• The BaptistWay lesson for July 12 focuses on Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 and 1 Samuel 20:1-17, 27-42.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Even more remarkable than Jesus’ oft-quoted words is what follows. “I no longer call you servants … instead I (call) you friends” (John 15:15). What remarkable words.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the Old English meaning of “friend” is “one attached to another by feelings of personal regard and preference.” Going back even further, the Greek word translated as “friend” in Jesus’ remarks is philos, a specific word for friendship denoting fondness and affection. Such a friend is more than a comrade in arms. This sort of friend is dear, beloved.
How remarkable Jesus would call his followers “friends,” beloved. Such sentiment calls to mind God’s original relationship with the man and the woman. They were God’s beloved, with whom God walked in the garden during the cool of the day. They were those whom God regarded with fondness and for whom God grieved.
Returning to Jesus’ words
Jesus indicates friendship is selfless. How different from so many of our friendships. So many of our friendships are chosen for how they will serve us. Consider why you (or other people) friend someone on Facebook, connect with someone on LinkedIn, or participate in a fraternal organization. Many of these relationships are self-serving, leading one to wonder if such relationships truly can be called “friendship.”
On the other hand, Jesus says friendship is defined by selflessness, the supreme selflessness being “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In fact, this selfless nature of friendship is what reflects the image of God, who was poured out in the life and death of Jesus Christ so his friends would know everlasting love.
Friendship is a picture of the supreme loyalty of everlasting love
Proverbs tells us there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (and presumably a sister) (Proverbs 18:24) and that a friend loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17). A friend—in the sense we all desire—is loyal, and the prerequisite for loyalty is selflessness.
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To be selfless is to deny ourselves. To be selfless is to “value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Selflessness is laying down our lives for our friends, not using our friends to improve our status and prop up our lives.
Understanding friendship as selflessness gives us the proper lens for reading Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, which is demonstrated so well by David’s friend, Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:1-17, 27-42).
Quoheleth, the mysterious teacher credited with writing Ecclesiastes, concluded depressing words about life and death and loneliness with uplifting words about friendship. Leading up to the words on friendship, the teacher wrote the dead are happier than the living and “better than both is the one who has never been born” (Ecclesiastes 4:2-3). The teacher also laments the lonely man has no one with whom to share the fruit of his labor (4:8).
By contrast, two companions have “a good return for their labor,” can help each other up when one falls, can keep each other warm, and can defend one another (4:9-12).
For these words to be true, each person in the relationship must be selfless, realizing the need for support, warmth and defense is mutual and unpredictable.
Selflessness is being open to others and empty of selfishness, self-importance and preoccupation with our selves. In being open and available to others, we avoid loneliness in two directions—our own and others’ loneliness. In being available to others, we provide “a good return” on labor, a hand up, warmth in the cold and defense in attack. In laying down our own life, we gift the other with the wonders of friendship.
We see this sort of selflessness demonstrated in the friendship of David and Jonathan. To summarize the story: David was an esteemed warrior more admired than the king. He was befriended by the king’s son, Jonathan (1 Samuel 19:1). King Saul wanted to kill David to be rid of the competition, but Jonathan got word of the plan and sought to save David’s life. Ultimately, Jonathan’s desire to save David put him directly and knowingly in harm’s way when Saul became so enraged about David that Saul attempted to spear Jonathan.
Jonathan’s selflessness is shown in the statement that “he loved [David] as much as he loved himself” (1 Samuel 20:17), a reminder and hint of “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39). By being free from his own self-interest, Jonathan could regard David as a beloved friend and could be open to protecting David’s life, even though it meant that “as long as (David lived) on this earth, neither (Jonathan) nor (his) kingdom (would) be established” (1 Samuel 20:31).
Truly, there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.