“You Are My Friends”
“You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you.”—JOHN 15:14.
1, 2. (a) Jesus’ friends came from what different backgrounds? (b) Why is it vital that we be friends of Jesus?
THE men sitting in the upper room with Jesus came from a variety of backgrounds. The brothers Peter and Andrew had been fishermen. Matthew was formerly a tax collector—a member of a profession that was despised by the Jews. Some, such as James and John, had likely known Jesus from boyhood. Others, such as Nathanael, may have known him for only a few years. (John 1:43-50) Yet, all present on that momentous Passover night in Jerusalem were convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of the living God. (John 6:68, 69) It must surely have warmed their hearts to hear him say to them: “I have called you friends, because all the things I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”—John 15:15.
2 Those words of Jesus to his faithful apostles apply in principle to all anointed Christians today and, by extension, to their “other sheep” companions. (John 10:16) No matter what our background, we can have the privilege of being friends of Jesus. Our friendship with him is of utmost importance because being his friends makes us friends of Jehovah too. In fact, it is impossible to draw close to Jehovah without first drawing close to Christ. (Read John 14:6, 21.) What, then, must we do to become and remain friends of Jesus? Before discussing that important subject, let us examine Jesus’ own example of being a good friend and see what we can learn from the way his disciples responded to him.
Jesus’ Example of Being a Good Friend
3. For what was Jesus known?
3 “Many are the friends of the rich person,” wrote wise King Solomon. (Prov. 14:20) That observation sums up the tendency of imperfect humans to form friendships based on what they can receive rather than on what they can give. Jesus displayed no such weakness. He was not swayed by a person’s financial or social status. True, Jesus felt love for a rich young ruler and invited him to be his follower. However, Jesus directed that man to sell what he had and give to the poor. (Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18, 23) Jesus was known, not for his connections to the wealthy and prominent, but for befriending the lowly and despised.—Matt. 11:19.
4. Why can it be said that Jesus’ friends were flawed?
4 Certainly, Jesus’ friends were flawed individuals. Peter on occasion failed to view matters from a spiritual perspective. (Matt. 16:21-23) James and John showed an ambitious spirit when they asked that Jesus give them prominent positions in the Kingdom. Their action incensed the other apostles, and the issue of prominence was an ongoing cause of contention. Jesus, however, patiently tried to correct the thinking of his friends and did not easily become exasperated with them.—Matt. 20:20-28.
5, 6. (a) Why did Jesus remain friends with most of the apostles? (b) Why did Jesus end his friendship with Judas?
5 Jesus did not remain friends with these imperfect men because he was overly indulgent or blind to their imperfections. Rather, he chose to focus on their good intentions and positive qualities. For example, Peter, James, and John fell asleep instead of supporting Jesus through his most trying hour. Jesus was understandably disappointed in them. Even so, he saw that their motives were good, saying: “The spirit, of course, is eager, but the flesh is weak.”—Matt. 26:41.
6 In contrast, Jesus ended his friendship with Judas Iscariot. Even though Judas maintained the outward appearance of friendship, Jesus detected that this former close companion had allowed his heart to be corrupted. Because Judas had become a friend of the world, he had made himself an enemy of God. (Jas. 4:4) Therefore, Jesus had already dismissed Judas when He declared His friendship with the remaining 11 faithful apostles.—John 13:21-35.
7, 8. How did Jesus express his love for his friends?
7 Jesus looked past the faults of his loyal friends and acted in their best interests. For instance, he prayed for his Father to protect them during their trials. (Read John 17:11.) Jesus showed consideration for their physical limitations. (Mark 6:30-32) And he was interested not just in telling them what he thought but also in hearing and understanding what they thought and felt.—Matt. 16:13-16; 17:24-26.
8 Jesus both lived and died for his friends. True, he knew that he must offer his life as a legal requirement to satisfy his Father’s standard of justice. (Matt. 26:27, 28; Heb. 9:22, 28) But Jesus gave his life as an expression of love. “No one has love greater than this,” said Jesus, “that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.”—John 15:13.
How Did the Disciples Respond to Jesus’ Friendship?
9, 10. How did people react to Jesus’ generosity?
9 Jesus was generous in giving of his time, affection, and resources. As a result, people were drawn to him and were happy to give to him in return. (Luke 8:1-3) From personal experience, Jesus could say: “Practice giving, and people will give to you. They will pour into your laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.”—Luke 6:38.
10 Of course, some did try to associate with Jesus purely for what they could get out of him. These false friends abandoned Jesus when they misunderstood something he said. Rather than give Jesus the benefit of the doubt, they jumped to a wrong conclusion and turned their backs on him. In contrast, the apostles were loyal. Their friendship with Christ was often tested, but they did their best to support him during good times and bad. (Read John 6:26, 56, 60, 66-68.) On his final night as a human on earth, Jesus expressed his appreciation to his friends, saying: “You are the ones that have stuck with me in my trials.”—Luke 22:28.
11, 12. How did Jesus reassure the disciples, and how did they respond?
11 Soon after Jesus commended his disciples for their loyalty, these same men abandoned him. Briefly, they allowed fear of man to overwhelm their love for Christ. Again, Jesus forgave them. After his death and resurrection, he appeared to them and reassured them of his friendship. Moreover, he entrusted them with a sacred commission—to make disciples “of people of all the nations” and to be witnesses of him “to the most distant part of the earth.” (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8) How did the disciples respond?
