Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. John 15:13-14
To the Apostles Jesus makes the strange conditional remark, You are my friends if you do what I command you. We usually don’t identify our friends based on their obedience to what we command them. It also doesn’t seem right that friendship is conditional. So we must come to realize what it means that Christ’s condition for friendship with Him is doing what He commands.
Christ was commanding His Apostles (and ultimately us) to love. He was not commanding a love brought forth from a spiritually dead person—that is impossible— but He was commanding a love made alive and empowered by His love. Christ had just explained how He empowers and inspires His command to love others: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you [v 12]. Jesus’ conditional statement of friendship—that if the Apostles would do what He commands, then they would be His friends—is actually founded upon their realization of His love. Thus the Apostle John would be inspired to succinctly summarize: We love because he first loved us [1 Jn 4:19]. Here we observe a domino effect: First He loves us, then we realize and believe in His love for us, we then love others, and finally we are labelled as Christ’s friends. All four of these are realized in a Christian’s life, but the first domino is His love for us; this gigantic domino initiates the movement of the other dominos.
Two Old Testament believers were, like the Apostles, called friends of God: Abraham (2 Chron 20:7) and Moses (Ex 33:11). They, like the Apostles, knew God’s love and were then empowered and inspired to love God and their neighbor. These two Old Testament friends of God, along with the Apostles as recorded in John 15, did not yet know the extent of God’s love. In our text Jesus indicates where His love will find its climax: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. The love of Jesus will find its climax in His substitutionary death. That very evening when Jesus spoke these words, was the eve of His death. Jesus is on the verge of laying down His life for His friends; He will soon die for His Old Testament friends—including His Apostles—who trusted in Him and His love.
However, the love of Jesus is even greater than laying down His life for His friends. In his first epistle the Apostle John explains the universal purchase made by Christ’s sacrifice: He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world [2:2]. Indeed, Christ’s atoning sacrifice (propitiation) is for more than His friends, it is for the entire world. Yes, Jesus would lay down His life even for those who were unloving, for those who were not His friends! The Apostle Paul explained it to the Romans this way: Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life [5:6-8,10]. Did you perceive the love of Christ as set forth in these verses? Paul explains that among sinful humans one might dare to die for a good person, but Christ Jesus died for the ungodly, He died for us while we were still sinners, yes, while we were enemies (the opposite of friends) we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Not just God’s friends, but the ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God are those for whom Christ died. This then is the heart of the Gospel to be proclaimed to the world: Flowing from a love heretofore unimagined, Christ died for you!
Now, trusting in the Lover of our souls, let us love one another—even our enemies—as He also loved us. So we shall be called friends of God.