Vulnerability of Friendship

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes about the risk of love saying:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.[1]

Friendship uniquely embodies such vulnerability. To be a friend is to choose to be a friend without binding vows or formal commitment, but simply to remain tied by the love shared between the friends. Yet this risk-laden relationship of choice proclaims the good news of God’s love in Jesus in a profoundly beautiful way – illuminating what Christ has done for us and how we can undergo the risk of loving each other.

Last Supper Discourse

Around halfway through John’s gospel, he slows down the pace and lingers for an extended scene of Jesus and His disciples eating the Last Supper. Four chapters long, this is Jesus’ longest discourse recorded in any of the Gospels. In it, Jesus instructs the disciples through exhortations that are almost poetic.

The scene begins with Jesus bending down to wash His disciples’ feet, displaying His humble yet intimate love (John 13:1-8). “Love one another,” Jesus says after washing their feet, “just as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

In this room, Jesus begins to prepare the disciples for resurrection and Pentecost. Through word and deed, Jesus speaks of what is about to occur (His death and resurrection) all while calling them to follow after His example and promising comfort. Over and over, He speaks of His inevitable leaving, and promises the coming Holy Spirit. Eugene Peterson describes this movement saying,

The leaving and the sending work together, back and forth, back and forth. Jesus’ absence from them becomes the Spirit’s presence in them. Everything Jesus said and did among them is to be continued in what they say and do.[2]

Towards the middle of His discourse, Jesus repeats the command to love each other, however here calls His disciples to describe Himself as a friend to the disciples, and they as friends to Him. He says, “you are my friend if you do what I command you…I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15). It is for these reasons that the disciples are called to love one another.

Among other entreaties, the one most repeated in this section is to love one another as Christ has loved them – in other words, to embody the kind of friendship among each other Christ displayed for them. In the giving of the Spirit, we are able to not only be friends of God but also true friends of each other.

The Cross as an Act of Befriending

John moves directly from the Last Supper discourse to the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. As Christ hangs on the cross, His words to His disciples ring loudly: “greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). This is not only the greatest act of love, but also the greatest act of friendship. Even as one of His closest friends distances himself from Him, turning his face from His shame, Christ lays down His life for His friend (John 18:15-27). Even while we were yet sinners, uninterested in the friendship of God, Christ lays down His life for the ungodly whom He calls His friends (Romans 5:6).

Through this act of great friendship, not only is our friendship with God restored, but we then find ourselves bound to other human beings who are friends of God. In this community we call the church, we practice the vulnerable, self-sacrificing, and forgiving friendship of Jesus amongst one another. Because He first called us friends, we can call each other friend and find our definition for what that means in the life and love of Jesus.

“You did not choose me,” Jesus says, “but I chose you…these things I command you, so that you will love one another” (John 15:16-17). In His kindness, God chose us in Christ who restores our friendship with the Father and by whose Spirit we are empowered to be able to love one another with the same sacrificial friendship.

[1] C.S. Lewis The Four Loves, 121.
[2] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 236.