The Last Supper was a pretty emotional night for the disciples. It was a religious holiday in which they commemorated God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery with the Passover Feast, so all the feels are naturally there by simply being a Jew. On top of that, Jesus breaks the news that the time has come for him to be delivered to the Father, and that one of them will betray him to death.
But that was the bare bones of the conversation. In John’s Gospel, we see a lot more was going on that night then simply Jesus’ announcement of his pending betrayal. Jesus took advantage of this night by “showing them the full extent of his love,” and began by washing their feet in chapter 13—an act reserved for slaves. Peter gets up in arms about this, saying, “Master, you wash my feet?…. You’re not going to wash my feet—ever!” (John 13:6, 8, MSG). He was vastly uncomfortable with his Lord, his Master—his God—serving him in this capacity. In his defiance, Peter may have thought, “My God does not relate with me like this. I’m suppose to be serving him, not him serving me.”
Peter, and all the disciples for that matter, were stuck in the mindset that they were to serve Jesus. And aptly so. Over last three years of ministry and following Jesus as their teacher, rabbi, master, and most recently discovered, their God, Jesus had been instilling into them the importance of servanthood. This counter-cultural way of life is often referred to as The Great Reversal: that to be first, one needs to be last; to be great, one must become the least; to find life, one must lose her own; do not strive to be served, but to serve.
Doing life with a man who held up the vitality of service for 3 years would’ve embedded these principles into the disciples’ minds. But just as they were finally getting the “Great Reversal Life” down, Jesus invokes The Great Reversal of the Great Reversal when he says, “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.”
In case Jesus’ announcement of his betrayal, upcoming death, washing their feet, and plans to leave the world weren’t enough, then this statement would’ve been over the top. The disciples were ready to go to the ends of the earth for this man, for their God, and devote their lives to complete missional service toward his purposes. They were completely comfortable with viewing themselves as his servants—but now, Jesus calls them his friends? Their response probably would’ve paralleled Peter’s reaction to having his feet washed: “Master, I am your friend?”
As we alluded last week, one of the reasons we struggle with being friends with Jesus is because we’re so used to the thought of being his servants, just as the disciples were. For much of Western church history, there has been an infatuation with service as the baseline for Christian maturity. So much of our faith-lives is contingent on our quality of obedience, the amount of hours spent serving, setting aside time to read our Bibles and pray because it’s what we’re suppose to do. I would say that mature Western Christians have this servant thing down pretty well.
But here’s what we need to realize: How we SERVE God is determined by how we RELATE with God. Let me elaborate.
We always talk about the importance of being in a “relationship” with God. We even post it on our Facebook biographies under religious preferences that “it’s a relationship, not a religion.” That is the core element of the Christian faith: living in relationship with God.
However, when we say we have a relationship with the Almighty God, what kind of a relationship are we talking about? Do we even know? We stress the vitality of maintaining a relationship with God and incorporating spiritual disciplines into our daily life to foster that relationship, yet we do so ignorant of the titles we assign to our relationship with God that identify exactly what that bond is like. We have titles for all our other relationships, like our parents, siblings, bosses, coworkers, teachers, mentors, and even friends. The titles we assign to these people determine how we relate with them, and ultimately, how we serve them.
Yet for some reason, we tend to keep how we relate with God broad and ambiguous: It’s just a “relationship.”
It’s important for us to know the different titles we give to our relationship with God, because again, the titles we assign to this relationship also depict how we relate with him and how we serve him. Listed below are some of the common titles we assign to God. Right beside them are the titles we receive by relating with him regarding that title, and the consequent actions that make up that relationship:
God’s Title • Our Title • Consequent Interactions
God • Human • We worship him
Creator • Created • We follow his natural design
Lord • Servant • We serve
Leader • Follower • We follow the leader, trusting his guidance
Teacher • Student • We learn from his ways
Master • Apprentice • We practice his ways
Father • Son & daughter • We are deeply loved & protected by him
King • Civilian • We abide by his decrees
All of these common titles are metaphors that help us understand who God is and how he relates with humanity. But here’s the common thread stringed through all of these titles: They’re all vertical relationships. They’re all understood as a hierarchy where God is above us in some way. And that is simply the reality! These relational titles do an excellent job showing us how drastically different we are as humans in comparison to the Almighty God of the Universe. It’s a comparison between two beings of drastically different status: One is supreme, perfect, divine, sovereign, and infinite, and the other is poor, imperfect, humane, and finite.
Consequently, the health of the relationship is determined by how well the lesser serves the greater. It’s a relationship based on obligated service. And that’s how the disciples understood their relationship with Christ as their Master, Rabbi, Lord, and God.
But Jesus no longer calls them servants… instead, he calls them friends.
If all the previous relational titles depict God being above us, then the relational title of friend depicts God being with us. It’s a horizontal relationship.
This is why we cannot neglect the reality of befriending the Lord. Whenever we ignore what Jesus says in John 15 and default back to a relationship strictly based on service as a sign for “Christian maturity,” we reinterpret Jesus’ words as “I no longer call you friends, but servants.” A servant-oriented relationship with God robbed of intimacy reinterprets the Gospel as God coming to earth to turn us into slaves. This is how a legalistic faith develops.
This is why we need the title of “friend” thrown into the slew of titles we use to somehow come to grips with relating to the God of the universe, because it is through our friendship with God that we can fully understand what it means to live under His grace.