We Who Are Friends

by Rick Shrader

In a study of walking with God we have seen that Jesus Christ must be the only Lord and Master and that we submit ourselves to Him being mere slaves.  This relationship is accepted at the very beginning as the humble repentance of our sins casts us completely at His feet for mercy and forgiveness.  If we had no other relationship with Him we would gladly obey and serve because of what He has done for us in forgiving our sin and giving us eternal life.

The picture of slavery in the Bible is a strange thing to our modern ears.  In the pagan world, both in the Old and New Testaments, believers were sometimes subjects of unbelieving and tyrannical masters who knew only their nations’ oppressive ways.  However, in the Jewish nation slaves were more like indentured servants.  One could willingly give himself to a Jewish brother as a servant to work off a debt or to redeem land.  The law protected the servant from abuse and even commanded his release after seven years or at the year of Jubilee (see Exodus 21 and Leviticus 25).  The New Testament commanded masters to treat servants well and even to raise this relationship to one of friendship and respect (see Col 4:1; Eph. 6:9; 1 Tim. 6:1-2; the book of Philemon).

The Old Testament gave a picture of a servant who came to love his master so much that he would choose to stay with him for life rather than to be released at the appropriate year (Exod. 21:1-6).  Whether this is exactly what the New Testament calls a doulos, or bond slave, is debatable, since a Roman slave was mere chattel.  Yet Paul’s use of the word doulos fits this Old Testament picture because Paul describes himself as a doulos, or bond slave, throughout his epistles.  This kind of a servant chose to be a slave for life.  His ear was pierced through as a mark of ownership as Paul remarked after his stoning, “From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:17).

This gives the New Testament believer a new glimpse into his relationship with Jesus as Master.  When Jesus washed the disciple’s feet he said, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am” (John 13:13).  That relationship cannot and will not be broken.  Yet later that fateful night Jesus walked with the disciples and said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.  Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:14-15).  This Master-servant relationship is also a Master-friend relationship.  It was a relationship unheard-of in the ancient world.

For the Lord, this new relationship is entered into by promise and faithfulness.  For the believer, it is entered into through understanding and submission.  “Lord, I have come to you as a sinner needing forgiveness and also as a humble servant to a Master. I have found your yoke to be easy and your burden to be light.  I have loved your kind and gentle hand upon me and I desire to remain under your care forever.  Oh, Lord, take me to the door post and mark me forever as your bond slave.  Let me bear in my very body your marks, the marks of my Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.”

Then do we find Jesus a Friend as well as a Master.  Then does He bring us into His confidence.  “Draw me, and we will run after thee:  the King hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee” (Song of Solomon 1:4).  “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).  “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any many hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).  “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21).

Being a servant-friend of Jesus Christ is the highest, yet lowest, position for a believer in this life.  We serve Him in whatever way He calls us to serve, yet all the while we abide and commune with Him as our Master.  Proverbs tells us that “a friend loveth at all times” (17:17); “sticketh closer than a brother” (18:24); “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (27:6); and as “iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (27:17).  The New Testament gives us many pictures of our walk with our Master-Friend.

I am used by Him

“If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21).  We will discuss our body as a vessel for God in a later article, but it is enough here to see that our Lord desires to use a clean vessel, honorable, sanctified, and prepared for work.  We know that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7).  We can be fragile but clean, humble but useable.

It is a remarkable thing that God does His work through believers who are not yet glorified.  He does not commission angels to preach the gospel nor to petition Him with prayers.  No, He sends redeemed sinners to the uttermost parts of the earth to do His bidding, and He is with us always even to the end of this age.  In joy or in pain, in success or in failure, in life or in death, we would say with the martyrs, I have served Him all my life and He has never failed me.

I can hide in Him

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:7-8).  Satan is a roaring lion walking about seeking to devour me (1 Pet. 5:8).  I am like Peter and could be sifted as wheat by him (Lk. 22:31) except that my Master-Friend intercedes for me.  As Luther wrote in his hymn,

Did we in our own strength confide,

Our striving would be losing,

Were not the right man on our side,

The Man of God’s own choosing.

The church has lost too much respect for the devil.  Of course I don’t mean admiration but rather a healthy knowledge of his power and might.  We don’t understand well enough the doctrines of demons nor do we see clearly the spiritual wickedness that exists in high places.  We play too loosely with the pleasures of the world and do not fear the harm that inevitably results.  Our Master-Friend said, “The servant is not greater than his lord.  If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).  Why should we think that we can partake of the pleasures of sin for a season and not be harmed, contrary to our Lord?  But He also said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace.  In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

I can walk with Him

“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” (Col. 2:6).  “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it” (2 John 6).  Walking is the most frequent analogy of fellowship with the Lord that we have in the New Testament.  There are at least four Greek words that are translated “walk” which range from walking carefully, to traveling, to keeping straight, to marching and keeping rank.  In all of our necessary modes of walking through this life, we have a Friend that walks with us.

On resurrection Sunday afternoon two disciples walked to the village of Emmaus and Jesus appeared and walked with them.  Though they didn’t recognize Him, He spoke to them of the events surrounding His death and resurrection.  When He suddenly departed they said, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he walked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).  Friends walk shoulder to shoulder and enjoy fellowship because they are of a kindred mind and seek a common goal.  When you have this Friend walking with you, it doesn’t matter if there are two or two hundred walking along.  The joy and fellowship is because of Him.

