"You are my friends if you do what I command you."
How does what Jesus said sit with you? Are you okay with a friend who makes demands? …whose friendship is a condition based on submission to him? Is that true friendship? Is it love?
I'll admit, I've had difficulty understanding what Jesus said here. It appears His love is conditional, offered on the basis of works. I have to earn His favor somehow, or He won't be my friend. This doesn't fit in with my understanding of Jesus from other parts of the Bible.
If you've had problems with what Jesus said here, it's time to take another look. Here it is in context:
"If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and remain in his love. I have spoken these things to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn't know what his lord does. But I have called you friends, for everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you." 1
Here are some things I see:
First, even though Jesus had already loved His disciples (and they Him), He did not begin calling them His friends until this time. He was known to them as Master first. They called Him Lord.
I think we get into trouble when we begin with Jesus as Friend, and then later try to add 'Lord' to the relationship. When a friend starts making demands, the friendship doesn't get stronger, it gets weaker, strained.
But if we begin with Jesus as Lord, recognizing His right over us and submitting to Him, then, when we realize He is also our closest Friend, instead of becoming weaker, the bond grows stronger. We have a Master who loves us and always seeks our wellbeing. His commands are not burdensome, but good and beneficial.
Don't think of Jesus as a friend who is trying to get power over you. Think of Him as the One who already has rights over you, and yet is your best friend.
Second, verse 14 is not about Jesus' love for me, but my love for Him. Jesus did not tell His disciples, "I am your friend if…" He said, "You are my friends if…" He declared His friendship in verse 15: "I have called you friends." Shortly thereafter, He proved it by dying for them (vs. 13).
Jesus already loves us. He died for us when we were ungodly. 2 The question is do we love Him in return? Are we His friends in practice? Are we living in His love?
The command Jesus wants us to keep is simple and modest: to love one another (vs. 12). It is a command that should be easy to keep, and yet we find it difficult because it involves the denial of self – even to the point of laying down our lives. How can we keep this command as Jesus wants us to? Through the love of the Spirit.
"If you love me, keep my commandments." 3