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“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)

This term “friend” has lost so much value in just the last few decades. Advancement in technology has changed our perception of the world, allowing us to meet and interact instantly with people from every nation on earth. It’s now even common to log in to a website to “manage” our relationships. People will have hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called “friends” through online social networking applications like Facebook and Twitter. We may have never even met these people, or we may have only talked to them once, or maybe they just know someone that we know, but with the click of a button, we give them the status of “friend.”

Even when I was a child (which was but a moment ago, compared to when Jesus spoke of friendship), friendship meant more than just acquaintance, and I was careful to distinguish between the two. Friendship takes effort. It takes time. It takes listening to one another on a deep level. It takes sharing life together.

And yes, I know there are different levels of friendship we can have, and that some friends will be and should be closer than others. We even use the term “friend” as loosely as to describe someone who simply is not our enemy. But now I’m talking about a friendship that goes deeper than that. I’m talking about the friendship of Proverbs 18:24: “But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

This idea of friendship with God amazes me so much because it implies a peer-level relationship with Him. I dare not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Philippians 2:6), but friendship is separated from hierarchy. It does not ignore hierarchy. For example, I have close friendship with some of the people who work for me, as well as with those who lead me, and though we may be able to relate as peers in many situations, we all understand the hierarchical structures in place and are careful to honor one another within those boundaries. Still, when we come together outside of that context, the hierarchy is forgotten, and the true value of each other’s personality is held in highest esteem.

So when Jesus called us friends, He was not ignoring or abandoning His authority over us. Nor was He calling us peers at His level. But He was calling us peers at our level. He so wanted to fellowship with us as a friend—to share life with us—that He humbled Himself to meet us in our own place (Philippians 2:8). He came as a man so He could relate to us on that level, with all our human experience and understanding.

Friendship involves relating to one another’s experiences. God knew, that unless He showed Himself to us as a man (through His Son), with experiences we could relate to, in a natural framework that we could understand, living life in a way that could be seen, felt, and shared, we could never relate to Him with the level of intimacy He was longing for.

Friendship is more than just conversation. It’s more than just getting together once a week for coffee. Friendship is sharing life, having fun together, crying together, laughing together. It’s holding one another up when times are hard. It’s sharing each other’s burdens. It’s sharing each other’s joys. It’s sharing in the special moments of life (like marriage, or the birth of a child). It’s being loyal to one another and sticking with each other, even when one of you is in a bad mood. It’s helping each other out (on moving day, or when you’re repainting the living room, or when you need help getting the kids to soccer practice).

Friendship is also about shaping character. You’ve probably heard it said that we become like the people we hang out with. Scripture also says, “as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17) Sharing life with someone shapes who you are.

Sharing life with someone also requires sacrifice (and if you’re married or have children, I’m sure you realize that all the more). It means laying down your own priorities for someone else. It means making time for someone in the middle of the night when you’re tired and trying to get some rest. It means doing the things that the other person wants to do, even if you’d rather be doing something else. It means having patience for them and putting up with them when they’re not acting like a friend. It means forgiving them when they offend you, or even when they betray you.

Jesus’ greatest proof of our friendship to Him was in His sacrifice. And He told us ahead of time that no one has a greater love than he who lays his life down for his friends (John 15:13). Jesus gave everything for us, and He loves us no less today. He has, does, and will sacrifice everything for our friendship.

And finally, friendship is about intimacy. It’s more than just posting your status online every day for people to see. It’s more than being neighbors or coworkers or acquaintances. Exodus 33:11 says, “the Lord spoke to Moses face-to-face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Friendship is about intimate, one-on-one, face-to-face, eye-to-eye communication.

It’s said that the eyes are the window to the soul. Have you ever just looked deeply into someone’s eyes? Something supernatural happens. You can see past words and posture and attitude. You can see past circumstance. You can see truth in a person’s eyes. It’s downright frightening to share that gaze with someone. Because not only can you see their genuine condition, you know that they can see yours as well.

We don’t like to be vulnerable. We don’t like to show our true selves, because we’re afraid or ashamed of who we really are. But God calls us friends. He wants to talk to us face-to-face, eye-to-eye. Clearly, He knows us better than we know ourselves, yet He sees something in us that He longs for. He sees something so special in us that He wants to be not just the commander-in-chief of our lives, but He wants to be our closest friend.

I should mention, though, that there is a condition on God’s friendship. God is not everyone’s friend. Just before Jesus calls us friends in John 15:15, He says, “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you” (verse 14). And this is where it becomes a little confusing. Nobody wants a friend who bosses them around all the time, right? The hier- archy has come back into play, and it seems that we can no longer fellowship as peers.

But understand what Jesus is saying here, because after setting this condition of obedience, He immediately says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.” (verse 15) The difference that Jesus is pointing out is that now we’ve caught the vision. When it’s no longer that we’re doing what God tells us out of mere obedience, but that we’re doing it out of love, and when His vision becomes our vision, then we are working together as friends and not as slaves.

And He continues, “. . . for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” He trusts us as friends and has not held back from us. He shares with us that which only friends share, but only if we align ourselves with His will and with His vision.

There are still many servants of God in this world, who will do everything for their master, but who have never made His vision their own. Taking on God’s vision requires absolute surrender (remember, no one has a greater love than he who lays his life down for his friends—that goes both ways), but friendship with God is completely worth it.

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