Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church
Sermon Series: Supernatural Ways Of Royalty – 04 (Chapter 7) – From Slaves To Friends; Date: 11 September 2011
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From Slaves To Friends
Jesus said to his disciples – John 15:15: “I do not call you slaves any longer ... but I have called you friends ... ” At one time – Jesus made it clear to his disciples that there was a progression in their relationship with him. They went from slaves to friends. “I no longer call you slaves but friends.”
The question is: Does this progression also apply to us? Do we also start out as slaves of Jesus Christ and then become his friends? Our immediate reaction may be that we oppose slavery. This cannot be right. “I am a slave to no one.” We like our freedom and we like to be in charge of our own destiny. Yet, the Bible says: “No, you are slaves.” Again and again – Christians are identified as slaves and I give you a small sample:
Acts 16:17: “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”
Romans 1:1: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.”
Philippians 1:1: “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, ... ”
1 Peter 2:16: “ ... live as slaves of God.”
Revelations 1:1: “The revelation of Jesus Christ ... to . his slaves ... ”
Most Bible translations do not use the word “slave” in these (and other) verses but are more comfortable with the word “servant” or “bond-servant”. It seems to be less offensive. Yet, the Bible – in its original language (Greek) – confronts us with the word “doulos” which was in common usage and does mean “slave” so that believers – (you and I) – are slaves of Jesus Christ.
Now – we can see in these Bible references that even mature Christians – even apostles like Paul – remain slaves for their entire life. Thus, there is a slave-like quality in our relationship with Jesus that remains even when he makes us his friends. Jesus said to his disciples – John 15:15: “I do not call you slaves any longer ... but I have called you friends ... ” However – immediately before this wonderful pronouncement – he also clarified – John 15:14: “You are my friends if you do what I command.” Thus, we need to be careful here. Obedience is still paramount and – at least in this respect – there is no difference between slaves and friends. Jesus’ friends continue to obey him like slaves and – for this reason – other Bible references can still call us slaves.
We pause here for a moment and ask ourselves what this means for us. Are you a slave of Jesus Christ? Is it clear to you that your time is his, your money is his, your strength is his, your happiness is his. He can do with you whatever he wants. He is God and whatever he commands must be okay with us. We accomplish his will – not ours.
Right? This is reality and – if you are new here today – we want to be honest about what is required to be a Christian. Anyone can come to church, enjoy the welcome and explore God among other Christians. This is what we want. Our doors are open and some do this for years. They explore, they hear about Jesus and – in time – even come to believe that he is raised from the dead but they shy away from becoming his slaves and – therefore – do not become Christians. If there is no absolute surrender of the will to Jesus Christ, there may be some recognition of the truth but no saving relationship with Jesus which is only possible as his slave.
Nick has been with us for quite a while and – with his permission – if I can talk about him for a minute – he is still undecided about taking the plunge and becoming a full-blown Christian. Why? He may still need a greater revelation of Jesus but – most of all – he is counting the cost and I admire him for it. He is honest with himself, us and God. A commitment to Jesus means the surrender of everything to him – including some of the sins that are hard to let go – such as taking the occasional drug, swearing, etc.
This does not mean that you must be perfect before you become a Christian. As a believer – you may continue to struggle with certain sins and slip up but – and this is the difference – you have made a commitment to Jesus to overcome these sins with his help and strength. You are no longer endorsing disobedience. You confront what is displeasing to Jesus and you know that Jesus has a right to demand your best.
For instance, the Bible says – 1 Corinthians 7:18-20: “Flee from sexual immorality ... You are not your own; you were bought at a price ... ” We are not our own. We are his. Therefore, Jesus – our Master – can demand from us – as in the reading here – sexual purity. Don’t sleep around. Don’t visit a prostitute. Don’t indulge in pornography.
Is this too hard? Is anything too hard? Before we object too much – we pay attention to some other words of 1 Corinthians 7:18-20: “You were bought at a price.” The truth is that – according to the Bible – Jesus – the Master – became a slave himself and (as a slave) paid the highest possible price to purchase us as his own. It cost him to be our Master:
Philippians 2:6-11: “ ... he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a slave, being made in human likeness ... he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him ... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Acts 20:28: “ ... the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.”
Revelation 5:9: “ ... you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
We do not have a cruel or unloving Master. Jesus gave everything – his life – his blood – his honour – to make us his slaves because the only other alternative, which was and is available to us, is to remain the slaves of sin, death and Satan. [We enslaved ourselves when our first human ancestors chose sin rather than obedience to God. However, Jesus came to set us free and make us his own.] We humans are never masters ourselves. We are always slaves – either to sin or – (and this is the better option) – to Jesus who loves us. He saved us by making us his slaves.
John 8:34: “Jesus replied: ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’”
Romans 6:20-24: “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Today – many a time – we just use another word for the enslavement of sin: addiction, which is a condition where you are no longer free to make up your mind about doing something or not. When you suffer from addiction, something compels you to drink, something compels you to inject a needle, something compels you to watch pornography, and otherwise destroy your life. We also know about shopping addiction, mobile phone addiction and some of our celebrities seek treatment for sex addiction. This is enslavement which you can ultimately trace back to another Master: Satan instead of Jesus.
