The Best Friend of All: Reflections on John 15:9-17

Sallie McFague, in her book Models of God, discusses the characteristics of friendship in biblical, theological terms. Friendship does not arise from necessity. We enter into it freely. As such it represents the very essence of divine election in which God chooses to enter into relationship of friendship with Israel. Friendship is based on a disinterested love for the unique characteristics of the other. Friendship forms strong bonds and the betrayal of a friend ranks as the most dastardly of deeds. She points out that Dante reserves the inner circle of Hell for Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. (Ford, 73-74)

Then and now, friendship with Jesus brings followers into a relationship of reciprocal love, creating a community in which people who addressed each other as "friends" could realize the ideal of mutual self-sacrifice (15:12-14). (Koester, 241)

There are, as you'll see from the list below, many descriptions of who friends are and what they do, in the form of quotations and song lyrics. I find it inspiring to read them all through the lens of my best friend. After each one, I nod my head and say, "Yes, that's him all right."

"Lean on me, when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on, for it won't be long, 'til I'm going to need somebody to lean on." ~ "Lean On Me" lyrics by Bill Withers (1972)

"In good times, in bad times I'll be on your side forever more, that's what friends are for." ~ "That's What Friends Are For" lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager (1982)

"I get by with a little help from my friends." ~ "With a Little Help from My Friends," John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1967

"Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend." ~ Albert Camus (also attributed to Maimonides)

"My friends are my estate." ~ Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886, American poet

"Friends hold all things in common" ~ Pythagorus, 570-495 B.C.E. Greek philosopher, mathematician and founder of religious movement known as Pythagoreanism

"Should auld aquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind?" ~ Robert Burns, 1759 - 1796, Scottish poet

"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, the one will lift up the other." ~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

"If a man does not make new acquaintance as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair." ~ Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), British lexiographer

"For a shield from the storm, for a friend, for a love to keep me safe and warm . . . I turn to you. For the strength to be strong, for the will to carry on . . . for everything you do, for everything that's true, I turn to you." ~ "I Turn to You" lyrics by Diane Warren 1996, recorded by Christina Aguilera, 1998

"Even one who possessed all goods would not wish to live without friends." ~ Aristotle, 384-322 B.C.E., Greek Philosopher (Nicomachean Ethics)

"Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other gold." (Girl Scout Song)

"You've got troubles, I've got 'em too. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you. We'll stick together to see it through cause you've got a friend in me." ~ "You've Got a Friend in Me" lyrics and music by Randy Newman, 1995

"Earthly friends may prove untrue, doubts and fears assail, but one still loves and he cares for you. One who will not fail." ~ Song "Jesus, Never Fails" lyrics and music by Arthur Luther, 1927

Quotes and songs on friendship abound. But the best quote on friendship of all comes from the best friend of all. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn. 15:13).


Sources Consulted
Melvyn R. Hillmer, "They Believed in Him: Discipleship in the Johannine Tradition," in Patterns of Discipleship in the N.T. ed by Richard N. Longenecker.

Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community.

J. Massyngbaerde, Redeemer, Friend and Mother: Salvation in Antiquity and in the Gospel of John.

The quotes on friendship are from

5/6/2012 4:00:00 AM
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  • Alyce McKenzie
    About Alyce McKenzie
    Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.