The idea of God as a friend is overwhelming to most of us. Who are God’s friends? Who are His enemies? Is Jesus a friend for sinners or a friend of sinners? What’s the difference? If everyone (including the sinner) is a friend of God because He loves them, why did Jesus teach His disciples to love their enemies? How do we reconcile God loving everyone with some being His enemies? So many questions, so little time.
Once again, Viji Roberts, one of our directors and Ron Hughes, president of FBH International are joining forces to discuss the idea of friendship with God.
VIJI: I am excited about discussing this idea of friendship with God. It’s interesting that God, Himself, identified several people as His friends; and when Jesus was on earth, He certainly had friendships with a broad range of people. Where are we going to start, Ron?
RON: Well, when we go back to the very beginning, we see that God’s intention was to have a warm, friendly relationship with His human creation. In Genesis 2:7 we read that God made Adam. In verse 15, we learn that God put him in a garden to tend it and began interacting with him verbally. Almost immediately, in verse 18, God made the famous declaration that “it is not good that the man should be alone.” And proceeded to make Eve, from Adam’s rib. Next thing we know, Eve has a chat with the serpent, which results in her and Adam acting in rebellion against God. Then, in verse 8 of chapter 3, we learn that God came to converse with them in the cool of the day.
VIJI: Yes, we can see that in the matter of a few paragraphs of the sacred record, a lot of relating going on: Adam with God, Adam and Eve, Eve with the serpent, and God with all three.
There is no doubt that God is relational and therefore introduces Himself as relational early in the narration. That is unique about our God. That does not mean that He is needy but in fact it s we who are.
What’s more, we see early on that God intended these relationships to be based on trust and positive regard. In fact, I’d go further and say that God’s original plan was that love would be the foundation for all of these relationships. It certainly was on His part. It is we humans who messed it up.
RON: Let’s take a moment and establish from the Bible the argument that God loves people and intends that to be the basis of our relationship with Him.
Jeremiah 31:3 “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
John 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
VIJI: Wow! It seems like God can’t stop talking about His love for us—regardless of who we are.
What is amazing is the fact that though we are sinners, it does not limit God’s love. We humans don’t naturally love those who are against us, but God does. We read, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
RON: Now here’s something about love as the basis of our relationship with God. Unilateral love doesn’t change reality. Nothing happens when I love others, unless they respond. Only then does reality shift and a new kind of relationship comes into being.
Let’s say a new family moves into the neighbourhood and I decide to be friends with them. So I bring them gifts, bake them a pie but nothing happens till they respond in friendship. That is when the paradigm shifts. That marks the beginning of understanding and relationship. Very soon we find that we have something very precious going on –Our lives fuse, we share a destiny.
VIJI: That’s a great illustration, Ron, because that shows us that though God loves us even though we are His enemies, it doesn’t change anything relationally.
God is living His life; we’re living ours, as it were. We’re headed in opposite directions. Then, when we receive His love, that’s when we turn around to join Him and follow Him — everything changes. The paradigm shifts. Our hearts and minds align with His. We see things the same way He does. Our lives fuse. We share a destiny—His destiny, which is far better than any destiny without Him, isn’t it?
RON: Absolutely. So we see that any love-relationship depends on that love being mutual and voluntary. To make sure we’re on a solid foundation as we move on with our discussion, I checked out some dictionary definitions of friendship. Specifically I looked up the word “friend.” Here’s what the dictionaries told me.
• Oxford: a friend is a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations.
• The Free Dictionary: a friend is a person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.
• Dictionary.com: a friend is a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
• World English Dictionary: a friend is a person known well to another and regarded with liking, affection, and loyalty; an intimate
• Merriam-Webster: a friend is one attached to another by affection or esteem
So putting all of these together, I observe that friendship involves: mutual affection, trust, personal regard, loyalty, affection, and esteem.
VIJI: When we talk about relationships; there are some that are simple. We might call these peer-to-peer friendships. They are characterized by the mutual affection, trust, personal regard, loyalty, affection, and esteem that Ron just mentioned. However, not all of our relationships are so easy to define. Others are more complex because they have more than one layer.