Ephesians 2:2: “ ... the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit [– Satan –] who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”
Sometimes sin is very attractive in the early stages. I was watching a documentary of the Rolling Stones when they made their album “Exile On Main Street” in France. They slept in, were creative, hung out with each other and smoked a lot of drugs. For them – it was a magic time but one of them said on camera: “There’s always this wonderful time before everything goes bad.” For a moment the life-style was cool and attractive but then sin began to enslave the musicians and their families. The power behind sin – Satan – always seeks to harm us.
It is better to belong to Jesus. Think about him. Pay attention to him. In this church – we love miracles such as the glory dust and now oil appearing on people’s finger tips. There are miraculous healings and prophetic visions. God is astounding us and we embrace the joy and excitement. However, these demonstrations from God are not simply for childlike wonder. They come with a serious call to commit to slavery under Jesus’ command. I read another segment from our first Bible reading – John 15:22-25:
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin ... If I hadn’t done such miraculous signs among them that no one else could do, they would not be guilty. But as it is, they have seen everything I did, yet they still hate me and my Father ... ”
You cannot listen to the preaching, then marvel at the glory dust or be healed yourself and go home unchanged. Jesus is calling for a commitment from you. He has paid a high price for you. Will you be his?
This morning – make the commitment and you will discover that we are rather unusual slaves. There is a call on us to be obedient but it is not a kind of obedience which can be accomplished by ourselves. Listen again to more verses from the chapter of our first Bible reading – John 15:1-4:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
We do not have a Master that gives us a command and then lets us struggle by ourselves. Our Master Jesus Christ expects fruit – he keeps pruning us for even greater fruitfulness – but the power and life for fruitfulness comes from remaining connected to him and feeding from him. He is the vine; we are the branches. Jesus Christ empowers your obedience. You are not alone with an impossible task. [It says here that the disciples were clean because of the word which Jesus had spoken to them. There is life and cleansing power in Jesus’ righteous instructions and commands.]
I come back to the beginning. Now is the time to shed more light on Jesus’ words. When it comes to obedience, we are and remain slaves of our Master Jesus Christ but – as our basic Bible reading suggests – the word “slave” is an inadequate description of the mature Christian. “Friend” – a “friend” of Jesus – is the better word.
This is what Jesus said. I give you now the whole Bible reference – John 15:12-15:
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave 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.”
According to Jesus’ words – what is the difference between a “slave” and a “friend”? Why can you be a friend of Jesus – not just a slave? The answer is that Jesus speaks to you as a friend. There is a different level of communication that we enjoy as his friends. Hear the Bible verses again: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave 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.” We know our Master’s business. Jesus makes known to us everything that he has learned from his Father – God the Father in heaven – and more – John 16:12-13: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
What exactly is Jesus telling his friends? It must be more than giving orders and issuing commandments because even a slave hears that kind of talk from his master. What is Jesus telling us in addition to his instructions?
I think that he is speaking to us about love. Listen to what Jesus said first: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Everything – that we say and do in obedience to him – is about love. “My command is this: Love each other.” And our love is grounded and fostered by his love: “Love as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
This is what Jesus has done. He laid down his life for us – for you. There is no greater love. Our sin condemned us to hell and eternal separation from God. We were lost but Jesus came and he died for us. Our punishment became his – on a cross in Jerusalem 2000 years ago – and his righteousness – his blameless life – became ours. He loved us and – from the beginning – treated us as his best friends. God is about love and this is what we want. Are not all of us craving for greater experiences of love in our life?
Now let me ask you: As a new Christian – are you still beginning as a slave and then progress to being a friend of Jesus? I am asking this because Jesus said to his disciples: “I no longer call you slaves,” which means that they – at least – began as slaves. I ask all of you: What are you – slaves or friends?
This is not a question whether Jesus loves everyone. Of course he loves everyone. He loves you but do you understand – fully comprehend – his love? When Jesus said: “I call you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have learned from my Father. You understand your master’s business,” he seemed to refer to a depth of understanding that is not immediately available to new Christians.
For instance, take these three commandments: 1) “Forgive your enemies.” 2) “Keep the Sabbath holy.” 3) “Do not give up meeting together.” When you are a new Christian or a young Christian, you hear these commandments and you obey them but you may grumble: 1) “Why should I be kind to my enemy when I want revenge?” 2) “Why go to church and not do any work on Sunday when I need the money?” 3) “Why bother with meeting church people when they also disappoint with their attitudes and behaviour?” You grumble because you obey like a slave – not a friend. You do not yet understand everything that Jesus is teaching about love. But then you learn and – many a time – you learn by doing – John 7:17: “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” John 15:10: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love
1) Soon enough, your Master’s compassion for his enemies becomes your own. He laid down his life for you and everyone else. Furthermore, you learn that for your own sake you need to forgive so that you can experience love instead of resentment, anger, bitterness and hatred. Give it time and you learn to hear everything that Jesus is saying to you about love.
