In John 15:12-17, Jesus declares that we are his friends. Imagine that! Friends of Christ!
Indeed, there are only a few times Jesus uses the word ‘friend’ – a total of 22 in the Gospels, of which two thirds are in parables or Jesus referring to others’ critique of him (e.g., he is a friend of sinners). In two places he refers to his disciples as ‘my friends’ and in three he speaks to individuals – the man lowered by his friends through the roof, Lazarus and Judas (just as Jesus was being arrested). And then 3 times in John 15.
Friendship means many things to us – loyalty, openness, trust, dependability, truth, safety, comfort, and so on. And Jesus is all these things as our friend.
In John 15, he asks two things of us as his friends.
First, he says we are his friends if we do what he commands. And what does his command? That we love each other – this command comes up repeatedly in this passage. When we read that we must love others ‘as’ Christ loves us, that might seem a bit daunting. It implies a standard that is above us – to love like Christ loves. But the Greek word can also be translated ‘from’, implying a source beneath or from within us. In this sense, we are called to love others out of the abundant love that we already experience from Christ. His command is simple – not easy, but simple: love each other or have a heart for each other. As 1 John 4:5 says, God’s “commands are not burdensome.” Indeed, there is just one command – to love others
Second, Jesus says in v15, that he no longer calls us servants (who don’t know their master’s business) but friends (because he has shared with us everything God has told him). In effect, Jesus says that we are friends in that we are privy to the mind and heart of God. God reveals to us what is important to God, so we can follow God out of knowing and understanding, rather than out of blind or fearful obedience. That’s what is means to be a friend. And this passage tells us that there is one primary motivation behind everything that God does – one primary point on God’s agenda – love!
So, this week, I encourage you to reflect on what it means and feels like to be loved be God and to be Christ’s friend, to experience the fullness of Christ’s love for us, and to share it with those around us.
Our readings for today speak about the balance between knowledge and action – between what we know in our heads and what we do with our bodies. What we’ll see is that in the Gospels, Psalms and Paul’s letters, actions are more important than knowledge. It is not the knowledge is unimportant – no! Knowledge is important. But acts of love are even more important. The hallmark of a Christian is not so much what they know as what they do.
In our Gospel reading for today (Mark 1:21-28) we read about Jesus first ministry. We read that Jesus went into the temple and was teaching. And people were amazed at the authority of his teaching. The people later conclude, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority!” Clearly, Jesus’ teaching, based on his knowledge, is important.
However, only 1 verse describes him teaching, and we don’t know what he actually taught. But there are 4 verses describing is actions. While he was teaching a demon possessed man came and challenged Jesus. Jesus cases out the evil spirit and the man is made well. This act of love, this work of love, gathers more attention than his teaching. And the people conclude, “He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
While both knowledge and actions are present in this Gospel passage, actions are far more detailed and compelling.
If we then turn to Psalm 111, we find a similar pattern. Verses 7 and 10 speak about God’s precepts. A precept is a general guideline or principle; not a ‘law’, which is far more specific and prescriptive. v7 says that God’s precepts are trustworthy and v10 that all who follow the Lord’s precepts have good understanding; it is the beginning of wisdom. Clearly, knowledge of God’s precepts is important.
However, 7 of the 10 verses speak about God’s works: the words of the Lord (v1), his deeds (v3), his wonders (v4), he provides food (v5), she showed his works (v6), the words of his hands (v7) and he provided redemption for his people (v9). Wow! So much attention is given to the actions of God. And these actions are described as being great, delightful, glorious, majestic, righteous, gracious, compassionate, powerful, faithful, just, holy and awesome! These are acts of love, and Psalm 111 is drenched in them.
While both knowledge and action are present in this Psalm, actions are far more prolific and compelling.
And finally, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 8, in which Paul provides some rather complex teaching about eating food offered to idols. I do not want us to get too bogged down in the specifics of the teaching, but rather to focus on what Paul says here about knowledge and action. In the opening verses, Paul says, “We all possess knowledge. But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” This sentence is so direct and clear – knowledge makes us feel bigger and more important, while actions of love build up the community. And then he continues, “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.” He cautions against over confidence in knowledge – that we may think we know a lot, but we may actually be wrong. And he continues again, “But whoever loves God is known by God”, though there is an alternate reading (in the footnote of the NIV), “But whoever loves truly knows.” Paul’s warning about knowledge is balanced with an emphasis on love. Acts of love are what are most important, says Paul.
In the rest of this passage Paul explains about eating food sacrificed to idols, and the crux of his argument is that acting on the basis of right knowledge rather than on loving consideration of the needs of others harms these other people. Indeed, Paul says that they are “destroyed by your knowledge” and that this is to “sin against them” and indeed to “sing against Christ” (vv11-12). And he concludes this passage saying that he would rather act against his own knowledge, to protect others from falling (v13).
In other words, what is most important is not for us to act on what we believe to be right, or even on what is actually right, but to act out of love for others, so as not to harm others. In summary, it is better to be kind than to be right.
All three passages today give us the same clear, strong and compelling message: Knowledge, while important, is not what is most important to God. What is most important to God, is that we act in love towards others.
What, then, will you do with this knowledge? How can you put into practice this precept, that loving actions towards others are more important than all the knowledge in the world?
Let me make one practical suggestion. Or rather, let me present this to you as a challenge and urge you to make a decision now to act on this. With the lockdown, churches have had to close their doors and we no longer see our sisters and brothers like we used to. This results in a fragmentation of the church community, and as a result, people may feel disconnected and alone, and their faith may wane.
I challenge you to identify two or three people who would normally have spoken to at church, but because you’ve not seen them for a while, you’ve not spoken with them. Give them a call or drop them a note. Reach out to them. Ask how they are doing. Ask if they need anything. Ask what you can do to support them. Show them the love of God. In so doing, we will work to build up our church community, the body of Christ.