I can abide with Him

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).  John later recorded, “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28).  We should not confuse our position of being in Him with our relationship of abiding in Him.  We are secure in Him and are given all the rights of children.  At the same time, while we walk through this life, we carry the old nature also which can commit sin and break close communion with our Master-Friend.

Can’t you see those two disciples at Emmaus stopping at the Inn and reaching out to Jesus’ arm saying, “Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent” (Luke 24:29)?  The song writer put it,

Abide with me!  Fast falls the e-ven   tide;

The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.

Those disciples sat at meat with Him and watched Him break bread and then they knew Him.  We also would know Him better if our evenings were occupied more with His abiding presence.

I can talk with Him

“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us” (1 John 5:14).  “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex. 33:11).  For Moses that was an unusual occurrence.  But for us, though we do not see God, we have the privilege of speaking directly to Him because of the intercession of our Lord and of the Holy Spirit.  We come boldly to the throne of grace and find mercy and grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).

Someone said, “If you walk with God, you must also talk with God, or you will soon cease to walk with God.”  We should not be a quiet friend who enjoys the company but never responds or interacts.  The Lord invites us to speak.  “His eyes are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers” (1 Pet. 3:12).  His words are forever recorded for us.

I can trust Him

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).  “And such trust have we through Christ to God” (2 Cor. 3:4).  Again, I am not speaking of that wonderful time when we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior.  That trust is secure and cannot be broken.  I am speaking of a trust that places confidence in Him day by day, that knows He will do what is best, and that in everything gives thanks knowing that this is the will of God for me.

The providence of God is a wonderful blessing to the believer.  My Lord is in control.  “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).  “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:17).  I find myself saying, “Can the world get any worse than this?  Can human beings become any more depraved than they are today?”  But I remind myself that I am merely a servant for my Master-Friend.  He is the Builder of the whole house and controls everything in it.  “Fear not,” He said,  “I am the first and the last:  I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1:17-18).

I can die with Him

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;  Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).  In our position in Christ we have been crucified with Him and yet we live (Gal. 2:20).  Yet this living is also a continual dying.  Jesus said to the disciples, “Ye shall indeed drink of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with” (Matt. 20:22).  For many, that has meant the very death of the body in martyrdom.  For others it means the giving of the body to God as a living sacrifice to do with as He sees fit.  It may be in mocking or perhaps in some cruelty.

Paul confessed “I die daily,” and then said, “Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame” (1 Cor. 15:31, 34).  It ought to be our joy to give ourselves to our Lord and to whatever comes our way for His name’s sake.  “By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned” (2 Cor. 6:6).

It will never become easier to be an outcast in the world.  In the latter days things will become worse and worse (1 Tim. 4:1-3).  The antipathy toward Christ and things that are holy will only become greater.  Yet we are encouraged, “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach” (Heb. 13:13).  One likely view of Paul’s infirmity in the flesh is that it was the constant persecution which he endured.  When Jesus explained to him that it was in these times of weakness that His strength was manifested, Paul said, “Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).  It is a privilege and a strength for the believer to die daily with the Master-Friend.

I can look for Him

“So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28).  “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).  This is the blessed hope of the church (Tit. 2:13).  We have the privilege of waiting for Jesus to return and catch us away in the air to ever be with Him (1 Thes. 4:13-18).  He has not appointed us to the coming wrath, but to obtain this salvation through Him (1 Thes. 5:9).

We do not look up enough.  We aren’t constantly looking for the coming of our Master-Friend as we should be.  It is hard for us now to realize what joy we will experience when Jesus comes again.  If we could understand that as we should, we would constantly strain our eyes for His return.  The song writer wrote,

 Then we shall be where we would be,

Then we shall be what we should be;

 Things that are not now, nor could be,

 Soon shall be our own.

And So . . .

The benefits of knowing Jesus Christ as Savior are eternally wonderful.  Also knowing Jesus Christ as our Master-Friend is a blessing that only believers in Him can experience in this life.  It seems ironic, almost oxymoronic, that a Master could also be our Friend but it is true.  We gladly obey His commands and yet find them encouraging and true.  We’ve desired that He be our Master forever and He has also become our Friend.

Having used hymn illustrations so far, let me conclude with another familiar hymn.  Joseph Scriven (1819-1886) was born in Ireland and graduated from Trinity College, London.  He was engaged to be married soon after graduation but tragedy struck when his fiancé drowned the day before the wedding.  Joseph moved to Woodstock, Ontario, Canada and met a Christian girl named Eliza Rice.  But tragedy came again when Eliza died of illness weeks before the wedding.  Scriven wrote the words to this well-known hymn after these great trials,

What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry,

Everything to God in prayer!

O, what peace we often forfeit,

O, what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry,

Everything to God in prayer.

Joseph Scriven died from drowning not long after his lines were put in to music.  Two decades later D.L. Moody heard the song and gave it national recognition and it has remained there ever since.  The words are true and scriptural.  We have a Friend, a Master-Friend in Jesus.