John 15:12-17

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know His master's business. Instead, I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)

Jesus calls all of us, even the weakest among us, His "friends". This should really excite us! (See John 15:15.) Jesus is saying that He wants a personal, intimate relationship with all of us. Some of us find it easier to look on ourselves as *servants* of the living God, because a friendship demands commitment, time and effort. It also opens us up to being vulnerable and, because of past experiences, we may not be willing to pay that price.

We need to see how Jesus was a friend and how He describes friendship. Then we need to learn how we can be good friends to people around us. We can only be a good friend when we are in a right relationship with God ourselves. If you know yourself to be deeply loved by someone who will never let you down, fail you or drop you out of their lives, you are then rich in resources. You do not spend your life searching for love, because you have found it. From the fullness of your inner resources - that inner space where God not only dwells by the power of His Holy Spirit, but where He reigns as Lord of your life - you are capable of giving to others. Love is multiplied - not lost - when it is given away. Similarly, we are refreshed and renewed as we give out friendship under God.

Jesus’ ingredients for successful friendships

  1. Constant availability. Any close relationship requires constant availability on both sides. It means that, with Jesus, we will never be alone again. We may feel that we are alone, but feelings are misleading. “I will never leave you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5-6) Whatever situation we find ourselves in, we can put our hand into Father’s hand and know that He is holding us, leading us, directing us, comforting and caring for us. At any time, we can come to the source of all love. There is no situation in which we need not be totally secure. There is no safer refuge in the universe than sheltering under the shadow of His wings. (Read Psalm 91.)
  2. Complete openness. This involves making everything known to each other as we build trust. Jesus shared all that the Father had revealed to Him. (John 15:15) There is an emotional closeness in being aware of one another, an intellectual closeness in sharing ideas and a spiritual closeness in sharing the love of the Father.
  3. Choices. Good friendships depend on good choices. Choosing friends with wisdom was a vital part of Jesus’ successful friendships. (John 15:16) Jesus did not share intimate secrets with everyone He met or with everyone who shared intimate things with Him. Jesus was wise and selective in His choice of friends. From the crowd, He chose seventy; from the seventy, He chose twelve with whom He walked, talked, lived and shared heartaches. Then, from the twelve, He took just three on certain occasions. Finally, there was John the "beloved". If we want true, lasting friendships, we need to be selective. Like Jesus, we should only make our choice after much prayer, not rushing in and then regretting it. What we are and what we become is greatly dependent on who we spend our time with.
  4. Self-giving. Jesus shows that there is no other way for true friendship than being prepared to give ourselves fully to another. There can be "no holding back". (John 15:13) It is vital to choose friends carefully, because the cost is high.
  5. Joy. Good friendships involve a lot of joy, because Jesus promises His joy to us. (John 15:11) Jesus wanted to make His friends happy and to show them how much He valued their friendship. He believed that by sharing His joy with them, His own joy would be rounded off and completed. (John 17:13)
  6. Pain. Good friendships can also involve pain. Situations change; a geographic move may be needed; there may be bereavement or separation and this can hurt. But, “He has carried our sorrows and pains.” (Isaiah 53:4)
  7. Genuine concern. Jesus was concerned for the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of His friends. (See John 17:11-12.) Above all, everything He did was to encourage His friends to remain true to God the Father. He took full responsibility for those He had gathered together, like a shepherd looking after His flock. (John 10:11)
  8. Non-exclusivity. No successful relationship can be claustrophobic, exclusive, or possessive. Jesus encouraged His friends always to look out for the needs of others. He did not mind if His friends loved each other. “Everyone will know you are My disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:34)
  9. Humility. A good relationship depends on both parties being willing to serve each other. This is true both in churches and personal relationships. "Ministry" is simply a more formal "church-word" for "service". Jesus wants all His friends to be fulfilled as they walk in their divine destiny, whether that be in the setting of a church or a one-to-one relationship. (John 15:16)
  10. Selfless generosity. Jesus was thrilled to see His friends’ "ministries" grow, even though He knew His own was coming to an end very soon.

These ten points give us a good picture of what it means to build friendships in the way that Jesus Himself did. We have to learn a Christ-like balance between dependence on God and on others. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way. It can be painful for our emotions but, as we put these points into practice, we will be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and become like Jesus. Then we will really enjoy the riches of an intimate relationship, firstly with Him and then with people close to us. Our relationship with Jesus should be a mirror image of His relationship with the Father. (John 15:9) There is no greater love than the friendship of which Jesus speaks. It fulfils the deepest needs of human beings. It is risky but, if we follow the Maker’s instructions, we will enjoy the riches of closeness with all our friends.

Real friendships do not prevent a person's growth or stifle God-given ambition. Good friends do not block the path to a fruitful ministry, but stand close, stimulating the discovery of gifts and calling and offering encouragement, prayer and support: “You can do it”. They are like the friendships of Jesus Himself: fulfilling and liberating, allowing people to be themselves as God intended them to be.

Making friends

  • Choose your friends very carefully. Identify, firstly, the priority they put on their relationship with Jesus. You can tell what is in their hearts by what is coming out of their mouths. If it leaves you feeling disturbed, then do not choose to spend a lot of time in their company. This is vital because wrong friendships will lead you away from God’s destiny for your life. If you have made a wrong choice, then do not just drop a friend, but try to explain lovingly (and firmly) that you both have different priorities and that you really want to put God first, so you can no longer spend the same amount of time together, although, you are willing to help with any problems. When you realise that a friendship is not right under God, do not wait around until God saves or changes the person concerned. Make a break and allow God to work in both of you as you both get some space.
  • One plan for godly friendships is to have at least one friend, probably an older Christian, to whom you look up and who is full of wisdom and good advice. You can reciprocate with your time, care, interest and appreciation. Then have a second friend who has a similar desire for the things of God. You can spend time praying together, sharing, helping each other and building one another up. You are accountable to each other to watch each other’s back in the battle of life. Finally, have a third friend who is a relatively new Christian, who you really want to encourage and guide in the Lord.
  • We have to accept that God has created us with the deep desire to have very close personal relationships with other people. This is not wrong. We just have to learn to handle the feelings involved, so that we can live by the Maker’s instructions, being wholeheartedly committed to another person’s well-being and always knowing that Jesus is Lord over the relationship.
  • If you are married, never allow yourself to develop this sort of intimate friendship with a person of the opposite sex, even if that person is a Christian.
  • Do not allow any friends to completely dominate or control your life in such a way that you cannot make a decision without first asking them. Also, do not do this to others. Such an attitude comes from deep insecurity, so go back and look at your friendship with Jesus and spend more time working on that.
  • If you have been hurt in a friendship, do not give up on friends, but always pray about new relationships and seek to discern what the other person needs in the relationship.

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