The Big IF: Friends

The Big IF: Friends

The Big IF: Friends.

Sometimes our eyes just skip over small words in Scripture when we are reading in a hurry. In other words, if we’re not careful, if we find ourselves skimming the Bible, we will miss what might be the most important word in our relationship with God. We might be blind to a little word that quite possibly is central to our discipleship of Jesus. The word is “IF.” If is not a word to skip over, because it is often followed by a “Then.” Jesus makes many promises in the Gospels, and many of them have an “If” attached. If you do this, then I will do that, says Jesus. He seems to offer many conditional promises, what seem to be promises with strings attached. Conditional promises highlight the fact that we need to do our part in our relationship with Christ. We need to accept our responsibility as we cooperate with Him. We are active participants in our walk with the Lord. God offers us unconditional love, but we do have obligations if we expect to receive what He has promised. When we do our part, we are not earning salvation. We instead are putting forth effort as we live into our life of deliverance. We are doing our part in order to receive God’s promises. Obedience to Christ often translates into actively fulfilling on the “IF” so that God can fulfill the “Then.” This is another way we are working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us both to will and do for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13).

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:12-14).

The Greek word used here by Jesus for friends is “philos,” a word that denotes intimate friendship in the sense of brotherly y love. Our obedience to Jesus is because we love and trust Him, which seems to invite a heavenly friendship in which there is a mutual indwelling, Christ lives in us and we live in Him. It would be difficult to find a more fulfilling and satisfying friendship, in which each is such a deep part of the other’s life. We do our part, we keep His command of love. Jesus does the rest. The result is a friendship with God!

There is an interesting progression in terms of the relationship between Jesus and His disciples. He first calls them disciples/followers, then He calls them servants, then He calls them friends, then He calls them family. The disciples have gone from a loyal follower of Jesus, to His servant, to a friend of Jesus who hears His secrets, to a brother or sister of Jesus who has been welcomed into his family. His disciples went from being rather distant students of His rabbinic training, to following Him, to befriending Him, to being His siblings with the same Father.

a. We all need friends, because we are inescapably social creatures. We are made in the image of a Three-Person’d God, and are designed for interaction and community. We need each other, we are bound to live with other people, and we all need lessons on how to do that in a healthy and life-giving way. Living a life together with others begins at conception and doesn’t even end with the grave. The question is how do we live this life together, how do we navigate through a life with others without doing permanent damage? Better yet, how do we live together in a way that reflects the Kingdom of Christ? How can we love in a way that we remain friends with the Lord Jesus?

Jesus’ word to the wise is to simply love one another. But what does that look like on a daily basis? In any community in which we live, whether at work, at home, in church, in a small group, with a cadre of friends, we need help and heavenly knowledge on how to get along, how to thrive with each other. And this is when the One Another’s come into play. The epistles love to unpack what love looks like. Scripture explains that love is when the Spirit of Jesus is put into practice, especially with one another.

If a thriving community is a shiny diamond containing many facets, the One Another’s are those facets. The One Another’s reveal what it looks like to lay down your life for your friends, to put your self on the shelf in a daily martyrdom, sacrificing yourself for someone else’s benefit out of love. These One Another’s described below describe what it takes to live in a healthy community. So now, after reading each One Another in the accompanying series of articles, let’s remind ourselves of what they mean. With the transforming power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can indeed enjoy a life together that reflects the eternal Kingdom of God, a community that has a heart for one another.

  1. Bear One Another’s Burdens:  To lift up and carry; to take up and walk with; to intercede for someone else, whether through prayer or caregiving, whether tangible or intangible; to relieve someone of something that weighs heavily on them.
  2. Build Up One Another: To edify; to strengthen; to empower; to affirm certain qualities; to help someone or a group to grow to maturity; to construct a building, an edifice, of faith and character in another person or group.
  3. Warn One Another: To admonish; to caution; to place into someone’s awareness; to reprove gently; to call attention to; to alert another person’s thinking; to offer sound advice and guidance.
  4. Encourage One Another: To “paraclete” each other: Called to come alongside someone in need, in order to help and bear burdens by Pointing to God, Advising, Reminding, Advocating for, Comforting, Listening, Exhorting, Teaching and Encouraging.
  5. Restore One Another: To set right; to repair; to refit; to mend; to rejoin; to bring back to its original state; to heal.
  6. Honor One Another: To show deference to; to prefer over one’s self; to highly esteem; to greatly respect; to revere; to focus on the importance of another.
  7. Bear With One Another: To put up with; to make allowances for; to willingly endure; forbearance; to tolerate; to have patience with; to accept someone despite their weaknesses.
  8. Exhort One Another: To urge to continue in the Faith; to beseech in strong terms; to come alongside to offer encouraging guidance; to inspire courage and hope; to call upon someone to act; to give affirming words that strengthens others.
  9. Confess to One Another: To acknowledge openly; to freely admit to wrongdoing; to announce one’s guilt; to concede one’s shortcomings; to repent of sins; to agree with God that one’s sin is a sin.
  10. Wash One Another’s Feet: A simple act of hospitality; a house servant’s task; involves placing someone else’s dirty, smelly feet into a bowl of water and carefully using one’s hands to cleanse those feet of all dirt, grime and sweat, and then drying the feet with a clean towel; a common, menial act of service and humility; exercising the ministry of touch to the untouchable; the powerful sacrament of servanthood.
  11. Harmonize with One Another. When separate parts intentionally combine into a beautiful whole; to reconcile apparent differences into a combined unity; to adjust in order to fit together; to be of the same mind; to unite in the same direction in will, affection and conscience; to join together in unity of spirit and purpose, with one heart and one passion; to be agreeable and get along; mutual understanding.

b. The kind of love spoken of by Jesus in the Gospel of John is not your garden variety human love. John quotes Jesus as talking about agape love in particular. Jesus calls us to love one another with agape love. Agape is the highest form of love, it is divine love, straight from heaven, from God Himself. Agape love has no conditions… I will love you if. Agape love has no hesitation… I will love you when. Agape will not fade away and lose interest because of familiarity. Agape love will never strengthen in power, because it is never weak in the first place. Agape offers love to those who didn’t earn it, even to those who reject it. Agape is permanently loyal, almost to a fault. Agape love treats the recipient as if they had an intimate relationship, even when no such relationship exists. Agape is the ultimate expression of God’s nature, the essence of His character.

The most virtuous person on the planet cannot manufacture agape, as if it’s merely a highly esteemed human trait. It is a divine trait. We don’t have it in us. We aren’t born with a natural ability to show agape love. We can’t demonstrate it under our own steam. It can only derive from God, not human nature.

“For we know how dearly God agape loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with agape love; God has poured out His agape love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us; We can now experience the endless agape love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us!” (Romans 5:5, various versions).

This divine agape love pouring into our hearts is intended to be demonstrated to others, redirected, much like God’s agape love was intended to first reach us. This affectionate regard poured into us is to splash onto one another. Agape love spills over from our hearts only after being poured into our hearts. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, showing agape love to one another can become second nature in us, displacing our old loves… money and things; pleasure and power; self and attention. In some beautifully mysterious way, the unconditional love from above us is somehow completed when Christians love one another with God’s love. Agape love is the means by which God builds community, transforms the individual believer, and serves the world. Agape love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian, and the defining character of the community. Love one another with agape love. This is the command of Jesus, and this is how we become His friends.