"How To Be Friends In Jesus"
3 John 13-14 (Rev.)
(Delivered Sunday, June 12, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
The ancient philosopher Aristotle came up with a beautiful definition of "friendship". He was writing about the word "philos" - that is, the Greek word for "friend"; and he defined it as "one soul inhabiting two bodies".1 What a beautiful picture that is of the intimacy of friendship!
If you think about it, you realize that one of the most decisive things about your life is the friends that you have. Who it is that you call "friend" not only says much about you now, but it will determine much of what you will be tomorrow. This is because of the way the soul of a friend connects with and influences your own. Someone once said that what you will be twenty years from now is determined largely by three things: (1) the choices you make, (2) the books you read, and (3) the friends you keep; and I believe what they said is very, very true.
One of the most important aspects of our Christian life, then - and, sadly, one of the most neglected subjects in practical Christian theology - is that of "friendship". For the sake of our growth in Christ, I ask you to think about this subject with me this morning.
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I have come to believe that the one thing above all others that destroys young people and brings complete ruin to their spiritual life is an unwise choice of friends. Parents, relatives, teaches and pastors can work hard to instill good, godly values into a young person; and it can all be brought to destruction in a very short while when that young person starts hanging around bad friends. The Bible tells us why this is so: "Bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Cor. 15:33, NASB).
But by the same token, I can personally testify that God used good, godly friends in my early years, more than anything else I can think of, to set me on the right track and influence me for Him. I'll bet that most of us here today, who are older in the Lord and have walked with Him for many years, can say the very same thing. You behave like your friends; and if you make friends with those who are strong in the Lord, you will be strengthened in the Lord too.
With all that in mind, I can't help thinking what a wonderful thing it is that Jesus calls us His "friends". The Bible tells us that Jesus was called "a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). He demonstrated that He is our friend because He served us sacrificially, and gave Himself to met our greatest need. "Greater love has no one than this," He said; "than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13).
Jesus could have called us His "servants"; and that would have been an appropriate way to describe us. In fact, it would be a great honor for us to be called servants if it could also be said that we had Jesus as our Master. But Jesus desires a deeper relationship with us than that of a master toward his servants. He said, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). He addresses His disciples as, "My friends . . ." (Luke 12:4).
Do you know how Jesus defined what it means to be His friend? He said, "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:14). Jesus gave objective definition to His friendship toward us by the fact that He laid down His life for us on the cross. But He objectively describes our friendship toward Him as a matter of being faithful to do whatever He commands us.
And I'm suggesting this morning that it's Jesus' definition of friendship that helps us to understand what it means to be friends with one another as believers. If we're His friends, then we will love one another as He loves us - that is, we will give ourselves in service to one another in His name. The apostle John wrote, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:10-11).
If being His friends means doing as He commands, then we are truly friends with one another when we obey His commandments toward one another, and encourage each other to likewise obey His commands. Again, John wrote, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:2-3).
Are you among Jesus' friends? Have you trusted His sacrifice on the cross for your sins, and do you seek to increasingly obey His commands in your life? Well; good friends IN Jesus help other friends IN Jesus be better friends WITH Jesus. How good a friend are you to other friends of Jesus in His great fellowship of friends? Do you know what it looks like to live in that fellowship, and be a good friend of others in Jesus?
I believe we can sum it up this way: Good friends in Jesus behave toward each other like Jesus behaves toward them.
The apostle John wrote His little New Testament letters to teach His friends how to be good friends in Christ. The great theme that 1 John, 2 John and 3 John all share in common is "fellowship in Christ". John wrote the first one to define what it takes to be in Christ's great fellowship of friends, the second one to define how to protect that fellowship, and the third to show how not to exclude anyone from that fellowship that belongs in it.
This morning, I invite you to look with me at the last two verses of John's third letter, which give us the formal close of the letter. Ordinarily, we might be tempted to pass by these closing words as if they were unimportant. But the fact is that every word of the Scriptures comes to us by the loving providence of a sovereign God; and so, every portion of the Bible has immense value - even the closing of its letters. These two verses teach us what it means to be good friends toward each other in Christ.
