Questions From Readers
▪ In view of Jesus’ words at John 15:15, should Christians view themselves as his “slaves,” or can we consider ourselves to be his “friends”?
We can and should be both. To see why, let us note what Jesus there said to his faithful apostles on his final night with them:
“No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends. You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, because all the things I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”—John 15:13-15.
First, what did Jesus mean by saying that his loyal disciples were slaves? He did not mean slaves in the sense that all human descendants of Adam are born imperfect, thus sold into or enslaved to sin. (John 8:34; Romans 5:18, 19; 6:16; 7:14) As with Christians since then, the apostles were once enslaved in that way, but Jesus’ sacrifice would provide the means to free, or release, them. (1 Peter 1:18, 19; Galatians 4:5) Yet, they did not thereupon become totally free. As the apostle Paul later wrote, they were “bought with a price,” Jesus’ blood, so they became slaves of God and of Christ.—1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:22, 23.
At John 15:15 Jesus was not suggesting that the faithful apostles who would shortly receive holy spirit and become anointed Christians were no longer slaves. (Compare John 15:20.) Of course, servitude to God through Christ is not oppressive and death-dealing. It is loving and life-preserving. (2 Timothy 4:8; Titus 1:1, 2) A Christian who gladly accepts the value of Christ’s blood and becomes a slave of God would face permanent death only if he later rejected that sacrifice and gave himself back over to sin, becoming a slave of it again. (Galatians 1:10; 4:8, 9; Hebrews 6:4-6) Hence, Jesus’ disciples would continue to be slaves of God and of Christ, but they were even more than slaves. Why?
Jesus and the apostles understood that back then, in a normally cold or formal master-slave relationship, ‘a slave would not know what the master does.’ Normally, a human master would not confer with his purchased slave, nor would he reveal to him his private thoughts and feelings.
We can see from Jesus’ words, though, that it was different with the apostles. He said: “I have called you friends, because all the things I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) Yes, as is common between dear friends, Jesus had disclosed to them details and understandings that had been secret. (Matthew 13:10-12; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16) Though they were still servants, or slaves, of God by means of Jesus, the apostles enjoyed a warm intimacy that marked them also as trusted friends. (Compare Psalm 25:14.) That can and should be true of us as well. What a privilege to have as Masters in heaven Ones who treat us as trusted and respected confidants, as friends!