"You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is about; but I have called you friends, because everything I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, I chose you; and I have commissioned you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last; so that whatever you ask from the Father in my name he may give you. This is what I command you: keep loving each other!" [John 15:14-17 CJB]Jesus is repeatedly accused of being a friend of sinners in the Gospels. It's a clear sign of His nature as God and a perfect Man that models what our nature was intended to be. Relationship is central to His message, but never so clear as it is in the fifteenth chapter of John when He speaks to the disciples.
The statements can be easily misunderstood. When Jesus says we are His friends if we do what He commands it is clearly not meant to be coercion on Jesus's part. It is simply a fact. He calls us friends more because we follow His commands as a natural consequence of being His friend, not to win that friendship. This is mirrored in human relationships. I do not behave in certain ways to my wife as an obligation, rather it is an overflow of the loving relationship we have that drives me to do things I might not otherwise do to deepen our relationship. For example, I am a diagnosed sufferer of ADD and OCD, both of which tend to unfinished projects and hoarding "to get to it later", but later never comes. My wife, Rene, has been a saint in her tolerance of my issues and as a result I want to change my patterns and overcome as far as I can the issues which caused the trigger of the illnesses - undiagnosed depression for almost 15 years and PTSD. Even I find myself hard to live with because of the clutter in my life. Rene supports me but she leans towards minimalism in her surroundings, or at the very least order (as she understands it) which is very different to the mind of someone with my psychopathology. I choose to change in my relationship with her for the same reason I choose to be transformed by my relationship with Jesus. I love them and I don't want to be in a situation where my actions reflect badly on them.
Everyone has demons they are dealing with. In most cases these are metaphorical, although I have been witness to several actual exorcism-type prayer sessions and I firmly believe there are very real spiritual powers actively seeking our destruction. I believe when CS Lewis wrote "The Screwtape Letters" he hit a deeply profound and too often dismissed element of Christianity. We are in a war that we can only truly win if we stick with our Heavenly Family (see, I'm not off topic!)
Jesus calls us friends, not slaves. God does not seek blind obedience, but relationship with us as individuals. I find it mind-blowing that if in all of history I were to be the only person ever to accept the sacrifice Jesus made, He would still have gone through everything just for me.
We forget that at our peril. Each person has a testimony of what God has done in their lives and how He has used them to bless others. I remember a service at a church I attended where a young man I'll call Ed stood up and said "I feel God wants me to say 'Smarties' as a response to someone here."
There was a stunned silence and Ed took his seat again. At the end of the service we were talking when a visitor to the church came over to us and said to Ed "I asked God if He was real to prove it by having someone make a fool of themselves and say 'Smarties'. Will you pray with me?" It was an honour to lead this man into a relationship with Jesus as a result of such simple obedience on Ed's part. How many others in the service had had the same thought and not spoken out? This man may go on to become a great man of God who changes the World, all because Ed had the courage to say one surreal word in faith because his Friend asked him to.
Another occasion I was praying alone about financial issues over something I believed God wanted me to do but I simply couldn't afford on my income. I never interrupt my quiet times, but in the middle of it my phone rang and I was compelled by something in my spirit to answer. A friend on the other end said to me "Dave: I was just praying for you and God told me if He places the order then He pays the bill. What are you planning?"
Family. God watches over His own. All 7 billion of us. His photo album must be huge. And He knows us intimately and invites us to know Him at the same level, to know even as we are known by Him.
This is not some transcendental Shylock demanding His pound of flesh, but a loving, caring Father wanting to do the best for every one of His children.
When Jesus taught the "Lord's Prayer" - actually a model for how to pray not literally the words to use, that's religion not relationship - He invites us to call God "Abba". "Daddy" is the best fit for the context. Religion got hold of it and twisted it a bit and made God more distant, less directly involved.
That's not the God we see in the Bible.
We see a Daddy looking after His family. Whether it was parting the red sea for the Exodus or simply holding the hand of a single leper He did it to build relationship with His family.
As His Friends.