No Greater Love (Week 1) – Part 1

John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Biblical Friendship

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say concerning human relationships. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it speaks repeatedly about the relationship of a friend. The Hebrew term rēá is the most commonly used term for this in the Old Testament and it depicts a general sense of reciprocity. Its uses range from a colleague to that of an intimate lover. 

Mostly though, it describes someone close, a confidant—what most of us have in mind when we think friend. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul speaks of a love that ‘bears all things,’ which is the definition of a confidant. Although the Greek term Paul employs here is agape, which stands in contrast to others like phileo (brotherly love) and eros (erotic love), rēá can have each of these meanings in view, depending on it’s usage.

In addition, any talk about friendship then requires us to remember God’s governing ethic over all human relationships and especially a true friendship—that ethic, of course, is love! And as I’ve said many times this is no cheap idea. This isn’t the world’s version of love. This isn’t even our Grandma’s view of love. We’re talking about God’s version of love. We’re talking about His very character. The Scripture says that God is love—love is not merely something He gives.

Friendship requires us to remember God’s governing ethic over all human relationships and especially a true friendship—that ethic, of course, is love! Click To Tweet

In 1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:4-8, Paul taught:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”‬

And it is this ethic that governs genuine friendship. Friends love each other and this is what love looks like.

C.S. Lewis pointed out an important contrast when he said:

“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”

And to push Lewis’s idea a step further, love must go beyond a ‘steady wish’ into a life of purposeful action. In all that we learn today, I hope our takeaway is that the good of others, forged in the Biblical ethic of love, is what friendship is all about.

Throughout history, friendship has been sought out and valued as the basis for social community. For example Aristotle and other classical philosophers, viewed friendship as a key social relationship. In the democratic ideal of the Athenian polis or city-state, friendship exemplified the mutual-social-obligation on which life depended. 

Aristotle wrote:

But it is also true the virtuous man’s conduct is often guided by the interests of his friends and of his country, and that he will if necessary lay down his life on their behalf…. And this is doubtless the case with those who give their lives for others; thus they choose great nobility for themselves.”

In John 15:13 King Jesus declared this to be the truest of friendships when He said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

And yet it must be understood rightly—although we do appreciate those who’ve paid the ultimate price, there is something that separates Jesus’ statement from that of this Aristotelian concept. The divergence is concerned with the end or the result to which the sacrifice is made. 

What do I mean? Well, Jesus is concerned with eternity—we may only be interested in something temporal. What Jesus was ultimately communicating is that no greater love has anyone than this—that Jesus laid down His life to make us His friends!

All of that said, social relationships do form a major area of focus for wisdom teachers. And since it’s in this relational sphere that wise conduct displays such importance, the Proverbs declare various principles about how friendship is produced, sustained, and even threatened.

So in this series, we’re going to look at four ideas concerning friendship and what wisdom would say about each. The first is the quality of being a good friend. The second is choosing good friends. The third is what friendship should look like in action. And finally, we will look at a few threats to friendship (we will finish this point up next week).

Let’s Talk

What do you think is the most important attribute of a friend? Comment below or email me at nathan@nathanfranckhauser.com.

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