From the Pastor's Desk 


 Friends of Christ

10-22-17

 

            Let's pray.

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            On the first night of their honeymoon, both the new husband and wife found themselves in a predicament.  The husband isn’t sure how to tell his bride about his stinky feet and smelly socks.  Meanwhile, the wife is struggling with how to break the news to him about her awful breath, which so far, she’s been able to cover up.

            Finally, after some agonizing soul-searching, the husband knew what he needed to do and he knew it was time to do it.  So he gathers his nerve and says, “I have a confession.”  She draws closer, peers into his eyes, and says, “Darling, so do I.”  Recoiling, he says, “Don’t tell me—you’ve eaten my socks.”

            An ideal situation in a good marriage is that the husband and wife are good friends.  Friendship is very important for us as humans; we need human companionship and we need to have quality time with people we enjoy and who in turn enjoy being with us.  Unfortunately, as important as friendship is, many people these days don't have the friends that they need or that they want.

            That's where Jesus comes in.  The Bible is full of titles used to describe those who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.  Those names include believers; beloved of God; children of God; children of promise; children of light; heir of promise; sons of the resurrection; Christians; disciples; the elect; the godly; heirs of God; the righteous; lights in the world; living stones; a chosen race, royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession; salt of the earth and saints, among many others.  But what we're going to look at this morning is another name for followers of Christ:  friend.

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            Fortunately for us, the Bible is not a book that is concerned about political correctness.  The authors of Scripture were not writing to delicate little snowflakes who may have had their feelings hurt and need a safe place to protect themselves from all kinds of mean old bullies.  No, the Bible is clear and it is authoritative.  The world likes to look at things in terms of gray; the Bible is black and white.  It is absolute, definitive and provocative.  It is unafraid to confront people of the reality of their spiritual condition.

            As a result, Scripture makes a stark contrast between those who are saved and those who are lost; those who are with Jesus and those who are against Him; those in the world and those not in the world; those who are children of God and those who are children of the devil; those in the kingdom of God's Son and those in the satanic kingdom of darkness; and as we're going to see now, those who are friends of God and those who are not. 

            The last time that we looked at John's gospel, we examined the passage where Jesus declares that He is the true vine; God is the vinedresser and we are the branches.  God prunes us and works with us to make us exactly who He wants and intends us to be.  As branches, we are to abide in Jesus the vine.  When we do that, He will produce fruit in our lives.  Spiritual fruit are spiritual qualities.  Other things like praise, love, holiness, giving and winning others to the Lord are also aspects of fruit that Jesus produces in our lives.  Another outcome of Christ's working in our lives is that we are His friend.  Let's read John 15:9-17

            Those of us who are genuinely born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are His friends(vv. 14-15).  People who don't know the Lord, people who aren't born again, are God's enemies.  I know that sounds harsh, but that's how Scripture describes it.  Because of the cross and because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls, we are no longer enemies of God and enemies of Christ.  Through His death and resurrection we are brought into a new, close, personal relationship with God; we are now reconciled to Him and are His friends. 

            In the ancient world, friendships were very important.  There were political friends.  Certain people were known as friends of the king.  They were more than servants or members of the household; they were the king's friends, they were confidants and were insiders into what was going on in the kingdom.  There was also something called a benefactor-client friendship.  In this situation a wealthy person would become the patron of someone less well-off in order to help them out.  Then there was mutual friendship among equals.  This was the kind of friendship we are familiar with today.  This level of friendship involved sharing of confidences, possessions and maybe even laying down one's life for one's friend. 

            Jesus here calls His disciples friends.  Friend is a more exalted title even than disciple.  In the OT, Abraham was called God's friend.  In Isaiah 41:8 it says, "But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend.Moses also had a friendship with God.  Ex. 33:11 says, "The Lord spoke with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend.

            Because the disciples are Jesus' friends, He promised to share with them all things He heard from the Father.  He didn't tell them everything that He knew.  What He did was to tell them everything they needed to know regarding salvation and what it means to follow God and obey His will.

            Just like true friends are intimately involved in each other's lives, Christ is intimately involved in our lives.  Through the Spirit and through His Word and through our communicating with Him in prayer, He spends time with us.  He knows about our lives, the ups and downs and everything in between.  He cares about us and what is happening to us.  He is afflicted in our afflictions and He takes pleasure in our prosperity.  He pleads for us in heaven and He takes care of our interests here.

            The greatest proof or evidence of love is a willingness to lay down one's life for a friend(v. 13).  Jesus had this kind of love for us.  He expressed the greatest love anyone has ever shown for someone else by dying on the cross as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins.  There are people through the ages who were willing to die to save the life of someone else.  9/11 produced many stories of men and women who sacrificially did whatever they needed to do in order to help save the lives of others.  Men like Todd Beamer on Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania.  Their stories will never be forgotten.

