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John 15:12-17 Study Guide: What a Friend We Have In Jesus

Community Group Study Guide — What a Friend We Have in Jesus 
John 15:12-17

Study Information:
About half of Americans say they’re lonely. The numbers get worse the younger you get with around 70% of people under 25 admitting that they’re lonely. The US Surgeon General recently came out with a six point plan to combat what has been called the “loneliness epidemic” which included strategies related to “digital health” and more in person spaces like parks, libraries and even religious institutions. If you read or watch the discussion of this plan you would think this is a new problem, but language around a “loneliness epidemic” goes back to the 1980s. The numbers have gotten worse over the decades, but there has been a problem for a while. Certainly modern parts of our world do not help us. Many things moved to be online over the last 3-4 years including meetings, work, school, even ordering groceries and meals. We secretly value convenience and efficiency over in person interaction. This is not a direct causation, but we’ve gotten more and more used to not interacting with people in person as much as we did 5, 10, 20 years ago. No wonder we are seeing news articles pop up about grocery stores having lines that are intentionally chatty and slow. We love speed and efficiency so much we have to advertise if a conversation is possible! 

We were created for community and the gospel points to that. God could have created a system of forgiveness of our sin that was impersonal, but he didn’t. God responded to sin presence in a personal way and worked a plan to display his love and called his followers into a community of faith. As Jesus prepared his disciples for his absence in John 13-17, he called them into relationship with him by saying they were no longer servants but friends. The forgiveness of our sin flows into friendship with God. We’re saved from sin and to relationship with God. We have a friend in Jesus and spiritual relationships with one another. 

Love One Another As I Have Loved You:
John 15:12-13
Jesus has been teaching his disciples about the need to be connected to him as a branch is connected to the vine. We draw life from Christ and are able to bear spiritual fruit through our dependence on Jesus. Nine times in John 15:1-11 Jesus commanded his disciples to Abide in him. To abide is a posture of rest and reliance and at the same time something they are commanded to do. We are instructed to abide in the word and prayer, by recognizing God’s love, following his commandments and through Christian community (John 15:8-12). This command to “love one another as I have loved you” is not given in isolation to the command to abide, but is one of the ways we are called to follow Christ and abide in him.

That begs the question, what was Jesus love like? There are many adjectives to describe Jesus’s love, but let’s look at three that come from what we see in our text: sacrificial, pure and unearned. 

His love was sacrificial. Jesus told them that there is “no greater love than this, to lay down your life for your friends.” On his path to the cross Jesus pointed out how his death on the cross was for their forgiveness, reconciliation and part of God’s plan to make all things new. They struggled to understand this in the moment, but would later see it. John would comment on it in 1 John 3:16 “by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Jesus was not just doing the bare minimum to get us cleaned up for God the Father, instead the cross displays what kind of love he has for us and he called his followers to emulate that kind of love.

His love was pure. Jesus never used people for his agenda or his ego. His love pushed people towards holiness and never encouraged people to sin. You can see this in the various interactions between people and  Jesus in the gospels, they always leave his presence changed and he brought dignity and selfless humility into each of those encounters. We can be suspicious of people who are kind and loving towards us and concerned they have ulterior motives, but never with Christ, his love is pure.

His love was unearned. Jesus told his disciples that he chose them, they did not choose him. Jesus did not call the best and the brightest to follow him. The gospel emphasizes that our salvation is not based on our worth or our loveliness but God’s grace.  This choosing language is often the basis of the doctrine of election which emphasizes God’s role in opening up our hearts to hear the gospel and respond to his grace. This focus on God’s choosing usually emphasizes his grace and his love. For example, Ephesians 1:4-5 highlights that before the foundation of the world we were chosen to be adopted in love. Paul writes that before we could do any good or bad, God loved us and showed grace to us. When it comes to the love of Jesus, it goes first and is not in response to our having loved him first; his love is unearned (1 John 4:19).

Friendship with Jesus:
John 15:14-17
Jesus moved from calling them servants to calling his followers his friends. The word friend in greek started out as an adjective meaning “dear.” It is similar to the greek word “Phileo” which is one of the Greek words for “love.” Over time the adjective moved to a noun meaning “friend” or “relative." Jesus’ sacrificial love takes them out of the realm of servant and into the status of friend. Notice how Jesus talked about the difference between a friend and a servant in verse 15. A servant is kept in the dark and their job is just to do certain tasks, whereas a friend reveals who they are and what they’re planning. We’re still commanded to obey and follow Jesus, but we’re also given insight into the Father’s plan and his character through Christ. We are called servants, but we are also more than servants. Thinking of ourselves primarily as servants will often have us acting in transactional ways with God, like how you may interact with a boss or service provider under a contract. Instead Jesus gives us a relational image emphasizing friend and family. 

It is out of this new relationship that he calls us into a community of faith built on love for Christ and love for one another. This kind of friendship with Jesus will transform us over time where we bear more fruit and abide in Christ (John 15:16). It is not easy to go from loneliness to intimacy with Christ and his people, but this is an invitation to experience the sacrificial love of Jesus through the church. We can help others know this type of friendship as we serve, encourage and love each other. Friendship develops over time, as you are close with others and make it a priority. Spend time in your community groups, linger after service, find a place to serve and ask people how they’re doing spiritually and how you can pray. You’d be surprised hat kind of friendship develops and how you can help others practically experience the love of Christ. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

What are some reasons friendship can be challenge in our contemporary world?

Describe Jesus love and how does that compare to people’s experience of love in our part of the world?

What is the difference between a servant and a friend? Why would God want us to primarily view our standing with him in relational terms rather than as a master/servant?

How can you experience the friendship of God through abiding in the church community? What are some ways you can help those who are lonely to be brought into that type of relationship?