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Let's begin by reading the whole letter. It's not very long. And I believe that, as you think through the theme of the letter, you'll see why these closing words are so important. In his letter - written to encourage a church leader named Gaius to be sure to welcome some traveling missionaries that John was sending to him - John writes;
THE ELDER, to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth:
There are three main characters in John's letter. First, there's Gaius - the church leader who was a blessing to John's heart. He was a faithful servant of the Lord, and a trustworthy fellow-worker who could be counted on to welcome and support others who went out to spread the gospel.
A second character in this letter is Diotrephus - a man who was quite the opposite from Gaius. He was a church bully, who "loved to have preeminence" among the saints, and who refused to welcome those who served the cause of the gospel. John warned that he would come and discipline Diotrephus for having refused to welcome into the circle of fellowship those who truly belonged there.
And finally, we meet Demetrius - himself a worker for the gospel, and very probably the leader of the missionary team that John was sending to Gaius. He had a good testimony as a faithful servant of the gospel - one who, though a stranger to Gaius' church, was to be fully welcomed into its circle of fellowship.
So you see; the whole letter is about fellowship in the body of Christ. And now that you have a sense of the theme of this letter, you can appreciate how important these closing words are. As I read them to you, think of them in terms of the theme of "friendship" in Christ. John writes to his beloved friend Gaius and says,
I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace to you. Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name (3 John 1-14).
These closing words are very much like the closing words of John's second letter - which was also a letter about fellowship. There, he was writing to a whole church; but here, he's writing these very similar words to an individual. And as I studied these verses, the word that stood out most to me is the Greek word philos - here translated "friends". That's the word John chooses to emphasize when speaking of believers in fellowship with one another - "friends".
Let's pull out some of the details of these closing words, and learn what it looks like for friends to live together in fellowship with Jesus. And let's learn the things that we need to practice toward one another, so that we can all be better friends with each other in Christ.
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First, we see that they are characterized by . . .
1. A LONGING TO SHARE THEMSELVES WITH ONE ANOTHER.
John ends by telling Gaius that his letter to him is far shorter than he would have liked it to be. He says, "I had many things to write, but . . ." In other words, John had much more to say than he had time or space to say it in . . . just like any good preacher!
But since John was planning to come to his beloved friend Gaius soon, he thought it best to save up what he had to say, and say it all to him personally. The point to note in this is that John didn't just want to get the facts of the immediate situation to Gaius, or just want to give him orders. He "had many things to write". There was a desire to share much of what was on his heart with Gaius - even though there wasn't the time or occasion right then.
And stop and think: Jesus - our greatest of all Friends - also wants to share His heart with us! He keeps nothing from us, but desires to reveal everything to us. It's true that there were times when Jesus didn't share everything with His disciples that He could have shared; but that wasn't because He was trying to keep secrets from them. Rather, it was because He loved them and knew that they were not ready to handle it all yet.
Before He went to the cross, Jesus told His disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12). But He told them that, after He returned to the Father, He would send the Holy Spirit; "and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He would take of Mine and declare it to you" (vv. 13-15). As He Himself said, ". . . All things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).
Do you remember what He said in His priestly prayer for us, as it's contained in John 17? His prayer shows us how open He desires to be with us. He said,
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory with You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that they world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).
Jesus is completely open with His friends. He withholds nothing of Himself from them. He even desires that we ourselves be one in Him and in the Father. We are unified in Him; because "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4:4-6). And as His friends, we're to be "speaking the truth in love" toward one another; just as He has spoken with us.
As friends together in Jesus, then, we ought to have the willingness and the desire to share our minds and hearts with one another. Now, I'm not talking about being indiscriminate or imprudent in what we share with one another; because we may actually end up hurting one another if we share in a way that is not discerning. But if one friend in Christ asks another, "So; how are you?", if he or she is truly being a friend, then that other friend won't lie to them or keep back the truth of how they're doing. They'll share the hurts or struggles fears they're going through, so that friend can share the burden with them.
It's right for them to do so because they're one in Christ, and that's how Christ Himself behaves toward all His friends.
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Another element of what it looks like to be friends together in Jesus is that there is . . .
2. A PREFERENCE FOR CLOSENESS TO ONE ANOTHER.
John wrote to Gaius and said, "I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face" (or literally, "mouth to mouth"; vv. 13-14). He says a very similar thing at the end of his second letter; "Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full" (2 John 12).
