FRIENDS OR SERVANTS?
T. Pierce Brown
Paul referred to himself on more than one occasion as a “bondservant” of the Lord, so it is appropriate to think of ourselves as servants of the Lord, if such we are. But to be aware of ourselves as more than servants is necessary if we are to have the proper understanding and appreciation of our relationship with God and His Son.
Jesus says in John 15:15, “No longer do I call you servants; for a servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known unto you.”
When the Prodigal Son was ready to return, he decided to say to his father, “I am no more worthy to be called thy son. Make me as one of thy hired servants” (Luke15:15). But though he, like Paul, recognized his own unworthiness, his father looked upon him, not just as a hired servant, or even just as a friend, but as a son!
There is no earthly honor as great as that which was bestowed upon Abraham. “He was called the friend of God” (James2:23, 2 Chron. 20:7, Isa. 41:8). Only one greater honor can be given us, and that is to be called “sons of God.”
But the thrust of this article today is to suggest just a few of the things Christ may have had in mind when he said to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, but friends.”
First, a servant may do things primarily through fear, duty, or hope of reward. A friend will do them, generally, from higher motives of love, respect, gratitude, desire to please, etc.
Second, the relationship of servant is primarily legal; that of a friend primarily loving. This does not suggest nor imply that the friend will disregard the will of his friend for whom he may do service. Imagine a general in the army who is a friend of the President saying, “Because I am his friend, I will disregard his commands as Commander and Chief!” But it does suggest that the friend does not do what he does because he feels the burden of a contractual agreement. He would do whatever service he does as carefully and earnestly without any written order, if he knew it would please his friend.
Notice that Jesus emphasizes the point in verse 14 by saying, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Those who wrongly emphasize salvation by grace make it seem that since we are friends of Christ, rather than merely servants, we do not need to be concerned with whatsoever is commanded! In fact, some make it sound as if there are no commands that have any application or validity!
But the point Jesus is making is that he does not consider us mere servants, to blindly go and do certain commandments just because they are commandments, thinking of ourselves as earning a day’s pay by a day’s work, but to realize that He counts us as friends, letting us know the purpose and plan (the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth-v. 14). One of the wonderful things about the Christian system is that it is not merely composed of little rules and regulations about every minute detail of our lives, but is largely dealing with general principles.
For example, we do not find that there is a specific law that says, “Thou shalt not gamble,” or “Thou shalt not dance,” or “Thou shalt give 10% of thy income.” This does not mean there are no commandments to keep. It does mean that although a servant might be trying to keep the mere letter of the law so he could claim his reward, the friend would go beyond the mere letter to do the spirit.
It is tragic that the modernists among us have tried to make it appear that there is a conflict between the spirit of the law and the letter of it, and if one keeps the spirit of it (according to his opinion as to what the spirit is), he may disregard the letter, for Paul said, “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Paul was contrasting the Law of Moses and the old covenant with the New Covenant. He was not contrasting his actual revealed will as written in the New Testament with the spirit of what He really meant.
For example, there are those who say, “There is no question that the written word teaches that baptism is immersion in water. But one does not need to bother about the letter of the law; it is the spirit that counts. So you may have any ceremony you choose, as long as you have the spirit of wanting to be identified with Christ.” One would expect this of modernists in the denominational world, but it is becoming increasingly evident that this sort of loose and ungodly thinking is running rampant in those whom we have considered preachers of the gospel.
So, we could go on and on considering the difference in the attitude of one who thinks of himself as a mere servant and one who considers himself a friend. But it never gets down to the idea that a servant obeys and a friend just messes around having a good time and doing whatever “turns him on.” Jesus says, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John15:14).