Jesus says farewell – Part Ten (John 15)

We’re continuing in our series through Jesus’ farewell speech in John 14-17. This week is all about friendship with Jesus. Yesterday, we saw how friendship with Jesus was friendship of the highest order, in that he was prepared to lay down his life for us, his friends. Today, we look at the obligations of those who are Jesus’ friends. 

A friend of Jesus is obedient

Our friendship started with Jesus’ laying down his life for us. It was his initiative; verse 16 says that he chose us to be his friends. Now we are in his debt. We owe him a debt we can’t repay, and so we become his grateful, loyal ‘friends’. And that friendship – like all friendships – has some obligations:

John 15:14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

Now these days we might think this sentence is a little bit odd. How many friends do you think you’d have if you went around saying: ‘you are my friends if you do what I command’? It kind of implies an inequality about our friendship with Jesus, doesn’t it?

Well, yes. I hate to break it to you that you and Jesus aren’t equals in your friendship. Yet it was a common thing in Jesus’ time to refer to a relationship between unequals as a friendship. You could be a ‘friend of Caesar’ or a ‘friend of the gods’ without claiming to be equal with them. In fact, the word ‘friend’ was often used by the person of higher status in the relationship as a way of politely overlooking the difference in status. The person of lower status, however, would never forget the inequality that existed between them. They’d never dare call them ‘friend’ in return, but use a term like ‘benefactor’ or ‘patron.’

It’s a bit like some of the people I’ve grown up with who were used to calling my parents “Mr and Mrs…” When they got to adulthood, my parents would ask them to call them by their first names – but some just couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

It’s interesting to note that although we are called Jesus’ friends, nowhere is Jesus referred to as our friend in the New Testament! (So, technically, according to the first century definition of the word, the hymn What a friend we have in Jesus isn’t quite accurate. But any time I question a line in a hymn I get in trouble, so let’s just let that one slide…)

Ours is not a friendship of equals. But Jesus, despite being the son of God, has graciously condescended to call us his ‘friends’. And he’s demonstrated that by laying down his life for us. Thus, as in friendships between unequals in the ancient world, we are expected to respond to this act of grace with obedience and loyalty.

Our obedience is modelled on Jesus’ obedience

A few verses earlier, we find that our model for this obedience is none other than Jesus himself:

John 15:9-10 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

Notice firstly that Jesus loves us just as the Father loves him. And secondly, our response is to be obedient to Jesus just as Jesus was obedient to the Father.

Disobedience renounces the friendship

Obedience is how we ‘remain in his love.’ It’s how we continue the friendship. Therefore, disobedience is to renounce the friendship. In the first century there was nothing worse than a person to whom you had shown great favour, only for them to prove ungrateful and disloyal in response. True friends were obedient and loyal. If you didn’t show this loyalty, it proved you weren’t really a friend.

Back in verse 6, in the middle of the vine metaphor, Jesus has some harsh words about such disloyal followers:

John 15:6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned

Those who, through disobedience, chose to end the friendship – those who chose not to ‘remain in him’ – are cast aside. Through their actions, they show that they were never true friends of Jesus in the first place. In his first epistle, John writes of those who fell away through disobedience:

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

Obedience leads to joy

On the other hand, obedience isn’t supposed to be seen as a chore. Straight after telling us to remain in his love through obedience, Jesus says:

John 15:11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Obedience to Jesus’ commands leads to joy. Although the popular view of obeying God means giving up everything that’s fun, true wholehearted obedience leads to exactly the opposite.

‘No-one is more miserable than the Christian who for a time hedges in his obedience. He does not love sin enough anymore to enjoy its temporary pleasures, and he does not love Christ enough to relish holiness. He perceives that his rebellion is iniquitous, but obedience seems distasteful. He does not feel at home any longer in the world, but the memory of his past associations and the tantalizing lyrics of his old music prevent him from singing with the saints. He is a man most to be pitied’. (Carson, The Farewell discourse, p.100.)

From my experience, I agree. Half-hearted obedience is depressing. But the times when you’re doing exactly what God created you to do are the times when you feel the purest joy. When you’re not merely trying to ‘avoid sin,’ but you’re also doing what God gifted you to do in service for him.

No less an authority than Phil Vischer, the creator of the children’s video series Veggie Tales and voice of Bob the Tomato, said this: ‘There is no happier place than the intersection of God’s will and your giftedness.’ For him that was impersonating a salad vegetable and explaining the gospel to children. What is it for you?

Obedience is summed up by loving one another

However God has uniquely gifted us to serve him, Jesus then reminds us not for the first time in John’s gospel that obedience is summed up by love for one another:

John 15:12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

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