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‘F’ is for ‘Friends’
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 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. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:12-15)
Peace to you. The friends send you their greetings. Greet the friends there, each by name. (3 John 15)
This is a friendly church. We enjoy each other. We love each other. We welcome into that enjoyment and love all who come through our doors. We're not perfect in our friendliness, nor in how we demonstrate our friendship with and for each other. Even so, it is a big part of who we are: Christians who place friendship near the center of our self-understanding.
I think there is good reason for all this. The notion of "friend," you see, has some important biblical support. Jesus told his disciples that they were his friends, not merely slaves. To be a slave or a servant (the same word in Greek) was to be in a relationship characterized by obedience to commands. To be a friend, however, was to be in a relationship of fondness or love. The Greek word for "friend" is akin to words for affection and love. So Jesus, in calling them "friends," was saying that their relationship was now in this sphere of fondness and love. He was not saying that obedience no longer applied. "This is my commandment...." Rather, he was deepening his relationship to them. They were those of whom he was so very fond, and whom he could welcome into his confidence.
Later, the Christian community came to understand themselves as friends to each other. It was not the only way they came to describe their relationship. They drew, as well, on images familial ("brothers and sisters") and anatomical ("parts" and "members" of the "body," of which Christ himself was the "head") and rural ("sheep" dependent upon the "Good Shepherd."). The image of friendship appears to be a minor one in the biblical witness. Yet it is there, exercising some small yet important influence over the ways in which Christians understood themselves and treated each other.
And so it can be with us. Indeed, it should be. Of course, we cannot dispense with the other images of Christians and the Christian community found in the Bible. Why would we want to? Yet we can, and may, draw on the notion of "friend" to remind ourselves of the fondness and responsibility for each other that are such a great gift of Christ, a gift that is supremely demonstrated by him.
I love you, my friends.
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