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Moving from Being a Servant to Being a Friend is a Big Call – 180506

1 John 5:1-6 & John 15: 9-17

Open our ears, O Lord,

to hear your word and know your voice.

Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills,

that we may serve you today/now and always. Amen

You know much of my working life has been spent as an employee, working for others.

Having a set regime of duties and known conditions, lines of accountabilities, listed and sometimes limited responsibilities and expectations is, at times, quite comforting and even comfortable.

But, being in partnership with others – whether it be in partnership with a spouse, a colleague or even a friend is a different thing altogether.

Types of communications, levels of responsibility, routines (or the lack of) and status all change. And it can be an onerous and even scary thing.

fall-1072821_960_720Let’s think about that shift through the lens of our two readings today.

Many Biblical historians, theologians and even philologists (those who study language and literacy patterns) believe that the author of 1 John and John’s gospel are one and the same.

The first letter of John, written about the same time as the Gospel According to John, was written to the early Gentile Christians.

It was written to counter a late first century belief called Docetism. One of the chief tenants of this belief is that Jesus was not a human, a man, and therefore did not suffer the gamut of human experience we encounter.

Rather, Jesus is to be seen simply as the God/Christ in human clothing.

John is at pains to say that Jesus, like us, was made of blood and water (verse 6) and conversely, we too, as humans, contain the same divine spark as Jesus, in saying in verse 1, ‘Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God’.

It is the very humanly aspect, of friendship and love, that intermingles the God and man paradigm.

The passage in John’s Gospel has much to say about love and friendship – in the form of new relationship, status and responsibilities that has arrived for all through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

Let’s dwell for a few minutes on three key words:

  • Love
  • Servant

Firstly, the word ‘love’ –

  • eros – erotic love,
  • storgé – natural love,
  • phileo love brotherly or companiable love (love with each other)

are all Greek words for love, John uses the word ‘agape’ – which is a higher love, a selfless love, a love focussed entirely upon theagape other person.

He uses derivations of this word nine times in this passage. He combines this word (or, at least, aligns it) with the word friendship – a free will offering, that often denotes equality or relationship, and partnership and linking to and with and for the other.

But John juxtaposes or delineates servanthood from friendship. The Greek word ‘servant’ he uses twice is the word ‘doulos’ which literally means ‘slave’. This had a particular meaning for those Jews incorporated into the Roman empire.

Roman slaves were considered property by the empire – to be disposed of as sought fit by their owners. These were usually people from conquered nations, or those born into the low status of slavery. Slaves and their families would remain as slaves until their death.

However, as people – like John – would have known, slaves could gain their freedom in the empire and even be given the full rights of a citizen if their owner or the state willed it so.

(As an aside Publius Helvius Pertinax – the son of a freed slave – became the Roman Emperor in 193AD.)

God, too, wills us to have the full rights of a citizen of God’s kingdom and be in friendship and fellowship with the master.

Moving from being in a restricted relationship of a slave to a master, to being in a full relationship of a friend to the master is actually scary – because, as we said right at the beginning, our responsibilities are grown and our level of accountability is deepened and our level of trust in the other is enhanced.

It is also scary because knowing God’s business (verse 15 in the gospel reading) means following God’s ways (1 John 5:3 and John 15:10).

That is, friendship, where we have been chosen, by God, must be one where we do as God commands (John 15:14). Being chosen as a friend requires us to ‘bear fruit’ (John 15:16).

We hear Jesus’ words about that, meaning we lay down our lives, as Jesus did, for others – agape style – for friends and enemies alike.

  • We think of others more highly than we think of ourselves,
  • we give freely,
  • we share freely,
  • and we live generously,
  • and we love selflessly,
  • we share our faith abundantly,
  • and we speak to our Creator friend often.

But remember this, if this seems like a burden, you and I are still on trainer wheels. Being a friend of God’s is a process with its ups and downs. When the downs come – and when we, for the umpteenth time, fall flat on our face, let’s not give up, but instead give in to a friend, who is also in the business of agape love.

Then focus your eyes upon the one who will pick you up, dust you off, and whisper these words from 1 John 5:4 again in your ear: ‘Everyone born of God, overcomes the world’.

May God bless you with this understanding.

Amen.

 

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