What does it mean to be a friend? It depends on the definition because we use the term rather loosely in our society today. Everyone wants to everyone else’s friend but are they really. What is a friend? Psychologists tend to break down friends into four categories. They tell us that we have acquaintances, casual friends, close friends and intimate friends. Each of those categories describes a deeper level of friendship and intimacy. And also, as we move from acquaintances through to intimate friends, the number of people in each of those categories decreases significantly. That means that you’re going to have a whole lot more acquaintances than you will have intimate friendships. I think that, for most of us, that rings true.
To tell you the truth, I’m not sold on that understanding of friendship because for me, friendships are always at a deeper level. I have trouble considering acquaintances to be friends. Like most of you, I have all kinds of acquaintances but only a handful of true friends. There is just a qualitative difference between those relationships that makes it difficult to lump together everyone I know together as friends.
And so, I’d like you to bear with me as we look at this from another angle. Those of you who know me, know how much I deep interest in philosophy. I find it engaging and interesting and actually read it in my spare time. And I’m a particular admirer of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It’s actually amazing to me how influential he continues to be even though he’s been dead for 2,300 years. But it is through the eyes of brilliant people like Aristotle that we see the world in Western Civilization. People like Aristotle laid the groundwork for the way that we understand creation today.
Aristotle talked about three levels of friendship that I’d like to share with you. I think they are important because they are all legitimate types of friendships. They aren’t acquaintances, they are friendship. The first one is called friendships of utility. These are friendships of convenience. It’s the neighbour who keeps an eye on your place and waters the flowers when you’re away on vacation. Maybe you car pool with this friend or maybe you’re in the same lab group at school. These people serve valuable short-term purposes in your life and you legitimately like and appreciate them. But when the utility of what they do disappears – let’s say that you change jobs and no longer car pool – the friendship is likely to evaporate quickly. I think we can all identify a few of those friendships in our own lives now and in the past.
Next is the friendship of pleasure. Those are the friends with whom we simply enjoy spending time. It could be the person who sits with you on the front porch or back deck a couple of times a week as you chat about life over a cold beer. Or it could be the couple that you always sit beside at your kid’s soccer or hockey game. You just like them and as long as you continue to like each other’s company, you will continue to be friends. These friendships can actually endure in the long-term so we need to take them seriously. I suspect that you can think of a number of friends in your life who have fit this category.
Note that these first two kinds of friendship both happen because I get something out of it. There’s a utility in the first type of friendship: If you look after my dog while I’m away, then I will water your flowers when you’re away. It serves us both. Then there is the pleasure that comes from the second type of friendship. As long as I get some measure of enjoyment from this friendship, then we can maintain it.
But then there is Aristotle’s deepest form of friendship and that is called the friendship of the good. These friendships are based on the mutual respect, admiration and appreciation for the qualities that each of you brings to the relationship. You value who the other person actually is not for what they can give to you. There is a depth of trust and a genuine desire to dive deeper into this relationship. This is the friend to whom you can share your wildest dreams and tell your deepest, darkest secrets without fear or reserve. You just know that this person will be with you through thick and thin. This is true friendship, the preferred friendship and it endures even if the time between meetings stretches into months or even years. The moment you encounter that friend again, there is an instantaneous connection that exists with few other people.
Friendships of the good are few and far between. Most of us can count them on the fingers of one hand. When I think of that depth of friendship in my life, very few names come to mind but one of them is Gary. Gary and I met in kindergarten at Mountain View Public School when we were five years old. We’ve been friends ever since. We grew up together. We went to school together. We discovered girls together. We sang in the same choir in church, went to the same youth group and played on the same fastball team. There have been times when we have lost touch because Ruth and I moved so much. But Gary and I have always reconnected. And here’s the funny thing. We have not been in the same room for over thirty years. But Gary and I still connect on a regular basis, weekly and sometimes even daily. And I am certain that when the day comes when we in the same room once again, our friendship will be seamless and genuine.
Blessed is the person who has even one or two of these friendships because studies tell us that to have even one true friend of the good has a positive influence in your level of self-satisfaction and sense of well being. These relationships are absolutely crucial.
