Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Jesus never used the title "friend" for himself

I am in the process of choosing worship songs for this Saturday's church worship service when I was looking at this one by Matt Redman, "Once Again."

Whilst I could use the song, I am not all too comfortable with it, because of these two areas, especially the second one.

For one, I felt the phrase "once again", which is also the title of the song, hence its focus, is superfluous. Why once again? Why is it necessary that once again I am thankful or once again I lay down my life or once again I am full of praise for him? Why once again? I just am...alright, I suppose he meant it to be a never ending rendition of thankfulness and praise to God.

And secondly, I'm not sure if I would use the word "friend" for Jesus. Don't misunderstand me, I do regard the Lord as my friend but I felt that the meaning of the word friend now is more sentimental than it was then in the New Testament times. Therefore, by singing "thank you for the cross, my friend," I feel like I'm not honoring him and his sacrifice for me on the cross.

I remember I was at a bible conference several years ago when D.A. Carson commented that Jesus never referred to himself as our friend. And that is true. Jesus called us his friends but did not refer to himself as our friend. But of course, we can say it is implicit because friendship works both ways. But isn't it interesting he never called himself our friend?

With that I went searching for a journal article on the topic and found one titled, "Jesus as Friend in the Gospel of John," written by Gail R. O'Day. And this is what I learnt, and I quote:
Even though there is a consistency of vocabulary across the centuries used to discuss friendship in antiquity, there is no consistency of emphasis or definition...Each ancient writer, including the New Testament writers, developed the friendship traditions in different ways depending on his or her own community setting. (And what more in comparison to its usage in our time now?)

The Gospel of John is a pivotal text for the discussion of friendship in the New Testament. The vocabulary of friendship, especially the noun philos and the related verb phileƶy is found at key moments in the narrative.

The word "friend" in John carried many associations for John's first readers. Modern readers cannot completely recapture those associations, but they can at least recognize that John did not create the theme of friendship out of whole cloth. Awareness of cultural embeddedness helps modern readers see that friendship is not a universal term for all times and cultures. Most contemporary friendship greeting cards, for example, adorned with roses, kittens, and butterflies, do not exhort the card's recipient to "lay down one's life for a friend." Jesus' words in John 15:13 seem unprecedented for a modern friend.

Two friendship motifs from the Greco-Roman world provide a promising framework for regarding Jesus as friend in John: Jesus' love for others that is embodied in his death and Jesus' boldness in speech and action...frank speech was encouraged as a mark of honest instruction, dialogue, and training...not engaging in flattery to further their own ends.

Jesus' friendship is the model of friendship for the disciples, and it makes any sub-sequent acts of friendship by them possible because the disciples themselves are already the recipients of Jesus' acts of friendship.

(Comments in parentheses mine.)
So you see, our modern understanding of friendship may not do justice to the friendship that Jesus was referring to.

As such, I am not too comfortable in singing it simply, "thank you for the cross, my friend"...but then it does describe the first motif above, him laying down his life for us.

Source: Gail R. O'Day, "Jesus as friend in the gospel of John", Interpretation (April 1, 2004, p144)


  1. To me, friend is someone how I see them. That does not mean they see me the same- as friend.
    In this way of thinking, JESUS called HIS disciples friend, because HE is their friend, but they had to still decide are they HIS friend.

  2. Hmm...that is true. I had exactly that experience not long ago. I thought someone was a best friend until I found out not really.