7 May 2010

John 15:12-17

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you." (v.13-14)


These familiar words of John 15:13 are spoken every Remembrance Day. This idea of friendship and sacrifice would have been just as familiar to many people in the 1st century as it is today. And, in the general culture of the time, it would have meant something very similar to the way these words are used on Remembrance Day today. In Greek philosophy the willingness to give up one's life for a friend was seen as the very highest form of friendship.

But it's safe to assume that Jesus was not just repeating Socrates' and Plato's views of friendship to the disciples, especially since he had been telling them over and over again that all his actions came from God and were the will of God. Equally, all Jesus' teachings came from God and reflected God's character.

Much earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus washed the disciples' feet and taught them about servanthood (John 13:5). But Jesus' teaching has now moved on to the theme of friendship. And there is something about the fact that Jesus is going to die for his disciples that turns them from students and servants into friends.

But this friendship was not meant to be confined to the people in that room on that particular evening. If a person does what Jesus commands, if a person follows Jesus' teaching and example, then that person is Jesus' friend.

And we see the theme of love here too, which is lost in the translation into English. The word in the original Greek John used for 'friend' has 'love' as its root-word. To be Jesus' friend is to love Jesus. To love Jesus is to keep his commandments. To keep Jesus' commandments is to be his friend.

It all seems a bit circular, but as Jesus kept repeating the same teachings, the wheel of his logic went forward as events progressed toward their inevitable end. It was in Jesus' death and resurrection that his disciples throughout the ages understand his teaching fully.

To Ponder

What do you think that Jesus meant when he said "You are my friends if you do what I command you"?

In what ways do you think that Jesus' death cannot be fully understood in the Remembrance Day sense of the idea of friendship?

Why do you think that it took Jesus' death to turn his disciples - throughout the ages - into beloved friends?

Bible notes author

The Revd Pam Garrud

Pam is an ordained minister in the Methodist Church in Britain. In August 2009, Pam and her London-born husband Trevor moved to Pam's native United States for family reasons.