The Friends Of Christ

May 6, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
John 15:12-17

[I] Call You Friends

1. Jesus Christ rose from the dead and back to life again. Jesus Christ is alive right now. We do not merely believe in [some] great personage from the past and [his] teachings. We believe in a savior who is alive and is at work right now. Therefore, a relationship between Him and us takes on importance. Who and what is Jesus Christ to me and to you all? What kind of relationship is there [between him and us]? These questions are hardly simple. Thus, the scriptures speak from various angles on the relationship between us and Christ.

2. For example, Jesus is spoken of as our king. Living as a believer is but the same as living under Christ's rule. This is what's written in the Bible, "Oh father, deliver us from the power of darkness, and transfer us [to be] under the rule of your beloved son," (Colossians 1:13). We are transferred to [being] under the king. We are under the strongest of all kings. Because we are under this kingdom of his, we no longer need to fear the power of darkness. Nothing can destroy us any more.

3. Furthermore, in the ancient world, a king was often likened unto a shepherd. The powerful shepherd is leading [his] flock. Thus, pointing to himself Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life away for the sheep," (John 10:11). The good shepherd knows each and every sheep, and guards the sheep at risk to his own life, and helps them live. Jesus is the same kind of shepherd for us.

4. As [another example] then, Jesus is spoken of as our elder brother. Paul wrote as follows to the believers in Rome. "God has foreordained those whom he has known ahead of time that he would make them into that which is like the figure of his son. [He did] that so that the son would become the eldest son among many brothers," (Romans 8:29). God was wanting to build a big family in which he would make Christ the Son as the eldest child. We are invited so that we will be the brothers [and the sisters] of Jesus Christ. In that sense, Jesus is the great and respected "Mr. Brother" to us, [to whom we are spiritually bound as if by the ancient Confucian based family traditions of the East].

5. I can give plenty more examples [of relationships] besides these. But, in relation to today's gospel reading what I would like for us to remember especially is [the example] of Jesus as our "friend." This too is an image which the church has prized. I immediately remember hymn number three hundred and twelve, where it starts out singing, "[Our] deeply compassionate friend Jesus ..." Various biblical allusions are written into the lyrics of that hymn, and this is one of them; it is the words from the scripture that we read today. First we want to listen carefully to the words in verse fifteen. The Lord said, "Never again will I call you my servants; because a servant does not know what the master is doing. I call you friends; because I make known to you everything that I have heard from my father," (verse fifteen).

6. Jesus opened up everything and showed us what was in his heart. He shared with us what was in his heart. In that sense Jesus said, "I call you friends." What was in Jesus' heart is "what I have heard from my father." It is the plan of salvation, which he had been shown by God the Father. It is the fact that Jesus would have to hang on the cross as God's son for [the plan]. [What he heard from the father] is that in order for the sins of the world to be forgiven, he must die as "the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world," (1:29). [What he heard from the father] is that in order to bear much fruit by [having to die on the cross], he must die falling to the ground as "a grain of wheat," (12:24). "I have made all these things known to you. You are friends. I have certainly said it, that you are my friends." This is how the Lord spoke to his disciples.

7. Thus, the words of Jesus which he had spoken to the disciples who were in the place of the last supper have surely been communicated even to us. Why [is that so]? It might be because for generations the church has been hearing these words of Jesus as a message directed to it. The meaning of Jesus' cross has been communicated to me as well. God's plan of salvation has been communicated to me as well. That means, namely, that Jesus sees me as his friend. In this way then, [they] heard the message given of "I will call you friends" in the truth when the gospel was proclaimed. We could say the same thing about those of us who are here in this place. That we are convening like this each week, the gospel of Christ is being proclaimed to us, we are listening to the word of God while we are around the Lord's table just as the disciples used to -- all of these things are signs visible to the eye that we are become the friends of Christ. The Lord is saying to us as well that "I call you friends."

You Are Friends

8. Thus, as Jesus' friends, we, as [persons] who have been made known that which is in Jesus' heart, want to listen carefully to the words of the scripture that was read today. When we do that, even the words written before in verses thirteen and fourteen will resound as the word of the Lord which he is speaking directly to us.