I have noticed that, even with the increased ways we can communicate with one another, I still feel the deep need to talk in a personal way with a brother or sister in Christ. In fact, the more impersonal communication becomes, the more I feel that need! I have found that, if I talk with someone too long and too often by email, I get tired of it and give them a phone call instead - just so I can hear their voice. And if it seems to me that we're talking on the phone too often, I'll get tired of that after a while and try to get together with them for coffee so I can see their face. I think that's how John felt toward Gaius, and toward the church to which he wrote.
Again, this is like Jesus; isn't it? He died on the cross for us in order to bring us into close, intimate, eternal fellowship with Himself. The eternal Son of God could have remained in heavenly glory after our earthly father Adam had sinned, and had nothing more to do with us; but the Bible tells us that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). And then, after He came in the flesh, the incarnate Son of God could have stayed far away from us; but John writes of Jesus as "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen through our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1). He allowed us to become up-close and personal with Him. And then, after dying on the cross for us, the redeeming Son of God could have simply saved us from sin and then had nothing more to do with us; but He prays for us and says,
Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world (John 17:20-24).
Jesus craves closeness to His friends. He tells us, "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2-3). His great longing is to have us with Himself forever! And as His friends, that's how He wants us to feel toward one another.
I've told you often that one of the things I love to see immediately after church is empty cars in the church parking lot. I think of that as a sign of a healthy church family; because if cars are left empty in the parking lot, it means that the people who owned them piled into someone else's car after church to go out somewhere with them. One of the characteristics of those who are friends together in Jesus' love is that they desire to be together. It's not good enough for them to just talk by email. It's not even enough to simply shake hands in the sanctuary of church. They long to speak "face to face" with each other and be with each other for a while. They long to have personal communion with each other.
For those of us who are in Christ, to draw closer together is to move closer to what Jesus died to bring about. The French Existentialist Jean Paul-Sartre once said, "Hell is other people": but for those who are friends together by faith in Jesus love, being with each other is an early taste of heaven.
May God help us to grow in our longing for personal, one-on-one contact with each other as friends in Jesus.
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A third characteristic of what it means to be friends together in Jesus is . . .
3. A WISH FOR ONE ANOTHER'S BLESSEDNESS.
We get a hint of this in John's wish to Gaius; "Peace to you."
This is, of course, a very typical greeting to find in an ancient letter. But the context of this particular letter would suggest that it was more than just a greeting. Gaius' situation was, after all, far from "peaceful". It was his responsibility to welcome a team of missionaries that Diotrephus - the church dictator - was likely to fight against. Not only had Diotrephes refused to welcome those John had been sending, but he also "forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church" (v. 10). An evil attitude of rejection toward those who should be welcomed was prevailing in the church; and John warned that he would come very soon and deal with Diotrephes and his evil ways. But this gives particular significance to John's closing greeting. It would have been a great encouragement to Gaius to read those words: "Peace to you." He needed such words of blessing.
And do you recognize that blessing? It was the same blessing that Jesus gave to His friends! When He rose from the dead, and appeared alive to His assembled disciples, His first words to them was, "Peace be with you" (John 20:19). In fact, He said it twice on that one occasion - "Peace to you" (v. 21) - and then once again when He appeared to them eight days later - "Peace to you!" (v. 26).
Before He went to the cross, Jesus told His disciples, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as th world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). And from then on, the greeting of "peace" between those who had placed their faith in Him became a common trademark among Jesus' friends. Paul wrote, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16). He wrote to the Ephesians and said, "Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen" (Eph. 6:23). And Peter wrote, "Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen" (1 Peter 5:14).
One of the lessons we can draw from this blessing in John's conclusion to his letter is that, in the fellowship of Jesus' friends, we are to desire and seek the blessedness of one another that Jesus would wish upon us. Our greatest wish for one another should be that we experience all that joys and blessings for each other that come from being in fellowship with Jesus. I believe we can see this not only in John's close, but also in his greeting to Gaius: "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. For I greatly rejoiced when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in th truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (vv. 2-3).
As we draw closer together, and share our burdens with one another, let's learn to pray for one another in all our struggles and trials; so that a full realization of all our riches in Christ strengthens us IN those struggles and trials.
As Jesus' friends, let's grow to wish for one another all that Jesus wishes for us.
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Another aspect of what it means to live together as friends in Jesus is . . .