For example some have developed friendships with teachers, pastors, doctors, probation officers. These layers of relationships will affect the kind of friendship they can have with each other.
RON: That’s right. Our relationship with God is even more complex because it is so profoundly different from any human ones. Here are some of the ways we relate with God:
They are all hierarchical except for friendship. Other relationships reflect a difference in power or status, but friendship, by definition is mutual.
VIJI: That is what makes this topic interesting. Let’s think about this some more at the human level and then see how it applies to our relationship with God.
I’m thinking of a situation in which a manager and a worker develop a friendly relationship. In the workplace, they have different positions and status. The manager tells the worker what to do and how to do it. However, let’s consider what happens when the manager and worker decide to do something together outside of the office, perhaps going camping. At this time the friendship aspect overrides the work relationship. If the manager starts telling the worker where to pitch the tents, and where to build the fire, and when to have the next meal ready and so on, their friendship will be damaged.
When they are camping as friends, they are equals, though in the workplace they have different roles and status. The fact that they are friends does not change the nature of their relationship when they are at work, nor does their work relationship come into play when they are on vacation together.
RON: It is amazing to think that God, who is our father, king, judge, master, teacher and so on, also wants to be our friend. Thinking of God as our friend adds a rich layer to our relationship. On one level, He is still far above us in every way, yet on another, He is walking along beside us interacting with us as we make our way through the day. This was true physically during the time Jesus was here on earth, mingling with people, it is true now spiritually as we have the promise of God’s presence with us at all times. That said, our friendship with God is not exactly the same as our friendships with other people.
VIJI: That’s correct, Ron. In my closest friendships, we are always bouncing ideas off each other, giving each other advice, making suggestions about how the other should respond to certain situations that come up, and so on.
God’s invitation to us to be His friends does not suggest that just because He can counsel us that we can return the favour. This friendship between God and I is about working together on our shared goal. That is the aspect of friendship we must never forget.
In John 15 we read about a change in Jesus’ relationship with His disciples as he elevated them from being servants, to friends.
John 15:12-17 “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.”
Here, Jesus is clarifying the difference between servants and friends. Servants just obey without having any sense of the Master’s purpose, but, friends, on the other hand, know the “why” behind his commands.
In the kingdom of God, friends serve freely and joyfully because their heavenly Master has told them the purpose behind their labour and the goal of their effort. They are working together for a grand outcome in which God will be glorified and His friends will be blessed beyond imagination.
RON: Here are a couple of parallel thoughts, which will help us understand the difference between human friendships and what we have with God. Think of them this way: Our human friendships are spoiled by one calling on the other to give way continually. That is, if a human friendship is characterized by too much of a difference in status, the relationship suffers. Our friendship with God is tempered by the hierarchical aspects of the relationship. That is, the difference in status between God and His friends has a positive effect on the relationship. If we disregard the difference in status, we will end up with something that neither glorifies God nor blesses us.
VIJI: That is a good distinction to remember and we find this idea in a variety of passages. As we look at two of them, notice that the loving, friendly relationship God has with His people never gives them licence to disregard his commands.
John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
John 15:12-15 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
God expresses love to us and draws us into friendship with Himself, but never to the point of confusion about who is who. When people start demanding things from God, insisting that He do their will, something is profoundly wrong.
As friends of God, we are to work with Him in accomplishing His purposes. We are never to presume on His friendship. We are never to assume that our friendship with Him gives us the right to force our will to be done.
RON: We have reached the end of our time and left much uncovered. I’m afraid you’ll have to dig into those things for yourself. We’ll close today with the reminder that God wants to have a friendship with you. To make that possible, Jesus cleared the obstacle of your sin out of the way when He died on the cross. Today, as you accept that, leave your sin behind and commit to following Jesus, you enter into a rich relationship with God of which friendship is just a part. But, you will find Him to be the best friend you ever had!