9. The Lord said, "When a person gives away his own life for a friend, there is no greater love than that," (verse thirteen). Jesus was not making a general statement about love. Jesus was about to give his own life away, literally, because he loved [his friends] in all reality. These are the words of Jesus during the last supper. Jesus was actually about to give his own life away "for friends." If there is no greater love than this, then it means there is no way to love more than this. Jesus loved [his] friends so much that it was impossible to love them any more than what he did. So Jesus said, "I call you friends." -- He said, "You are my friends whom I love."

10. The disciples would soon see the figure of Jesus crucified. And they would soon know the meaning of the cross. Would they, at that moment, be able to say, "Jesus Christ died for the sins of all humanity" as if watching from the outside? I hardly think they could because they had been told "You are my friends" by the one who said, "When a person gives away his own life for a friend, there is no greater love than that." When they heard the news of Christ on the cross they surely could hear it in no other way except personally. "Oh my friends, I have given my life away for you because I love you so much there is no way to love you more than this. [I died for you] because you are my friends." When listening to the gospel of the cross as persons called friends by Jesus, that's what [we'll hear].

11. Then the Lord went on to say. "When you do that which I command, you are my friend," (verse fourteen). What Jesus commands is given in verses twelve and seventeen. "Just as I have loved you, love one another. This is my commandment," (verse twelve). "Love one another. This is my command," (verse seventeen). In short, "When you love each other, you are my friends," he said.

12. "To call [someone] a friend" can come about even from a one way direction. To treat someone as a friend or to open one's heart as a friend can come about even from a one way direction. For example, even if some persons don't think some people are [their] friends, it is possible for the one [group] to receive the other as friends. But, relationships among fellow friends cannot hold true in a one way direction. Interactive relationships as friends won't hold true by means of a one way direction. When I "call somebody friend" and whether that person truly is a friend are two different stories because that person may have animosity against me.

13. Jesus not only calls us friend from his side of things, but he wants us to truly be [his] friends. What does it mean to be Jesus' friend? It means to love Jesus. Jesus loved us as friends. In response to his love, we too love Jesus. That is definitely what it means to be Jesus' friend, and to live as Jesus' friend. But yet how do we love Jesus? We do it by doing what Jesus asks. We can't call somebody a friend when we could care less about what he or she wants. So, what does Jesus want? He said, "As I have loved you, love one another." That's how we live as Jesus' friend.

In Order That You Bear Fruit

14. Then, Jesus went on to say the following. "You did not choose me. I chose [each of] you. I have commissioned you to go out, bear fruit, and that your fruit remain, and that whatever you ask of my father in my name be given to you," (verse sixteen).

15. Our making friends with Jesus and living as Jesus' friend doesn't just involve us alone. Jesus is interested in not just us who are here in this place, but has a broad interest in the [whole] world. Jesus wants us to go out into this world and bear fruit. He has made us his friends for that reason, and furthermore he has made it so that we can pray to the father through the name of Jesus. [He did it] so that we would go into the world and bear fruit.

16. What this fruit is the text doesn't clearly say. Because the text does have "go out," we could understand it as the fruit of evangelism, the fruit of salvation, and more broadly, we could understand it as the fruit of love. But, whatever that fruit might be, isn't the statement "I have chosen you. And I have commissioned you that you bear fruit and that the fruit might remain" a blessed one for us? There is no need for us to say, "No, I cannot do such a thing very well. That's not how I am." That's because Jesus says, "You did not choose me. I chose you." He says, "I chose you the way you are. I want you to be my friend the way you are." It matters not whether we have the ability or not. It matters not if we are weak or strong. It matters not whether we're young or old or male or female. I did not make friends with Jesus, Jesus called us [his] friends. In order for us to bear fruit!

17. Therefore then, the main thing is but one thing. We are to live as the friend of Jesus. Specifically, then, in verse seventeen, it is written again, as if to offer confirmation of it, "Love one another. This is my command." When we use our hearts for that, we will not need to worry about the fruit we bear. The truth is that it will be brought forth automatically on its own through [our] lives. And that fruit will remain.