4. A DESIRE TO SHARE FRIENDS WITH FRIENDS.
John wrote to Gaius and said, "Our friends greet you." In other words, John was saying that he had some brothers and sisters in Christ with whom he had drawn close; and upon their having heard about Gaius, and of his faithful service and walk in the truth, it was John's pleasure to pass their greetings on to him. Gaius was greeted by friends in Jesus that he hadn't met yet; but he must have been greatly encouraged to know that they were out there, and had sent him their love.
Have you ever had the experience of meeting a complete stranger and then finding out that he or she was a believer? It suddenly becomes as if you've known them all your life. I've had the remarkable experience of being with fellow believers in a foreign country - fellow believers with whom I shared a deep bond of love, even though we couldn't speak each other's language. Our cultures were very different, our speech was very different, and our styles of doing things were very different; but we were nevertheless friends together in Jesus. It made me wonder how many other friends in Jesus there are out in the world that I don't know yet!
It's Jesus' great plan to, one day, bring all His friends together. He had friends among the Jews; but He said, ". . . Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16). There is distance between many of Jesus' friends today. There's a distance of space. There's a distance of culture. There's even a distance of time. Many of His friends are separated by the distance of many centuries. But there will be a day when there will no longer be any kind of distance that could separate us from others of His friends. We will all be together with Him forever.
And as His friends, it should be our great joy and desire to introduce friend to friend in Jesus' great fellowship of friends. We should love to be the "bridge" that brings fellow friends together in the family of God; because this is what Jesus Himself loves to do.
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Finally, one more characteristic of life together in Jesus' fellowship of friends is . . .
5. A VALUING OF ONE ANOTHER AS INDIVIDUALS.
John's closing command to Gaius is, "Greet the friends by name."
When you read some of the letters of the apostle Paul, you get the impression that he had a pretty large card-file of friends in Christ. The last chapter of Romans lists name after name that Paul wishes either to greet or send greetings from - and with most of those names is a specific statement of what he loves and values about that person. The last chapter of Colossians also contains such a list; as also does his letter to Philemon. 2 Timothy is a letter he wrote just before being executed; and much of it's last chapter is taken up with such a list. Paul didn't just say "Greet everyone"; but rather, called for everyone to be greeted "by name". That took time and thought; but he valued the fellowship of Jesus' friends, not just as a group, but as a group of individuals - individuals whose names and characteristics he knew well and could state specifically.
Paul was behaving like his Master in this, because Jesus also values people as individuals. He often revealed that He knew the most remarkable details about people long before they even knew Him. Long before he was introduced to Him, Jesus knew what his future disciple Nathanael was thinking about under the fig tree (John 1:48). He was a stranger to the woman at the well; but He revealed that He already knew how many times she had been married and who she was then living with (John 4:17-18). When in the midst of a huge crowd pressing in on Him, He even knew that a specific woman with a specific illness had reached out to touch the hem of His robe in order that she might be healed; and He perplexed His disciples by searching around to find who it was (Mark 5:30).
Jesus values His friends as individuals. He knows the details of their lives. He knows their needs. He knows them all by name. He is the good Shepherd who knows His sheep (John 10:14). He has inscribed them on the palms of His hand (Isa. 49:16). And if we are friends together in His wonderful fellowship of friends, then we will value one another as He values us. We will know one another and be able to greet one another by name.
I think one of the greatest practices our church has ever adopted is that of having our refreshment time downstairs after church. Everyone ought to look at it as an opportunity to get to know one another, and make every effort to enjoy that time. I have always been concerned by those times when I mentioned someone to one of the members of our relatively small church, and they confess that they don't know who I was talking about. They both may have even been attending the church for some time together, but they still remained strangers. I feel that our time after church has helped us all to get to know one another better, and cease from being such strangers to one another. When we put forth the effort to get to know one another - what each other's name is, where each other works, who one another's kids are, what one another's needs might be - then we're behaving like Jesus behaves toward His friends; because He knows all His friends by name. He would have His friends know one another, value each other as individuals, and be able to greet one another by name.
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There can be no greater blessing than to be among Jesus' friends. (1) Jesus loves to share Himself with His friends and be an "open book" with them. (2) He desires to be close and personal with them. (3) He wishes for them to experience fullness of blessing. (4) He loves to bring them together. And (5) He cherishes each them as unique individuals. That's how Jesus treats His friends.
And as His friends, that's how He would have us treat each other. May God help us to love one another and live in fellowship together in a way that shows that we are among Jesus' friends.
1Cited in BDAG, 3rd ed., p. 1059.
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