In the last part of our discussion we looked at John 15:14 and examined that it showed a model of friendship that was very different from what we are used to in the contemporary world but that which is very common in the Bible where being a friend requires loyalty and obedience on the friend and that results in the privilege of knowing what is being done and being able to influence it in some fashion. Although, as we saw, the eleven loyal disciples at last Passover of Christ were being offered the same terms of friendship with Christ that Abraham had with God, it is worthwhile to spend a bit of time discussing the nature of this sort of friendship. After all, we egalitarian people of the West, and of the United States in particular, are not used to viewing obedience and loyalty as prerequisites of friendship. Indeed, friends who place any kinds of demands at all on us or require any sort of forbearance on our part in our society generally do not remain friends for long unless we are people of extraordinary patience and graciousness, and that is not something that can be taken for granted.
Where are such friendships found? What God offered to Abraham and what Jesus Christ has offered to his disciples (and to us) is the sort of friendship that we republicans and democrats of the United States are not used to having, and that is friendship with royalty. Having never been a friend of an earthly monarch, it is hard at least for me to describe this friendship in detail, but I have known people who were friends of monarchs, and they behaved towards those monarchs exactly as we see discussed in John and Genesis. Not only were they personally loyal to the monarch and extremely gracious and accepting of all of the help received from their royal friends, but they were also intent that everyone else know that they were loyal to the king and made sure that everyone around them was loyal to the king as well. Although I tend to think of myself as a polite person, I must admit that I find it difficult to be a courtier, and the level of obsequiousness that one sees in those who are friends of terrestrial monarchs who are flesh and blood like the rest of us with all of the flaws and foibles of humanity along with the usual flaws and foibles of those in authority is far beyond my modest capacities in such areas.
Yet we know from the Bible, even without looking into history, that friends of monarchs were not unknown. The Bible gives a great deal of advice when it comes to dealing with monarchs. Among the more pointed (and in my life, relevant) advice comes in Ecclesiastes 10:20: “Do not curse the king, even in your thought; do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; for a bird of the air may carry your voice, and a bird in flight may tell the matter.” The Bible is full of stories that show godly believers dealing with royalty as their friends and servants. Witness, of course, this interaction in Daniel 6:19-23 between Darius the Mede and Daniel after Daniel had survived a night in the lion’s den: “Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel. The king spoke, saying to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.” Now the king was exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God.” I know myself and know that it would be hard for me not to say something rude and sarcastic to someone who, even if deceived, had thrown me in the lion’s den for a night. Yet Daniel is smooth and gracious in speaking to the king, showing a level of tact that I would personally find difficult to reach on my best days. That sort of graciousness is generally required to be a friend of the king, because unless one is a fool in motley given permission to speak freely, speaking harsh truths to royals does not usually end well.
Even in the New Testament Church, whose high composition of slaves and lowly people made a great many people scoff, there were some elites who knew what it was like to be a friend of the king. Acts 13:1 lists one of these people, Manaen, who had been raised with Herod the tetrarch, and who was one of the leaders of the Church of God in Antioch, about whom we know nothing else. Yet he had been a friend to a kinglet and had obviously profited from the example in being someone whose graciousness and leadership acumen allowed him a prominent role in leading one of the early churches, and that is no mean feat. The importance of being a friend of the king is also a pivotal aspect of the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, as John 19:12 tells us: “From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.”” In that case, being a friend of the Caesar required absolute loyalty, including inflicting punishment on those who proclaimed themselves to be kings. Since Pilate was on shaky ground and had alienated the Jews, he did not think his limited political capital and the high risk of being removed was worth sticking up for an obviously innocent Man. Being the friend of Caesar, and a highly privileged governor of a Roman province, meant far too much for him to sacrifice that for something as little as an issue of justice.
We have seen, therefore, that the friendship offered by Jesus Christ in John 15:14, continent on obedience and loyalty, is by no means as unusual as it is in most of our existences. And to be a friend of an earthly king has generally required the sort of loyalty and obedience and concern for the king’s reputation and interests that have been shown by various friends of the king. Being a friend of the king requires that one report on and deal with those who are disloyal and treacherous to the king or who speak evil of him. It means being gracious and courtly when one has survived a night in the lion’s den because the king was not clever enough to avoid being deceived by one’s rival courtiers. It means biting one’s tongue often and accepting the wackadoodle suggestions that the king makes about how something should be done because they are the king and they have the authority to command, regardless of how eccentric it is. Those who cannot do these things cannot be the friends of earthly kings, and those who cannot obey God’s commandments will not be the friends of God the Father or of Jesus Christ. But what are the demands that friendship with Christ Jesus places on us? Let us conclude our discussion with a brief talk about this obvious question.