Jesus May Call Us His Friend, but We are Still His Servants

A short while ago I was having a conversation with someone regarding the topic of the Western Church increasing in removing “sin” from its vocabulary and in removing the fullness of the Gospel from its teachings. At some point in this conversation I mentioned that after we find salvation we are to be slaves to God from that point. I was immediately rebuked and told that we are no longer slaves, but we are friends of God (not that this would excuse us from doing God’s will).

This set me thinking. I’ll agree that we are friends of God; the Bible clearly states this (see James 2:23 and John 15:15), but does this mean we are no longer slaves? Does being God’s friend negate our also being his servants? And while Jesus does call us his friend, is there any verse in the new testament where a man (or woman) calls Jesus his friend?

I believe John 15:15 is the verse that was referenced when I was corrected for my slave comment. This verse says:

“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not 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.

This brings to mind the question: Yes, Jesus calls us his friends, but does that also mean we are no longer his slaves (or servants)? If we continue to read in John 15, we’ll find that in John 15:20 Jesus says:

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

Here, Jesus is speaking to the same listeners he has just called friends yet He clearly implies that the servant/master relationship still stands. We are the servant and we are not greater than our master. Because of this, since they persecuted him, we can know they will persecute us. Also, we know that if others keep his word, they will keep ours also. In both instances, Jesus is the preeminent one and we are his servants whom He also calls friends.

We must note that there is a prerequisite to Jesus calling us his friends. I’ve heard some preachers imply that Jesus is everyone’s friend. While it is true that God loved the whole word in sending Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins, he does not call everyone his friend. There is a stipulation. John 15:14 says “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”

Now, I rejoice if Jesus calls me his friend as it is my goal to do what he commands. Doing God’s will and being called a friend of Jesus is a great honor and blessing in knowing God. Knowing Jesus calls us friends helps us to know that we are truly loved by God. This doesn’t, though, remove our responsibility as servants of God. The writers of the new testament appear to have felt the same way. Notice how they introduce themselves in their letters.

James 1:1 – James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…

Here, bondservant (or servant in the KJV) is from Strong’s G1401 – doulos. This word means a slave (literal or figurative, involuntary or voluntary). It refers to someone who gives himself up wholly to another’s will. It is the same word used for slave in Matthew 20:27 when Jesus says “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—”

Peter says the same thing about himself. 2 Peter 1:1 says, “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ…” Jude does the same in Jude 1:1 – Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James… Paul said the same thing in Romans 1:1. And John said in introducing the book of Revelation, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.” (see Revelation 1:1)

This word is used in Acts 4:29 when Peter says “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word,” In fact, this word is used to refer to Christians all over the new testament, just as Jesus used it in various parables to refer to human servants (see Matthew 13:27, Matthew 18:23, Matthew 25:30, Luke 17:9-10 and Luke 20:10). It is the same word used to show our slavery to sin before salvation (see John 8:34 Romans 6:16-20). It is what Jesus became for us (Philippians 2:7). It is the word Titus uses in Titus 2:9 to refer to slaves who, as Christians, should obey their masters.

In looking back at John 15:15, Jesus says “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends…” Just a short while later in John 16:12 he says “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” We can surmise that unlike a true slave who may be commanded to do something without being told why, Jesus will tell us what we need to know in the moment regarding his plans. We have the Spirit of God with us who reveals to us the things of God (see John 14:26, 16:13, and 1 Corinthians 2:9-13).

There are actually only a small number of verses in the Bible where God (or Jesus) references men as friends. Only two people in the old testament received such honor. God spoke with Moses face to face as one would speak to a friend (see Exodus 33:11). God called Abraham his friend (see 2 Chronicles 20:7 Isaiah 41:8 and James 2:23). But even in reading these scriptures, there’s no evidence that God called these people “friend” directly. It was only written after they had died. In fact, in announcing Moses’ death, God says in Joshua 1:2, “Moses My servant is dead.” A fitting two word epitaph, “My servant.” This was the honor of Moses – he was God’s servant.

In the New Testament we find only one place where Jesus personally addresses someone as “friend.” This was to Judas right before the betrayal (see Matthew 26:50). Jesus also referred to Lazarus as “our friend” when talking to his disciples in John 11:11.

We can find countless places in the Bible where mankind is referred to as God’s or Jesus’ servant or slave. Often, as noted above, these are the self-revelations of the servants themselves. Yet in many modern churches we seldom hear such self-given titles. We prefer to hang onto the minority of verses which call us friends of God and use those to say that God or Jesus is our friend. Yes, Jesus does consider us friends if we do what he commands, but that is far from the full of scripture. The much greater point of scripture is that we are his loving servants, following the example he gave to us (see Mark 10:45, Philippians 2 and John 13:13-16). We would be wise to remember how scripture portrays our relationship with our Lord, and in doing so, keep the same reverence that is displayed through the authors of the New Testament. Yes, Jesus considers us his friends. Yes, he wants to have free communication with us, and yes, we should love him because he first loved us, but even considering these facts, the overly-friendly, even romantic relationship with God expressed by some churches simply isn’t found in scripture, and shows a pride and presumption that was clearly not present with the New Testament authors. We must be careful.

Postscript:

This article was about our being God’s friends, or more, us claiming God as our friend. This article did not speak to our being children of God. Galatians 3:26 says “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:17 adds “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”  Just as I agree that if we do what he commands Jesus counts us as his friends, I also agree that though faith in Jesus we are also children of God and joint-heirs with Christ. These truths doe not change the facts outlined in the article above.  At the time of the New Testament’s writing, a reader would have understood the respect and reverence a son should give to his parent. It is that very respect and reverence that many have lost in the church today. It is analogous to what sometimes happens in society with parents who would rather be their children’s friends than act as a parent. In these cases the parental role is weakened and the lessons which should be taught by the elder are lost. As children who revel in claiming God as our “friend” we weaken God’s role as father and teacher and as one who disciplines. We lose the awe and respect we should have as his servants. We lose what it means to be his servant – something the apostles clearly recognized and boasted in. It is this servitude that we should boast in as well, so that as a friend of God, when we pass from this life, God may say to our honor, “(Insert your name here), My Servant, has died.”

Leave a Response