“You are my friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:14
My favorite childhood memories were the experiences I shared with my 5th grade friends. We just enjoyed being around each other. No one was judged for being awkward, stupid or socially unacceptable. When we got mad at each other, we fought. Then, within minutes of fists being thrown, we were back to being friends. There were no conditions with those friendships and it was joyful. Life felt spontaneous, safe and free.
Everything changed in the 6th grade. My closest friend in the group moved away. The rest of us moved into different junior high social groups. We could talk, but not hangout. My other closest friend started getting into drugs. While we never stopped being friends, it made it difficult for me to hang out with him. I imagine my absence felt like judgment to him, but there developed an unspoken condition to our friendship. In order to be close friends, I needed to do what he did.
This was one of the few times in my life where these conditions existed. In my experience working with children and families, I learned conditional friendships are quite common. It is a dynamic which exists in both childhood and adult friendships. These kind of relationships become a source of great pain for many. Sometimes, like doing drugs, the conditions can be destructive. Other times, it is simply painful to discover the lack of equality. Genuine friendships need a foundation of equality and mutuality to be life giving.
These experiences caused me to wince when I read verse 14 this morning. Jesus is offering us a conditional friendship. When I consulted other people who commented on this passage, no one seemed to notice this condition. They chose to emphasize being called a friend, not a servant. Or, the fact Jesus chose us before we could choose him. If you read these verses through the lens of your junior high life, it can feel a little shaky. Like, was I the first person chosen or the last? In junior high, position of selection is important.
The overriding condition framing this friendship rests in the commandment given. Love as I have loved. Give as I have given. This condition will not lead to destructive behavior. Nor is it a relationship of servitude masked as friendship. It is an invitation to explore a genuine friendship grounded in equality and mutuality. One which renews the soul with the spontaneity, safety, freedom and joy, I found among my 5th grade friends. It’s why this conditional friendship is life giving.
Click to read: John 15: 12-17
- Who would you consider your best friend?
- What makes this friendship life giving?
- When have you felt wounded by a friendship that was not really a friendship?
- Have you ever consider Jesus a friend modeled after one of your best friendships?