The popular hymn, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” started off as a poem by Joseph Scriven. Scriven was a preacher whose fiancée drowned the night before they were to be married. Two years later, he left his native Ireland and moved to Canada, and in 1855, he wrote a poem to comfort his grievously ill mother who remained in Ireland:
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit;
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer!
Scriven’s poem, which became the lyrics to the famous hymn, serves as a comforting reminder of the close relationship believers have with Christ.
Jesus called his disciples “friends” in John 15:14–15: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” The word translated as “friend” is philos and is used to describe when a person has a kinship, closeness, and shared interest. Jesus called the disciples “friends” because of their love for one another and because of their shared devotion to God. In this way, Jesus echoed the Old Testament descriptions of Abraham and Moses (Isaiah 41:8 and Exodus 33:11, respectively), who were called “friends of God,” because of their faithfulness to fulfill God’s will, and their desire to seek the counsel and presence of God.
Our friendship with Christ isn’t possible because we’re so amazing, but because we are so, so loved. Friendship with God is possible because while we were enemies of righteousness, God’s mercy pursued us through the Son in order to pluck us from sin and death (Ephesians 2:4–9). While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us! Hallelujah! Not only does the Lord have mad love for us, but the Spirit gives us faith so we can believe the Good News of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Through Jesus, we are made righteous, and are transformed from foe to friend of God. As usual, the Lord not only does all the heavy lifting in this relationship, but by modeling true friendship, Christ continues to show us what it means to love one another.
Christians who choose not to love each other are not like the communal ants we talked about earlier this week; more like cockroaches—gross, reclusive little light-avoiders, crawling alone into crevices, hiding when the lights come on. We can’t claim Jesus as our goal and yet actively avoid friendships. Friendship is a powerful form of testimony for a world that doesn’t yet know Jesus. Our visible love for one another preaches louder than any Sunday sermon. Jesus put it this way in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”