My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. 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.
This is one of the best known friendship passages in the Bible: the moment where Jesus calls his disciples ‘friends’.
Jesus’ declaration of friendship in this passage is surprising – that the God of the universe, the one who formed the mountains and flung stars into space, should befriend human beings is hard to comprehend. And yet, here it is. The most unexpected, costly, and faithful friendship we can fathom – offered to us.
Here, Jesus says that to love is to ‘lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. This – as John’s gospel goes on to show – is exactly what Jesus does. He is not just willing to lay down his life for his friends, he actually does it.
When Jesus instructs his disciples to ‘love one another as I have loved you’, then, he is not looking for his disciples to be ‘fair-weather’ friends, or friends for personal gain. Instead, he is instructing them to be willing – as he was – to sacrifice their very lives for one another.
In this series of reflections, we have seen how friendship is – amongst other things – unexpected, committed, and costly. Throughout, we have also been considering what biblical friendships can teach us about God.
Through Jesus, God shows us perfect friendship. A willingness to share honestly and openly, to lay down his life, to stand alongside us during suffering, and to remain faithful no matter what. It is all the beauty of the proverbs about friendship, the friendships of Ruth and Naomi, and of David and Jonathan, offered to us by God himself.
With the example and security of this friendship from God, then, we are free to offer such friendship to others. We can do this free from the fear of rejection or betrayal and trusting that, even if they should fail, God can still use them for his purposes and to his glory.
What does this mean for you, and for your relationships? To whom can you offer this unexpected, committed, costly friendship? To whom can you offer a glimpse of the God who befriends?