2) You will also learn to be passionate about keeping the Sabbath day holy. Jesus himself explained that this day was given to us by God for love – Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” We gain rest and time to seek the presence of God which is refreshing us.
3) Then, the more we understand the love of Jesus, the more we will be committed to each other. This is his command: Love each other as he loved us first. We learn the healing nature of a loving community. It’s worth investing in the church. God has no plan B. We need each other. Others need you.
This kind of understanding does not come to us quickly. We are often more selfish than loving but – all of us – we will progress from slaves to friends because Jesus is committed to speaking to us. This is one of the most crucial aspects of the Christian faith: As a Christian – know that Jesus is always speaking to you and revealing to you everything from his Father. Therefore, listen. Spend the time and listen to him and become his friend. .”
[Many a time (as demonstrated) – obedience comes before understanding ... Bill Johnson: When I give up the right to understand (accept to be a slave), he often reveals things to me (as a friend).]
[How does Jesus speak: The Bible (quickening of your spirit), flowing thoughts, circumstances, peace, experience the fruit of your obedience, etc. Cf. Mark Virkler: Dialogue With God.]
When we have become Jesus’ friends, our relationship with him changes on other levels as well. Our privileges grow. There is more of a partnership developing. Our joy increases:
John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
John 15:15-16: “ ... Instead, I have called you friends ... and appointed you ... so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
John 15:11: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
As his friends – Jesus is paying attention to our wishes – our desires – our plans. As his words remain in us – as we have been shaped and formed by the words that come from his heart – we can be trusted with greater responsibility and are invited into a partnership with God.
The Bible calls Abraham a friend of God – James 2:23: “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” The following account is an example of how friends can converse with God – Genesis 18:16-33 [abbreviate and retell in your own words]:
When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?” “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”
Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?” He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
Cf. Numbers 14:10-25; Romans 9:1-3.
Consider also 1 Kings 8:15-17:
“Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who with his own hand has fulfilled what he promised with his own mouth to my father David. For he said, ‘Since the day I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built so that my Name might be there, but I have chosen David to rule my people Israel.’
‘My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel ... ’” [It was in David’s heart to build the temple – not God’s. God listens to his friends.]
Our basic reading in the Gospel of John makes still another point. The more we are growing in friendship with Jesus, the more direct and immediate the words of Jesus become. He seems to be deepening the intimacy level of our conversations with him:
At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”
Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”
Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
Jesus no longer used figurative language (e.g.: parables, proverbs) but plain speech and he answered the disciples’ questions before they even asked them. This created another level of intimacy and faith.
Cf. Exodus 33:11: “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend ... ”
Numbers 12:6-8: “When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD ... ”
Deuteronomy 34:10: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.”
The reason for more figurative language and obscurity seems to be connected with the testing of the people that listen to Jesus. Will we persevere and hang in there with hunger for the truth? Will we do what it takes to understand Jesus’ words? Our character is going to be formed in the pursuit of his word:
Matthew 7:6: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs ... ”
Matthew 13:10-17: “The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”
I may close with an illustration of the disciples’ discovery that Jesus was answering their questions before they even asked them. “Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” God is speaking to us and his communication increases – rather than decreases.
This is a testimony from Pastor Bill Johnson (Brisbane 2008):
God answers questions that do not even seem important. This is just to express his love for us. One day – as a young man – I was sitting by a lake – praying, reading my Bible, wonderful time with the Lord, sun was shining. There were these little fish (Blue Hill). I was throwing little rocks into water. They would come and nibble at them and spew them out again. They didn’t like rocks. I was “tormenting” them. Then this thought came to my mind: “I wonder if they would eat a bee.” Bees have stingers. Would they eat them? Crossed my mind. As soon as this crossed my mind, a bee flies by (kamikaze bee). The bee flies a certain height, stops right in front of me, drops voluntarily out of the air into the water, the fish comes up right in front of me, eats the bee and I realize: “I am not alone here.” “I knew it but now I knew it.” A passing thought got answered straight away. That impressed me. “God, you are so different than I thought.” This kind of activity of my heavenly Father just shocked me.
Cf. Many people may experience that the Sunday sermon or daily devotion is precisely what they have been wondering about and need in their current situation. God speaks into their lives before they even formulate the question.
Isn’t God good? This morning – Jesus’ words are for you – John 15:15: “I do not call you slaves any longer ... but I have called you friends ... ” You begin as slaves with obedience that does not yet fully understand the nature of God – his love. But the more you listen and the more you practice the truth, the more your relationship with your Master changes. He no longer calls you a slave but a friend. He laid down his life for you. He is going to make more and more sense to you because you begin to share his heart. He is telling you everything about himself. This is exciting. Jesus’ friends can ask for anything. Their joy will be complete.
Are you hearing Jesus this morning? If you are not yet his friend, make a beginning. Become a Christian this morning. It may start with being a slave that does not comprehend everything but friendship – with true understanding – is coming. Those that have been a Christian for a while but have not progressed to friendship because you have not taken the time – not invested the effort – for hearing from God, aim higher this morning. Attain the privilege and become a friend of Jesus. Obey him. Hear from him. Love him. Amen.