St John 15: 1-17
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Friendship is good for us – those who have wider and more diverse relationships are healthier, live longer and suffer with less anxiety and depression than those with fewer diverse networks. Friendships are a central axis of meaning, hope, and purpose for life. Friends provide all kinds of help and support, provide stimulation through shared experiences and conversation, offer love and esteem, and it is with our closest friends that we work out our morals, the right thing to do.
Whilst new communication technology ever expands our acquaintances and ability to have single-issue or single-interest friendships, research indicates a marked decline in close friends and confidants, and a rise in loneliness in all age groups. Friendship is an embodied person-to-person relationship. The practical outworking of actual friendships means the existence of the kind of person who is a friend – someone capable of love, patience, kindness, loyalty, tolerance, trust, concern for the other and so on – showing the fruit of the Spirit or embodying Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians.
Friendship is a deep commitment, involving vulnerability of both self-revelation and self-giving.
The incarnation is God’s supreme act of friendship. Jesus says ‘you are my friends’ to his disciples – a radical reframing of their relationship. Jesus is forming his disciples into a community of friends, with a mission of offering friendship, self-sacrificing love, to others.
As followers of Jesus we are invited into this friendship, shown that by abiding within it we will grow the fruitful dispositions that enable us to invite others into this community of friendship. We are obedient to Christ in our embodied relational lives – when we love one another as Christ has loved us. As Paul succinctly puts it:
‘We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you’ (2 Corinthians 5:20 The Message).
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer…
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer
(Joseph Medlicott Scriven)