode, somebody comes with an Uzi and machine guns the estate, but Higgins never gets fired.
On the last episode, Selleck is standing next to Higgins, and he says, "Oh, by the way, Higgins, I've been meaning to ask you a question. Are you Robin Masters?" Of course, Higgins was Robin Masters, and that's the last line of the show.
I want to tell you something that's very important: You are not Jesus Christ. In fact, you're a dangerous person if you think you are. That's how cults get started. You're not the Savior. You're dangerous if you're a parent who thinks you have to save your children. You're not the Messiah. This church is not the Messiah; it can't save anyone.
Then, what are you? You're a very good friend of Jesus Christ, and that's better. You can give away the treasures because Jesus Christ is your friend, and he has authority. He's the king; you're his friend.
The fourth proof of friendship: Prayer
The final proof of friendship is the proof of prayer. Jesus says, "The Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." That's the flip side of "I take you into my confidence." He says, "If you want to be my friend, take me into your confidence." Pray. The invitation to prayer is the final proof.
Have you ever thought of your prayer as proof of your friendship with Jesus? Pray. Ask favors. Use my name with the Father. That's exactly what the text says. You can ask the Father using my name. That's something a friend can do.
I was reading an article in The New York Times the other day. It said that about 80 percent of boys get their first job through a friend of their father. Think of the tragedy of American life today with so many little boys growing up without a father. Perhaps you can play that role with some young person.
Jesus Christ plays that role with us. "I'm your friend. You can pray in my name to the Father. You can use my name. I'm the one who's going to give my life for you." You can use his name. He's your friend.
Are you the friend of Jesus Christ? Do you know his love for you? If you have few friends, let me tell you, you've got one who's worth all of them.
" Earl Palmer
Preaching Today Issue #105
A resource of Christianity Today International
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Earl Palmer is a writer and speaker for Earl Palmer Ministries, and author of Mastering the New Testament: 1, 2, 3 John and Revelation (W Publishing Group).