With Song of Solomon 2:1 in mind, hymn writer Charles Fry penned the song “The Lilly of the Valley” in 1881. Seeking to describe the intimacy that exists between the Savior and His disciples, the song begins with the words “I have found a friend in Jesus.” Friendship in the ancient world was a reciprocal relationship built upon loyalty, trust, affection, and service (2 Sam. 16:16-17; Pro. 18:24; 1 Sam. 18:1-4; Phil. 4:1). Such a relationship exists between people, but it also exists between man and God. Abraham was called the friend of God (Jas. 2:23) and so were his descendants (2 Chron. 20:7). Likewise, one can find friendship with Jesus the Christ. In His farewell address to the apostles Jesus outlined the parameters of friendship for them, and us.
Friendship with Jesus involves sacrificial love (John 15:13). In John 13:34 Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” The newness of the commandment is not that the children of Israel had never been commanded to love. Leviticus 19:18 says, “…but thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” The newness is seen in the model. The standard of love for one’s neighbor is no longer self, but Christ. We are to love one another as He has loved us (cf. 1 John 3:16). But how has Jesus manifested His love? John 15:13 answers the question–“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Because of His great love for us, Jesus endured the pain of the cross (2 Cor. 8:9; John 10:15; Eph. 5:2). He died that we might live! The only appropriate response to such sacrificial love is reciprocation. Paul wrote, “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15). To truly be His friend, we must sacrifice our lives for the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2). His will must become our will and His service must become our priority (Matt. 6:33). As Paul said “…Christ shall be magnified in my body whether it be by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20). With love as the motivating factor (1 Cor. 13:1-3) we must give everything to our Friend.
Friendship with Jesus involves obedience (John 15:14). Abraham was called the friend of God because of his obedience to God’s will (Jas. 2:21-23). Similarly, our friendship with Jesus depends upon our willingness to obey Him. Friendship is a relationship based upon loyalty and sacrificial love. Jesus loved us enough to leave the splendors of Heaven, walk the dusty streets of Judea, and endure the agony of the cross on our behalf. He has more than proven His love and loyalty to us. How will we prove ours to Him? No less than five times in His discourse, Jesus referred to love and obedience as that which defines the proper relationship between Himself and His followers. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). We abide in His love by keeping His commandments (John 15:9-10). Jesus not only commanded obedience, He demonstrated it. He “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). He “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). We must, therefore, follow the example of our Friend and Savior by giving ourselves over to complete obedience to the Lord’s commands.
Friendship with Jesus involves knowledge (John 15:15). Though we are commanded to obey and serve our Lord, such service is not rendered without knowledge. A master may give his servants orders to follow without any rationale or explanation. But our Master calls us friends “for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Jehovah’s plan for man’s redemption has existed in His mind from eternity (Eph. 3:11). The details of that plan were hidden but have now been revealed to mankind. Paul refers to it as “the mystery which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest… (Rom. 15:25-26). The “mystery of His will” (Eph. 1:9) “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 1:9; 3:5). Jesus came into the world to fulfill the Father’s will (Heb. 10:9). He came to save us from our sins that we may be reconciled back to God. Throughout His ministry He revealed His purpose to His disciples and it is through knowledge of that purpose that we are drawn near to Him (John 17:6-8). Paul wrote to the church at Colossae, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9). The next two verses identify four benefits of growing in our knowledge of God’s will, one of which is “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). To increase in the knowledge of God is to grow closer to Him. It identifies our relationship with Him as one of intimacy. The more we know about our God and our Savior, Jesus the Christ, the more we know them, personally, and the stronger our relationship becomes.
We often sing “What a friend we have in Jesus” and indeed it is so. No relationship exists in the world like the one that a Christian can have with the Savior. But that friendship is not cheap. Friendship is a relationship built upon love, loyalty, and affection. Our Lord displays all these things, and more, to us. He requires that we do the same. To truly be His friend we must love Him sacrificially, obey His will, and grow in our knowledge of Him. We cannot find a friend in Jesus if we are not willing to be a friend to Jesus.