Friends - John 15:9-17

by Robert Brow   (  May 2000

In the earlier part of John 15 we thought of ourselves as individual branches abiding in the Vine. We abide in him structurally and he abides in us vitally by the Holy Spirit. But then he immediately changes the metaphor. We are not just individual branches, but a group of friends.

Metaphors are not to be mixed, but rather looked at as distinct pictures of reality. In this case we can note three facets of friendship in this astonishing relationship.

a. "I have called you friends" (John 15:15). As a result of the preaching of George Fox (1624-91) the early Quakers formed themselves into The Society of Friends, which is still their usual name. I prefer the term "Circle of Friends." The name is of course taken from Jesus's words in our text. We are chosen to be the Messiah's circle of friends. "You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last" (John 15:16). That means we bear fruit as individual branches (15:1-5), but the lasting fruit of our lives is the fruit of our love for one another in the circle of his friends .

b. "This is my commandment that you love one another" (John 15:12). A circle of friends is easily broken. Jesus did not saddle his disciples with rules and regulations. The one thing needful was to maintain the oneness of the circle. That is why he had to correct his disciples when they quarreled with one another as to which of them was the greatest (Mark 9:34), and who should sit on his right hand in the Kingdom (Mark 10:35-41).

Paul pleaded for the reconciliation of two of the women who had served the church in Philippi with great devotion. "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel" (Philippians 4:2-3).

If two members of a circle of friends fall out with another, and no reconciliation is possible, the previous circle no longer works. This also happens when a couple who were members of the circle get divorced and their anger forces others to take sides. And many church congregations have been broken up by the quarrel of two fine devoted people. That is why the one essential rule for Jesus' friends is that they love one another.

And when there is that kind of love in a Christian fellowship we taste the fullness of joy that Jesus had in mind. "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete" (John 15:11).

It is also a fact that the Messiah Lord of the universal church can manage the breaking of circles and even use the disruption as a means of church growth. In the case of Paul and Barnabas "the disagreement became so sharp that they parted company" but the result was that there were now two missionary teams instead of one (Acts 15:39-40). This is the way many church splits have on the one hand been very painful, but they have also resulted in new circles of friends (within an existing denomination, or in a new denomination). Rather than lament the breaking of a previous loving circle we can recognize that the Lord has used the new circles to offer fresh facets of what the one church is meant to be. But again in each of them the new friends need to work at loving one another.

c. "I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (John 15:15b). An essential part of friendship is that friends can share deeply with one another. Jesus contrasts this with a master-servant relationship. "The servant does not know what the master is doing" (15:15a). A slave or an employee just gets told "do this and do that:  you have no business asking questions."  But Jesus want to share with us as friends all that is in the mind of God the Father.

And this is not a one-sided relationship. Friends influence each other, and even change one another's mind. And part of our prayer conversation involves our Friend listening to what we want to do in his church. Our opinions and our feelings are very important to him. One could even say that the Messiah's agenda for the world is influenced by the prayers of his friends.

Our personal conversation with him also results in lovingly sharing with one another. In this way Jesus and his friends share together a we work at new directions that will result in "fruit that will last" (15:16).

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