LOVE & FREINDSHIP
Today’s reading is from John 15:9-17 (NIV). This is what Jesus says:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
This passage, of course, is first of all about love. That’s not unusual because the Bible is filled with passages about love. Right there in verse 9, Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” He goes on in verse 10 to say that if we keep his commandments then we will remain in his love. That is, if we want to show how much we love Jesus, we can show it by living the life that he calls us to live. And then he tells us to love each other just as he loves us. So clearly, this passage is all about love.
But then in verse 13 Jesus says this: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life one’s friend.” So far, Jesus has talked all about love but now he starts to connect love with friendship. Basically, he is saying that if you want to know what love is all about, if you want an illustration of what Jesus is talking about, then think about the kind of love that someone must have for a friend in order to offer up their own life for that friend. That’s a powerful love. That’s a redeeming love. That’s the kind of love that Jesus has for us because he gave up his life for us on the cross of Calvary.
What kind of friendship is this is the language of Aristotle? Of course, it is what Aristotle would call friendship of the good. It is a deep, lasting friendship where each person develops are genuine respect, admiration and appreciation for the other. It is not merely about the ways that we can serve each other. It’s not just about the pleasure that we can gain by being in each other’s company. That’s not to say that those things can’t be a part of it. Certainly, even the deepest friendships will have a certain element of utility and pleasure. But those are not things that sustain a deep friendship because those things can change over time and become redundant. True friendship is sustained not from the utility and pleasure that I can get out of it but, rather, it is sustained by the respect, admiration, and appreciation that I have for the other person. In fact, this friendship is so unselfish that a true friend is willing to give up their life for the other friend. That is unselfish as a friendship can get.
And that dovetails beautifully with something else. That something else is that word that Jesus uses for love. I’ve taught many times that there are various words in the Greek language that we translate as love in English but those various Greek words refer to different kinds of love. The word that Jesus uses for love in this passage is the Greek word agape. That means a self-giving, self-sacrificing love that always looks towards the good of the other person. I don’t expect to get anything from this kind of love. It is all about what I can give to the other person.
Do you see how this sense of love fits with the Aristotelian sense of friendship that Jesus is expressing in this passage? The friendship that Jesus is talking about is selfless. The love that Jesus is talking about is also selfless. “Greater love has no one but this;” says Jesus, “then to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” This is the kind of love and this is the kind of friendship that Jesus is talking about.
But then Jesus says something else. In John 15:15 (NIV) he says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” In this verse, Jesus tells us that we have not always been friends. Before we were friends, we were servants.
What’s the difference between a servant and a friend? Jesus tells us. He says that a servant doesn’t know his master’s business. What that means is the servant does things that he’s told to do because he’s told to do them. He doesn’t have a broad picture of what the master’s plans might be. For example, the servant is told to weed the flower garden. He isn’t told why the garden needs weeded. Maybe the master noticed the weeds getting out of hand and wants to neaten things up. Maybe there’s a special visitor coming over and the master wants to impress. Or maybe it’s Wednesday and the garden always gets weeded on Wednesday. The servant should do the same job no matter the reason. All he has to do is pick out the weeds. He doesn’t need to know why.
But a friend is different. The master will tell the friend why the garden needs to be weeded. “Guess what? Do you remember that garden competition I entered this year? Well, we’ve made the short list and the judges are coming by later this afternoon. And so, I’ve sent my gardeners out there to pull all the weeds so that it will look as good as it possibly can look. I’m so excited!”
That’s the difference between a servant and a friend. A servant is told what to do while a friend is told why it is being done. There is just a fundamental difference in he depth of the relationship between a servant and a friend. The funny thing is that, now that the friends knows what’s going on, the friend may very well volunteer to roll up his sleeves and pull some weeds as well just to help out his friend.
Jesus says that we are no longer servants but are friends. What that means is that by his selfless love for us, he has transformed our relationship with him. We are no longer mere servants, simply doing what we’re told because we are told to do it. Rather we are friends who know God’s purpose and know the reasons for what God has done in this world. We know that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We know that the wages of sin is death. We know that, at just the right time, God sent Jesus into the world to pay the price of our sins on the cross. We know that through his resurrection, Jesus broke the chains of sin and the gates of hell. And we know that God made all of this happen so that, through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be reconciled to God and given the great gift of eternal life.