12 The disciples poured their hearts and souls into spreading the Kingdom message. With the backing of Jehovah’s holy spirit, they soon filled Jerusalem with their teaching. (Acts 5:27-29) Not even the threat of death could dissuade them from obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples. Within just a few decades of their receiving Jesus’ command, the apostle Paul could write that the good news had been preached “in all creation that is under heaven.” (Col. 1:23) Certainly, these disciples proved that they appreciated the bond of friendship they shared with Jesus!
13. Jesus’ disciples allowed his teachings to affect them in what ways?
13 Those who became disciples also allowed Jesus’ teachings to affect their personal life. For many, this meant making big changes in their conduct and personality. Some new disciples were formerly homosexuals, adulterers, drunkards, or thieves. (1 Cor. 6:9-11) Others had to change their attitude toward those of another race. (Acts 10:25-28) Still, they obeyed Jesus. They put away their old personality and put on the new. (Eph. 4:20-24) They became familiar with “the mind of Christ,” understanding and imitating his way of thinking and acting.—1 Cor. 2:16.
Friendship With Christ Today
14. What did Jesus promise to do during “the conclusion of the system of things”?
14 Many of those first-century Christians had known Jesus personally or had seen him after his resurrection. Obviously, we have not had that privilege. How, then, can we be friends of Christ? One way is to obey the direction provided by the faithful and discreet slave class, which consists of Jesus’ spirit-anointed brothers still alive on earth. Jesus promised that during “the conclusion of the system of things,” he would appoint this slave “over all his belongings.” (Matt. 24:3, 45-47) Today, the vast majority of those who seek to be friends of Christ are not members of this slave class. How does their response to the direction they receive from the faithful slave class influence their friendship with Christ?
15. What determines whether a person will be classed as a sheep or a goat?
15 Read Matthew 25:31-40. Jesus called those who would make up the faithful slave class his brothers. In the illustration about the separating of the sheep from the goats, Jesus clearly states that he takes personally the way we treat his brothers. In fact, he said that the determining factor that would distinguish a sheep from a goat would be the way an individual treated even “the least of these [his] brothers.” Therefore, the primary way that those with the earthly hope demonstrate their desire to be friends with Christ is by supporting the faithful slave class.
16, 17. How can we express our friendship toward Christ’s brothers?
16 If you hope to live on earth under God’s Kingdom, how can you express your friendship toward Christ’s brothers? Let us consider just three ways. First, by wholeheartedly sharing in the preaching work. Christ commanded his brothers to preach the good news worldwide. (Matt. 24:14) However, the remaining ones of Christ’s brothers on earth today would be hard-pressed to shoulder that responsibility without the assistance of their other sheep companions. Really, each time members of the other sheep class engage in the preaching work, they help Christ’s brothers to fulfill their sacred commission. The faithful and discreet slave class deeply appreciates this act of friendship, as does Christ.
17 A second way that those of the other sheep class can help Christ’s brothers is by financially supporting the preaching work. Jesus encouraged his followers to make friends for themselves by means of “the unrighteous riches.” (Luke 16:9) Not that we can buy friendship with Jesus or Jehovah. Rather, by using our material assets to further Kingdom interests, we prove our friendship and love, not just in word, but “in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:16-18) We provide such financial support when we engage in the preaching work, when we donate money toward the construction and maintenance of our meeting facilities, and when we contribute funds toward the worldwide preaching work. Whether the amount we contribute is small or great, both Jehovah and Jesus certainly appreciate our cheerful giving.—2 Cor. 9:7.
18. Why should we obey the Bible-based direction provided by congregation elders?
18 A third way that all of us prove that we are friends of Christ is by cooperating with the direction provided by congregation elders. These men are appointed by holy spirit under Christ’s direction. (Eph. 5:23) “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Heb. 13:17) At times, we may find it a challenge to obey the Bible-based direction given to us by the local elders. We are likely aware of their imperfections, and this may distort our view of their counsel. Still, Christ, the Head of the congregation, is pleased to use these imperfect men. Therefore, the way we react to their authority directly influences our friendship with Christ. When we overlook the faults of the elders and joyfully follow their direction, we prove our love for Christ.
Where We Can Find Good Friends
19, 20. What can we find within the congregation, and what will we next consider?
19 Jesus continues to care for us not only through the oversight of loving shepherds but also by providing us with spiritual mothers and brothers and sisters within the congregation. (Read Mark 10:29, 30.) When you first began associating with Jehovah’s organization, how did your relatives react? Hopefully, they supported your efforts to draw close to God and Christ. But Jesus warned that sometimes “a man’s enemies will be persons of his own household.” (Matt. 10:36) How comforting to know that within the congregation, we can find those who will stick closer to us than a literal brother!—Prov. 18:24.
20 As indicated by Paul’s personal greetings at the conclusion of his letter to the congregation in Rome, he forged many close friendships. (Rom. 16:8-16) The apostle John concluded his third letter with the words: “Give my greetings to the friends by name.” (3 John 14) Obviously, he too developed many enduring friendships. How can we imitate the example of Jesus and the early disciples by building and maintaining healthy friendships with our spiritual brothers and sisters? Our next article will consider the answer to this question.
How Would You Answer?
• What example did Jesus set in being a good friend?
• How did the disciples respond to Jesus’ friendship?
• How can we prove ourselves to be friends of Christ?
[Picture on page 14]
Jesus was interested in what his friends thought and how they felt
[Pictures on page 16]
How can we demonstrate our desire to be friends of Christ?