This past weekend, one my best friends, Nate Wolf, and I took on one of the greatest challenges known to man: teaching a large group of Jr. High Students. Another friend from my days at Moody Bible Institute, Jason, had asked me to teach at a weekend winter camp, known as Blizzard. I had done it once before back in 2006, so I knew what I was getting into, and this time I knew that to go it alone was probably not wise. It’s not the students – the students have always been great, eager to listen to God’s Word. But it is a weekend of long nights and physical activity, so it’s not surprising if the speaker nods off during his own talk, let alone the listeners.

So I invited Nate to join me, and we decided to talk about what Scripture has to say about friendship. Our hope was to not only talk about friendship, but to model, through past stories and our interactions during the week, what a true, deep, God-honoring friendship looks like. Of course, our friendship is far from perfect, and I was encouraged in my personal study of God’s Word and in our discussions before, during and after, to be more diligent about being a good friend to my wife and to others in my life. But I would also say that God has been amazingly gracious to us, and I believe that much of our friendship is something to be emulated. When it was all said and done Sunday morning, I was excited to see that we not only communicated God’s heart for friendship, but that the students saw a “flesh and blood” example of the gift that good friends can be.

Yet whatever kind of example the friendship Nate and I have may be, throughout the weekend, in all four sessions that we taught, our hope was to always point the students back to the fact that the gospel is where true friendship is revealed and that the gospel is the only thing that can empower a person to be a true friend. As I studied John 15:12- 17 for our third session, where Jesus reveals that He has chosen us to be His friends, I began to ask the question, “Why? Why has God in Jesus chosen us to be His friends?” From the testimony of Scripture we know that it wasn’t because He was lonely or because there was anything desirable or good in us. We as humans may choose friends because we desire companionship and because we see something likable or attractive in someone else, but neither of those can be reasons why God has chosen us to be His friends.

John’s gospel began to both confuse and enlightening me as to answering the question of why God has chosen us to be His friends. Confusion arose from John 15:14, where Jesus appears to lay out a condition for his friendship, namely the keeping of his commands: “You are my friends, if you do what I command.” So is obedience to the law a requirement for being Jesus’ friends? And what about the verse prior that says there is no greater love seen in the world than when a person lays down his or her life for a friend? Has Jesus only died for those who will keep his commands, given that obedience seems to be a condition for friendship?

Romans 5:6-8 began to bring some loose ends together:  “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

The answer to the “why” question begins to emerge, and it is this: God has chosen us to be his friends through the means of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross in order to display to the world a kind of love and grace that we know nothing of. We are in awe of our fellow humans when they die for the sake of a friend – Jesus tells us in John 15:13 that apart from the miracle of redemption, this is the greatest love we can have or see in our fellow humans. But Romans 5 then shows us that there is a kind of love that drives a man to die a horrendous death for the sake of his enemies, and it is that kind of love that shatters all the categories of love that we can fathom. Such love is on display in the cross, and we see then that God has chosen us to be his friends for the sake of his glory.

The amazing overflow of that display of love is that God then makes that kind of a love possible in his chosen friends – he makes us another means of revealing this other-worldly love. John 15:14 then must mean that obedience to his commands is an overflow of friendship with Jesus, not a condition for it. If it was a condition, we would all remain his enemies, but Jesus is saying, “Those whom I have chosen as my friends show evidence of that reality by doing as I command.” And what has he commanded? He has commanded love – love for God and for others. Specifically in this context, Jesus proclaims, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (15:12; see also 15:17).

Jesus in the gospel empowers us to be a unique people who love as he has loved. We are called to not only love those we like, but to love our enemies. We love them even to the point of death, as Jesus has loved us. It is in loving others in such a radical, self-sacrificing, unselfish way, that we continue to display for the world the unfathomable love of Jesus – a love that led him to die for those who were his enemies so he could make them, not only friends, buts sons and daughters of God. When we love empowered by the gospel and spurred on by the example of Jesus, we shatter the world’s categories for love as Jesus did. We take friendship to a level that those who do not know of the sacrifice of Christ can hardly fathom. And in so doing, we exalt God as the greatest Friend and Father imaginable. As we rely on the strength God supplies, may our friendships, coupled with our love for our enemies, be living examples of the gospel.