As Jesus’ friends, we are told that we have a mission. That mission is to share this good news with the world. It is good news of love, compassion and forgiveness. It is a message of mercy and grace meant for all people. Not only are we told to share this message but we are also told why it needs to be shared. In 1 Timothy 2:4 we learn that it is God’s desire that all people be save and come to a knowledge of the truth. God does not want anyone to be lost and so Jesus sends his friends out into the world so that all may be saved and brought to a knowledge of the truth.
As Jesus’ friends, we know that we have a lot of work to do not only in this community but around the world. As friends of Jesus, we are called to share his love and his message. It is a message that brings us closer to God but also brings us closer to one another.
I pray that the transforming power of Jesus will be at work in your life so that you can grow in your friendship with him and not only with him but with each other. Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.”
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come before you, this morning, O God of Creation, out of our need. We need your guidance. We need you support. We need your love and your caring. But first and foremost, we need to give thanks.
Thank you for your many and varied blessings. For warmth and sunshine. For clean air and clear water. For nature as it bursts forth around us. We thank you for our communities where we receive our nurturing and support. We thank you for our families which give us a place to belong, security, comfort and discipline.
We also give thanks that there is hope that the current pandemic may be losing steam as people get vaccinated. Thank you for all those who on the front lines if the fight. Be with our political leaders as they struggle to do the right things for all people.
But we also pray for the people of India, Brazil and other areas of the world that are particularly hard hit by Covid-19. Help them, O God, to figure out what to do to stop the spread and save lives. And if there is something that we should be doing, help us to follow through.
We pray, God of Mercy, for our communities. Our land and our livelihoods are threatened on many fronts. There is the threat of pollution and volatile stock markets. We are concerned, also, about the longer term issue of land management and the possible effect of farming and forestry practices on the land. We need to continue with our efforts to have sustainable development that our environment would be available for future generations. We pray for solutions that will benefit all people.
Finally, we pray for the sick. We ask your special blessing upon Gary, Richard, Angela, Pattie and Helen. You, know, O God of Healing, where we all need you the most. Touch us in those deep places and give us peace.
We lift all of these prayers to you in the name of Jesus our Saviour. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
May 9, 2021 / Easter 6
Psalm 98; John 15:9-17; Acts 10:44-48; 1 John 5:1-6
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Sing a new song to the Lord who had done marvellous things.
The right hand of God has brought victory.
The love of God has sealed our salvation.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
ALL: Praise be to God who lives and loves forever.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy God, our gracious Creator, the time of worship is upon us and we seek, once again, your enduring presence. We lift our praises to you as the Author of all good things. We come to you with our laughter; we come with our tears. We come with our satisfaction and our sufferings. We come with our whole beings, knowing that you accept us just as we are. Hear our prayers and enter our worship as we, with longing hearts and faithful lives, glorify your name.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
O God of Light, Father of Life, Giver of Wisdom, Benefactor of our souls, who gives grace to the faith-hearted that put their trust in you; O Lord, who has brought us from the depths of darkness to light, and hast given us life from death: scatter, we pray, the darkness of sin within us; enlighten the eyes of our understanding that we may see your glory; and sanctify us in body, soul and spirit, that we may be accepted in your presence, through Jesus our Lord.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The wonderful love of God is the Good News of all creation. There is nothing in all of the world that can separate us from that love. There is no ocean too deep, no mountain too high, no power too great, no sin too tempting. Our honest repentance brings us to the doorway of peace with God and all creation. Alleluia!
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
These gifts we bring, our hearts we share, our lives we offer for your purpose, O God of Compassion and Strength. Your four mighty winds have brought us abundant blessings. We give them to you and the work of your Kingdom.
The Cross of Christ is lifted high. The Good News of Jesus is on our lips. It is our privilege and our duty to share our faith stories with our neighbours. In sharing, perhaps we may open a someone to a new experience of the Holy. Go and be the Christian story in your corner of Creation. Share the Spirit and change a life.