One of the things I didn’t really think about, when it comes to the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, was how much he depended on companionship and friendship. In our readings in John we’re with our Lord in the upper room, but he is not alone. Three years previously he purposefully chose twelve disciples, companions to go on the journey together with him. Our Lord needed these men just as much as he needed all the other things in his life. The supernatural power of God, relationship with his heavenly father and angelic ministration strengthened our Lord, but the friendship of his disciples and the shared experiences were extremely important to him and to his success fulfilling his purpose. When he went up into the mount of Transfiguration, he didn’t go alone but took Peter, James and John with him. He took the same men into the garden of Gethsemane during his darkest hours. He needed companionship and friendship just as much as all of us do.
True friendship is more than being pals. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). Looking at that verse out of context we might wonder what obedience has to do with friendship. Jesus qualifies his remarks in the next verse by saying, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends”. So, there’s something about obeying the commandments of Christ which is to do with friendship. Our relationship with our Lord is not meant to be him as a master to a servant, him lording it over us. Jesus then says, “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (v.17). That’s what the commandments of Christ are designed to do; promote the love that binds us as friends together.
Friendship is also about having a fellow feeling with someone. When Jesus told us to keep his commandments, he was also telling us to follow his example. The commandments he made were how he lived his own life. He was the one who took up his cross and denied himself and by following him we fellowship his sufferings, or as Paul puts it “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). When we go through the experiences of life and react in the spirit of Christ we get to know him and become his true friends. That’s why Abraham was called the friend of God. When he sacrificed his son, he had a fellow feeling with God.
However, this type of friendship is not something which comes naturally to us when faced with difficult situations. The section we’re reading in John, yesterday in chapter 14 and today in chapters 15 and 16, is often called the Comforter Passage. Look at how Jesus frames his discourse. He wants his disciples to know that despite the fact he will be leaving them physically he will be with them through the Comforter, or Helper, that he will send. He begins by telling them he will send “another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16) before going on to let them know “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (v.18). He knew how important companionship is. He wasn’t going to leave them alone, and the rest of the passage is about how Jesus would be with his friends in spirit and help them through their coming trials. But Jesus ends his discourse on a sad note. In chapter 16 he tells his disciples, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.” (v.32). That happened when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane and “all the disciples left him and fled” (Matt. 26:56). This was a huge moment when Jesus needed his friends but not only had they fallen asleep while he was praying, they scattered from him as he predicted, and he was all alone. Not completely alone, of course, because as he also said in John 16:32 “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me”, something which is always true for us when we feel alone. But the lesson for us is an important one about friendship in a time of crisis.
Maybe one way we can look at the pandemic is it’s something we’re all experiencing together, and therefore something that can help strengthen our friendships. We have a fellow feeling, even though some are more scared or anxious than others. We can’t hang out with each other as pals right now. We can’t do things together, unless it’s done virtually. We are apart from one another, but we can be together in spirit as Jesus is, and still is, with his friends. Just a simple “I’m thinking of you” or “how are you doing?” can go a long way in lifting the spirits of those who should be our friends. So, let’s use this time to think about friendship, our bonds in the truth, and the fact that we’re all on the same journey together. And let’s remember what Jesus said to his disciples, despite the fact he just told them for a short while they would desert him – “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Jesus knows what it’s like, you see. He’s our friend. He’s gone on the journey ahead of us, but has circled back to join us on our journey. Truly, what a friend we have in Jesus, and what friends we can be for each other too.
Simi Hills, CA