Mr. Sam Rayburn was Speaker of the United States House of Representatives longer than any other man in our history. There is a story about him that reveals the kind of man he really was.
The teenage daughter of a friend of his died suddenly one night. Early the next morning the man heard a knock on his door, and, when he opened it, there was Mr. Rayburn standing outside.
The Speaker said, “I just came by to see what I could do to help.”
The father replied in his deep grief, “I don’t think there is anything you can do, Mr. Speaker. We are making all the arrangements.”
“Well,” Mr. Rayburn said, “have you had your coffee this morning?”
The man replied that they had not taken time for breakfast. So Mr. Rayburn said that he could at least make coffee for them.
While he was working in the kitchen, the man came in and said, “Mr. Speaker, I thought you were supposed to be having breakfast at the White House this morning.”
“Well, I was,” Mr. Rayburn said, “but I called the President and told him I had a friend who was in trouble, and I couldn’t come.”
True friendship is a rare commodity today and very valuable when we find it. We make many acquaintances as we pass through life, but few of these relationships pass into that rarified status of being true and deep friendships. The kind of relationship that Jesus talks about in John 15, and the kind of relationship that we all long for: both to be loved that deeply by someone and to return that love with the same depth and fidelity. Yet, all our human relationships pale in comparison to the friendship that we have with Jesus. When you have him for your friend, you have discovered the best friend you will ever have. As Proverbs 18:24 says: there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Our passage begins and ends with Jesus’ command to love one another. This brackets the passage and tells us that it is Jesus’ main point. The command to love removes our ability to hide from this responsibility in secret, strips us of our excuses not to love, and leaves us with no option but to love. Jesus commands His church to love one another because it is so fundamentally vital to the very essence of our relationship with Him. And it is our our mission as His body. He does not even want us to entertain the possibility of claiming to be a disciple without also walking in love.
Jesus wants us to follow His example.
Jesus wouldn’t just give us a command without the ability to comply, would He? Notice that both times it is a command. Doesn’t that seem odd to be commanded to love? There is something “off” about being commanded to love. Does it count if we do it out of obedience rather than out of a feeling or passion? Is it sincere if we start with simply being obedient to a command? There are times when love must begin with the commandment and then grow into sincere love. These commandments prod us to take the initial step towards loving, so that God will cause it to take root in us as we obey his command.
Sometimes love seems to come naturally. But sometimes, there are those (even in our church family) who are a bit more difficult to love, aren’t there? Love is a choice. We choose to love and sometimes we do that simply out of obedience because we know that God commands us to love. And He is faithful to honor that act of obedience by growing that love.
Jesus then tells us what love should look like. He says that the greatest love a person can have is to lay down his life for his friends. That’s exactly what Jesus did for us on the Cross, isn’t it? He gave Himself for us. This is what He says we are to do both for our friends.
One day a man with a serious drinking problem dropped in to talk to an elder at a church. When the elder invited him to accept Christ and join the community of believers, the man insisted that he simply wanted money for a bus ticket to Cleveland. “Okay,” the elder agreed, “we can give you that kind of help too, if that’s all you really want.” He was quiet a moment, then he shook his head. “You know something?” he said, looking straight at the man. “You’ve just really let me off the hook. Because if you had chosen a new way of life in the kingdom of God, then as your brother I would have had to lay down my whole life for you. This house, my time, all my money, whatever you needed to meet your needs would have been totally at your disposal for the rest of your life. But all you want is some money for a bus ticket…” The man was so startled he stood up and left, forgetting to take the money. But on Sunday he was back, this time sitting next to the elder in the worship service.
That is a picture of what it means to love other people sacrificially, and the depth of our sacrifice of love to our Lord and Savior, Jesus. As John 10:11 says: The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus has set the standard. Jesus has raised the bar. Jesus has demonstrated love that is willing to die for another.
In the middle of this passage, Jesus talks about the depth of intimacy of our relationship with Him. He is talking to His disciples, but that also means He is talking to us, His disciples today. What great news that we are no longer servants, but that we are now His friends! There is quite a difference, isn’t there? There are different levels of intimacy. When a person is a servant or slave, one does what is commanded, and is usually not told why. But when you are a friend, you have a relationship with that person so that you are “in the inner circle.” You are let in on the thinking of why something is being done, on the details. You don’t have to just blindly obey like a slave, instead you are given understanding of the situation. In the same way, Jesus says that He tells us all that God the Father has told Him.
This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, one I turn to again and again. The truth that Jesus is my friend and not some distant God looking down on me from afar, or that I have to slavishly obey Him without ever understanding why; that he loves me even more truly than my earthly friends. It is so comforting and reassuring to me. Perhaps it is the remembrance of those moments in life when we feel rejected or left out by our friends or family, or are the last to be picked for the team. None of that is true in my relationship with Jesus. He chose me. He chose you! We are…
Chosen for a purpose
Jesus says He chose us. He chose us and we didn’t choose Him. In Jesus’day, rabbis didn’t pick their students, students picked their rabbi. But Jesus was different. He picked and called each of the 12 disciples. In the same way He has picked each of us for this awesome relationship with Him. And then He appointed us or ordained us. That means He set us aside especially for a purpose. The purpose is so that we will bear fruit and the fruit will abide, or remain forever. Lasting fruit. Not just a flash in the pan, but real enduring fruit. As we learn from earlier in this chapter in John 15, fruit is the natural result of abiding in Jesus. It is not something that we do. It is something that naturally occurs when we are in right relationship with Jesus.
I want you to notice something special in the order in which Jesus says things in this sentence. First He talks about our being appointed to bear fruit. Second He says: so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. So that means that after we are bearing fruit, there is a special connection with the Father in prayer. So often we pray to bear fruit first, to be productive, don’t we? This passage tells us that we have it backwards. When we bear fruit by the Holy Spirit through abiding in Jesus, then communication with God is opened up in a special and effective way. Our relationship with God is opened to allow us to ask God for things that are not only in line with His will, but also things that He will gladly give to us. This is a very unique privilege of being a friend of Jesus! The kind of prayers that work are those prayed in accord with God’s will and kingdom work. He promises to answer our prayers for us so that we might get the job done for him.
Let me ask a couple of questions in closing:
- Are you the friend of Jesus? What kind of friend are you? Are you a casual acquaintance with Jesus, or have you stepped into the intimacy of your relationship with Jesus? Are you still just a servant, or are you a friend? If you haven’t ever met Jesus, then why not do so today? Don’t leave here without talking to one of us.
- Are you a friend like Jesus? He gave us this model to follow in giving our life for our friends. Are you being sacrificial in your relationship with Jesus and your friendships with your friends? Or are you focused only on yourself?
- Are you willing to be a friend like Jesus? Ah! are you willing to change? You see, love is a choice. You can make a choice to love, and to change to not only grow closer in your friendship to Jesus, but also more loving in your friendships with others.
This was one of the final instructions that Jesus gave to His disciples on His way to the Garden of Gethsemane and his arrest, torture and death, His final night on earth. So this is apparently one of the key things that Jesus felt was important to leave with His disciples. It is a command, and yet it is a beautiful command full of love and passion. We must pay attention to this command as well, because if Jesus felt it was that important, we must embrace it too. Let’s follow the example of Jesus’ friendship with us, and learn to truly love others as Jesus loves us.
 Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.(Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1997), p.209-210.