            I read of another amazing story.  An Air Florida Flight smashed into a frozen lake in the middle of a snowstorm.  The accident resulted in all but six passengers being killed.  Some 20 minutes later, a helicopter arrived to rescue the survivors.  After getting one man to safety, the helicopter threw a life-ring to a man named Arland Williams… who immediately gave it to the passenger next to him.  The helicopter rescued that person and then let down the life-ring to Williams again, who gave it to someone else.  When the other five were safely rescued, it was discovered that Arland Williams had given his life to save strangers.

            But what Jesus did for us on the cross far exceeds any other sacrifice.  Christ didn't just lay down His life, He gave His life for our sins.  It wasn't something passive that He did in reaction to an event.  It was His own act and deed to die so we could live.  Others might have given their lives for someone else on an equal basis, or for someone maybe considered less valuable.  But Christ is infinitely worth more than all of us combined.  Others may lay down their lives for friends or for folks they don't even know.  Jesus gave His life while we were still His enemies.

            Interestingly, while the disciples and all of Christ's followers are called His friends, Jesus is never called our friend.  That's because the nature of our relationship with Him is not mutual in the same way as human friendships usually are.  Jesus' side of the friendship involves His choosing us; dying for us; and rising from the grave.  He gives us commands to obey and orders so to speak to follow.  On our side it's pretty simple:  we are to obey.  Other than that, we don't do anything or bring anything to the relationship.  But we also need to keep in mind:  our obedience is not what makes us Jesus' friends; it is what characterizes us as His friends.

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            We are friends with Jesus and our main part of that relationship is that we obey His commands.  There are two commands that we find in this passage that relate to our friendship to Jesus.  First of all, Jesus tells us to remain in His love(v. 9).  If we are really and truly His friend, we will really and truly remain in His love for us. 

            Jesus also gives us a very clear explanation of how we are to remain in His love.  He says we remain in His love by keeping His commands(v. 10).  There are two aspects to what this may be referring to.  For one, we keep His commands by obeying them and doing exactly what it is that Jesus wants us to do.  Another aspect of this is that we keep His commands by faithfully delivering them to others so that they can know them and obey them.  It is universal obedience to Christ that is the only acceptable obedience.  In other words, we must obey Him in everything He commands. 

            But obedience isn't easy.  There are some areas that God has commanded us to obey Him in that are difficult at best and seem impossible to us at worst.  In fact, on our own apart from the Holy Spirit's working in our lives, it is impossible to obey God in anything.  But even though it can be very hard to obey and even though it is often a real struggle for us sometimes, we can't use that as an excuse to sin.  Just because it's hard to obey doesn't mean that it's OK that we disobey.

            For instance, God commands us to give at least a tithe, which is defined as 10%.  I think that's pretty clear.  We are to give God ten percent of our income.  But that can be hard, can't it?  How many of us know and understand that standard for our lives, yet we look at our income and we look at our bills and we conclude that it is impossible to give that much because there's not that much to give.

            Why don't people give?  First and foremost they don't think they have enough money to give.  Their bills are too big and their paycheck too small and they can't afford to give like that.  Others don't think that God needs the money so why give?  Of course God doesn't need the money, we give for our benefit, not for His.  Others may withhold their giving because they don't like what's going on at the church so they look at it as some sort of protest.  Don't kid yourself:  you not giving will in no way stop God from doing what He is going to do.  All of those reasons are sinful reasons; they are all aspects of our disobedience to God in this area.

            God doesn't put any restrictions or any disclaimers on that command.  Tithe to Me, unless your bills are too much; or only if you have plenty of money in savings; only if there's a lot of extra in your account each week.  I don't read any of that.  We are to tithe.  God does say that if we don't we are robbing Him and that we are to test Him in this way to see whether or not He will come through and provide for us or not.  Malachi 3:8-10.  Spoiler alert:  He will provide for you.

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            Another difficult area that God has commanded us regards forgivenessEph. 4:32 is our go-to verse regarding forgiveness.  Again, there are no conditions on this command.  God doesn't say, forgive others if you feel like it; forgive people when it's easy and convenient to do so; forgive those after they have first forgiven you.  None of that applies to this command.  We are to forgive others like Christ has forgiven us.  He forgave us when we were still His enemies.

            So why is it so hard for us to forgive people?  Because we're selfish.  We only see things from our own perspective.  People have hurt us, or they have hurt someone we love.  That leaves a deep scar on our heart and we hold on to that pain.  We hold on to the grudge and the bitterness thinking that it is somehow negatively affecting the other person, like our lack of forgiveness is some sort of punishment on their lives.  When the truth is they don't even know and all it does it cause problems for ourselves.

            It does not matter what anyone has done to you; it does not matter what anyone has done to a loved one; it does not matter how long it has been or even if they are still hurting you or those you love; God commands us to forgive.  We don't have to even feel like it.  Forgiveness is much like love.  It is not a feeling; it is a decision and it is a commitment.  We forgive when we decide to no longer want the other person to pay for what they've done to us.  That is God's command, and that is what we need to do.  Since we are friends of Jesus, we are to remain in Christ's love and we do that by keeping His commands. 

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            Another command that we find here that relates to our obedience to Jesus as His friend is that we are to love one another(vv. 12, 17).  We just talked about the fact that Jesus paid the ultimate price and made the ultimate sacrifice for our forgiveness and salvation.  Part of our remaining in His love is that we will express the same sort of self-sacrificing love for one another.  We don't necessarily have to die to show love for one another.  Loving others is marked by selfless devotion to meeting one another's needs. 

            Love is not mere sentiment.  It is not simply marked by superficial attachment.  1 John 3:17-18 helps explain for us the true nature of love.  Jesus can command us to love because love is not primarily a feeling; it's an act of the will.  The proof of our love is not in our feelings; it is in our actions.  It means treating others the way God treats us.  We don't love with word or speech; we love with truth and action.  Loving others is putting them first and thinking of their needs before thinking of our own needs.  In order to love that way we may need to give up something we hold dear.

            Maybe it's a sacrifice of money to help a struggling family and you may therefore not be able to buy something that you would like to get.  Maybe it's giving up a Saturday morning to help someone work on their car or to do some yard work for them.  Maybe you need to give up some time in front of the worthless TV in order to spend time with the homeless or visit some widows or those in the hospital.  The friends of Jesus remain in His love by showing their love for one another by humbly meeting each other's needs.  Since we are Jesus' friends, we are to love one another.

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            Because we are friends of Jesus as Believers; as we remain in His love and obey His commands; as we love one another, there are benefits and blessings that we receive from the Lord.  Those include joy, fruit and answered prayer.

            Jesus promises us joy(v. 11).   Our joy is in the Lord.  Worldly joys are empty.  They never satisfy.  Just think about the worldly things you so long for in life.  A promotion at work is exciting at first, and then it starts to set in that there's more work and more headaches and it really didn't change very much.  More money also seems like a good thing.  But when you get more you spend more and pretty soon you're not satisfied with that, either.  It's exciting when your team wins a championship, but then the next year comes around and all we want is more, we're never satisfied.

            When we have Christ's joy in our lives, then our joy is full.  It is His joy that is satisfying and eternal.  As Believers, we will never lose His joy because we will never lose our salvation.  He came to give us a joyful, abundant life.  The basis of that is the cross, the Word and the Spirit dwelling in us.  The basis for Jesus' joy was doing the Father's will.  Our joy comes from doing what Jesus commands us. 

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            Jesus also promises that we will bear fruit in our lives.  (v. 16).  But Jesus says here that He chose the disciples.  He has also chosen us.  He didn't choose us because we were so awesome or because we deserved it or because we are worthy of His love and forgiveness.  We're not any of those things.  He chose us because of His favor and His grace.  We have no basis for spiritual pride because it all comes down to Jesus choosing us while we were still His enemies and living in sin.

            He not only chose us, He also ordains us.  He has appointed us for a purpose.  He doesn't want us just sitting around doing nothing for His kingdom.  He chose us to be instruments in God's hands for the bringing of nations into obedience in Christ.  Those whom Christ ordains will be fruitful; we will not labor in vain.  Our fruit will remain because it is fruit that comes through us abiding in Christ the vine.  We have been called to doing God's will.  We need to love other people; we need to tell them about the Gospel; we are to assist them in their spiritual growth after God does a work of salvation in their lives.  The ultimate fruit in our lives is new believers who come about as we seek to evangelize a lost and dying world. 

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            Jesus also promises us answered prayer(v. 16).  This is also something that we've recently covered in depth.  But suffice it to say that when we abide and remain in Jesus; when we obey His commands and live like He wants us to live; when we ask in His name and according to His will, then our prayers will be answered.  In that scenario, we will only be asking for requests that Christ wants us to pray about and we will only want what exactly He wants for each situation.  It's all about asking in His name as we abide in His love.

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            As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are friends of Jesus.  We need to remain in Him by obeying His commands; we need to love one another as He has loved us.  As a result of that, we will experience joy; we will bear fruit; we will experience answered prayer.

            But there are some great responsibilities that are ours as Christ's friends.  We are told to fervently love one another; we need to study the truth diligently; true friends of Jesus do not love the world; they submit to the Father's pruning and they pray effectively.  In short, we need to live like it says in Eph. 4:1, "Walk worthy of the calling you have received."

            As our singers and musicians come now, we invite you to live like a friend of Jesus.  If there is any public profession that you need to make this morning in response to anything God has been doing or is doing in your life, we invite you to come up here right now and talk with me about it as we stand and sing.

 

            Prayer.