By Randy Limbird
The editor in me always shudders when I hear someone use the phrase “personal friend.” It sounds redundant — what other kind of friend is there? But now in the Facebook age, “friends” are often not personal at all. I get “friend requests” all the time from people I don’t know.
The fact is that “friend” is a rather broad word. Its meaning stretches from social media followers to people we’ve known practically all our life. Most of the people I refer to as friends are just people whose lives crossed with mine for a brief time. We enjoy running into each other occasionally, but don’t make much of an effort to stay in contact.
But if we’re fortunate, there are a few friends who actually become a living part of our life. Somewhere along the way, they became a part of us and we became a part of them. When we go too long without seeing them or talking to them, we feel a sense of loss.
It’s obvious that Jesus did not use the word “friend” casually. According to the Gospel of John, he waited until his last night together with the disciples to tell them, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:14-15)
Some people think being a Christian isn’t much more than sending a friend request to Jesus, and we assume he accepts all friend requests. But Jesus set a very high standard for friendship.
For Jesus, obedience came first. Without obedience, there is no friendship. That sounds a little strange in today’s world — we don’t really expect our friends to tell us what to do.
The friendship that Jesus refers to in what’s known as his “Farewell Discourse” after the Last Supper is a much different kind of friendship than what we’re used to. It’s more like becoming friends with the boss after years of loyal, diligent service. It comes when you no longer see the boss as someone giving you orders because you totally embrace the work that needs to be done. The boss isn’t interfering with your life; your boss is giving you life.
I often hear some Christians talk about their “personal relationship with Jesus.” That word “personal” can be tricky. Sometimes it implies a relationship that is very private and intimate, as if Jesus is our BFF that we can pour our hearts out to. We think we can just jump into that kind of relationship with him without actually living the life he taught.
The emphasis on “personal” can also minimize the role of the church in our spiritual life, treating corporate worship and fellowship as optional. Sometimes we just prefer to stay away from other Christians because they seem to get in the way of our relationship with Jesus.
It’s a little like joining a football team and expecting to be buddies with the coach during training camp. That’s not the way it works. We have to follow the coach’s orders first. And that also means honoring our role with the rest of the team. If we respect the coach’s authority and give the team everything we’ve got, then one day we may realize that our relationship with the coach has become more personal, and we may actually call each other friends.
Randy Limbird is editor of
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