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Devotional for May 6, 2018 based upon John 15: 9-17

On the eve of His crucifixion Jesus gave an astonishing invitation. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. I do not call you servants any longer. I have called you friends.” At the cross Jesus laid down His life not primarily for His followers, students, or servants. Rather Jesus laid down His life for His friends.

Now if I were to guess what kind of word Jesus would use to describe me, I would probably come up with words like “follower,” “servant,” “student,” or “disciple.” But “friend”? That is not a word I would have expected. But Jesus’ invitation here is to something far more – something far better – than we ever would have expected. Jesus invites us to be His friends.

What does it look like to be Jesus’ friend? Here are seven characteristics of a true friend. Jesus more than fulfills each of those characteristics in His friendship with us.

First, A FRIEND ALWAYS LOVE YOU. Proverbs 17: 17 says, “A friend loves at all times.”

Second, A FRIEND ALWAYS STICKS BY YOU. Even though the disciples were riddled with shortcomings, Jesus always stood by them. He stood by them, even when they did not stand by Him. He focused on His love for them rather than on their falling short for Him.

Third, FRIENDS SPUR ONE ANOTHER ON. Proverbs 27: 17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another.” Friends bring out the very best in each other. Which, admittedly, is not always easy. Sparks fly when iron sharpens iron. But it is worth the discomfort. A true friend challenges you to move forward – to step out of your comfort zone and pursue God’s greatest purposes for your life.

Fourth, A FRIEND WILL TELL YOU THE TRUTH. Proverbs 27: 6 says, “Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” Jesus was a consummate truth teller. He never spared any punches when it came to telling it like it is. He was far more concerned about conveying truth than about being considered “nice.” With straightforward honesty, he sought change in those He cared about. In the words of last Sunday’s Gospel, He pruned His branches because of His love.

Fifth, A FRIEND IS INTERESTED IN WHAT INTERESTS YOU. Philippians 2: 4 says, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but instead to the interests of others.” Jesus always engaged people at their point of interest. Looking at Jesus as our friend will affect what we talk about with Him. If we see Him primarily as our teacher, then we will bring to Him our questions. If we see Him primarily as our master, then we will bring to Him our lists of completed assignments. But if we see Him as our friend, we will feel free to talk with Him about anything. Seeing Him as our friend will change the way we pray.

Sixth, A FRIEND OPERATES ACCORDING TO YOUR SCHEDULE OF NEED. Real friends are there for you when you need them, even when it is inconvenient. Jesus was that kind of a friend. Romans 5: 6 and 8 say, “While we were weak, Christ died for the ungodly. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Ephesians 2: 5 says it even more strongly. “When we were dead through our trespasses, He made us alive.” When we needed Him the most – even before we knew we needed Him – even before we knew Him – Jesus already was our true and faithful friend.

Seventh, A FRIEND IS A PART OF YOUR LIFE. Jesus said in John 10: 10, “I came that (you) might have life and might have it abundantly.”

But in our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday Jesus gives an even more astonishing characteristic of a true friend. John 15: 13 – “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” It was at the time when He was on His way to the Garden of Agony and the Hill of Crucifixion that He said this. He said it when He was about to lay His life down for His friends.

A Savior is someone you need. A King is someone you obey. Jesus is certainly our Savior and King. But here Jesus is saying that He wants us to be His friends. A friend is someone you know and love.

We all long for a relationship like that. We all long for a relationship with someone who will love us and understand us and challenge us to reach our full potential. We all long for someone who will encourage us in our dreams, confront us in our foolishness, strengthen us in our times of insecurity, and guide us in our moments of boldness.

Jesus wants to be that kind of friend for you. He does not call you merely to be His servant to come before His throne on occasion for a new list of assignments. Rather He calls you to be His friend. The Christian life is not so much about working harder as it is about coming closer to Jesus, the perfect friend.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Do you know Jesus as your friend, who laid down His life for you?

Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE