I am attending the Rochester College Sermon Seminar this week in Rochester Hills, MI (suburb of Detroit). The seminar theme is on the Gospel of John. So far I have heard some wonderful presentations. However, last night I heard an excellent presentation by Dr. Gail O’Day who is Associate Dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs and A.H. Shatford Professor of Preaching and New Testament at Candler Seminary, Emory University.
At the beginning of her lecture she said that she was going to show how the idea of “friendship” is a motiff threaded throughout the Gospel of John. I will admitt that at first I was skeptical, believing she would really need to do some stretching to acheive this goal. But as I listened, she not only acheived her goal while remaining responsible with the use of scripture in John but it had a powerful impact on how I think of Christian discipleship.
She began by showing how throughout Greek Philosophy there was an understanding that true friendship was demonstrated not by grabbing a bite to eat with other friends but instead by being willing to lay one’s life down for another friend in times of crisis. Jesus acknowledges this prevailing philosophy of friendship in John 15.13 saying “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (TNIV). The difference between Jesus and the others is that Jesus not only “talked” about true friendship but also “did” true friendship (recall that in John 10, Jesus insists that no person takes his life from him but rather Jesus lays his own life down). This is the good news: Jesus is our true friend because he is the one who lays his life down for us.
But here is the icing on the cake when it comes to discipleship. If we look at the immediate context of John 15.13 we see that in v. 12 Jesus says “My commandment is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (TNIV). Then, as mentioned earlier in this post, Jesus described what true friendship is — the laying down of one’s life for another. Immediately following John 15.13 Jesus says in v. 14 “You are my friends if you do what I command” (TNIV).
Jesus is calling us to follow his example and become true friends to the world we minister too and serve among. Such friendship is characterized by love. Not the often cheap definition of love that is so often portrayed in the vocabulary of contemporary culture but instead, a love demonstrated by the willingness to lay our life down for someone else. Is that not a challenge to the conventional ways of how we often think of being a disciple of Jesus ought to be?