How do I describe Jesus?
For a long time, I was satisfied with the titles “Saviour” and “King” (or “Lord”). That Jesus is my Saviour reminds me of what He has done in the past to set me free (to save me) from the tyranny of sin and death. That Jesus is my King is more future-oriented, reminding me that I must continue to submit to Him and His will. Saviour and King remain a good pair of titles in my mind and heart.
Over the past while, however, I’ve begun adding two new titles.
It started with reading Andy Holt’s blog where he asks whether we as church leaders want fans or followers. “One of the strongest temptations of the preacher is to develop a fan base, like we were a baseball team or some kind of branded product,” he writes. Instead, we “should try to build a group of followers” as we ourselves follow Jesus.
So far so good. This aligns nicely with the CRC’s emphasis on discipleship in recent years as well as my own thinking of Jesus as King, submitting to His leading.
But then Andy writes how this
didn’t come to rest on my soul the way certain truths do. There was more to the story, I thought. But I couldn’t articulate it until the words of Jesus shot like lightning through my mind: “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.”
I think the real distinction is not between fans and followers, but between fans, followers, and friends. Jesus called his disciples his friends twelve hours before they all abandoned, denied, or betrayed him (which he knew would happen). They were more than fans and more than followers. They had become his friends. People he loved. People with faces and families that he wanted the best for.
So, it’s been percolating in my mind that being a follower is not enough. Jesus wants friendship. In addition to Saviour and Lord, He wants me to also know Him as a Friend. Granted, this is not brand new to me as I’ve been singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” for decades. But this truth has hit me afresh. I need to (re)emphasize the relational aspect to discipleship!
In a subsequent blog post, Andy follows up on his initial thoughts by reflecting on how friendship is a theme throughout all Scripture: “One way to look at the Bible is to see it as the story of God in search of friends.” Then from Adam & Eve to Jesus, Andy briefly outlines God’s desire for community with His people, and how He finally achieves it when He became like us (the Incarnation).
I love this paragraph Andy writes:
The funny thing about God’s pursuit of friends is that he isn’t lonely! He is Three-In-One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God exists in eternal community within himself. God’s search for friends isn’t driven by his need for us, but rather by our need for him. He knows we need him, and not just as a distant deity but as a close, personal friend. And he wants to be your friend. Really, he does. The Creator became a creature, not because he was lonely, but because the world he created was, so to speak, dying of loneliness; and his presence, his closeness, was the only thing that could save it.
So, this is what has slightly altered everything over the past few months. It’s had implications in my teaching and preaching: I’ve added the language of friendship to that of discipleship as I speak from the pulpit or in conversations. It’s also having implications in how I view my own friendships with people, wondering if I unrealistically expect something from people (even Monica) that I should really be looking for in a friendship with God. My premarital counselling resources tell me to watch for whether couples who think they’ll find their “all in all” in each other: They’ll soon be disappointed if they’re looking for something in each other (e.g. perfect love, understanding, acceptance, constant availability, etc.) that they should be looking for in their divine and loving Friend. It makes me wonder how much of my own desire for friendships is actually a manifestation of my true desire to know and experience Jesus as my Best Friend.
(To be concluded…)