Many of Jesus’ words recorded in the Gospels directly challenge the idols of freedom, independence, and self-elevation rampant in Western culture today. Here are some of his words we have found particularly challenging lately in our weekly Bible studies at Tierra Nueva.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).
That Jesus emphasizes his “commandment” and “doing what he commands” is foreign and even off-putting for most of us today. It seems to reinforce a common perception that being a Christian is all about obeying rules like the ten commandments.
If we take offense at this language and at the idea of friendship being contingent on “following orders,” we miss the radical positivity of the command: “that you love each other.”
Jesus has many other direct teachings stated as imperatives throughout the Gospels. For example:
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28).
These commands set disciples of Jesus apart from the eye-for-an-eye justice seekers, myth-of-redemptive-war advocates and law-enforcers.
What Jesus is saying here in John 15 is that doing what he says and loving one another makes us his friend (philos)—also meaning colleague, or companion. Loving one another makes us friends of Jesus, who himself embodies the greatest love, that of “laying down his life for his friends”—that is, us!
We certainly have benefitted from his friendship and stand to benefit much more, and to pass on that benefit to others.
Jesus’ next words clarify that he’s not about subjugating anyone like a boss or master in a master-slave relationship.
“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15).
Jesus invites us to imitate him in his own love relationship with the Father, which he includes us directly into.
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (Jn 15:10).
In John 15:16, right before he repeats: “This I command you, that you love one another” (15:17), he clarifies that he is personally recruiting us into a friendship movement that involves making a lasting positive impact, experiencing direct provision from God as our Father, and ongoing revelation from Jesus (which he receives from the Father).
“You did not choose me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in my name he may give to you” (Jn 15:16).
He contrasts this directly with a warning about what his friends can expect from the systems of this world.
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (Jn 15:18-19).
The contrast between loving our brothers and sisters and being loved as Jesus’ friends (and by our fellow sisters and brothers) and being hated by the world clarifies that we can’t have it both ways- being friends with Jesus and friends with the world. James 4:4 states it bluntly:
“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Following Jesus involves listening to him and trusting, over our own reasoning at times. Jesus calls us to act in agreement with his desire (expressed in his teaching) above our will, doing things his way rather than our own way.
Jesus’ call to love each other and follow his instructions appears counter-cultural. We will be differentiated from our society and called out of normal conformity to the systems and ways of the world.
May we step more fully into friendship with Jesus and with each other as we take his commands seriously, deferring to him over our own will and ways.