Friend > Disciple
Which is better to be a disciple of Jesus or a friend of Jesus? Which one does God want?
I see many people training Christians to be disciples. It has been a church movement for quote some time. This is a great thing. It is a wonderful thing to teach people the ways, conduct and principles of Christ. Knowing the principals of Christ is essential to Christian living. Jesus’ character should be the model and foundation for Christian ethics and behavior.
The word disciple in Greek is mathētḗs (from math-, the “mental effort needed to think something through”) – properly, a learner; a disciple, a follower of Christ who learns the doctrines of Scripture and the lifestyle they require; someone catechized with proper instruction from the Bible with its necessary follow-through (life-applications). Source
At the time of Jesus mathētḗs was used in Hellenism to refer simply to a “learner,” but apparently more often to an “adherent” of some wise teacher (Dio Chrysostom, Regno 1.38.6). Source
Matthew 28:19-20 says “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
In Greek the first phrase more directly reads “having gone therefore disciple all the nations”. The word for nations is ethnē. It refers to groups of people by culture and also ethnicity. It was used during this time to refer usually to non-Jews or Gentiles.
We are command by God to teach and show nations the characteristics and qualities of our God wherever we go. We are to infiltrate every culture with Christ culture. We are to show people who our God is and how great He is. We are to point nations of people to Christ and show them the attributes of our God.
John 8:31 says “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; […]”
It is clear from Scripture that discipleship is the first step towards leading both nations and people to Christ. Discipleship is the first step in your Christian walk. It is training people up to walk in integrity and the love of God. However, once discipleship is established we must move on to something more. We must move on to be the friends of Christ and not just simply His disciples. That is what Christ longs for.
In John 15:12-15 Jesus said,
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. “You are My friends if you do what I command you. “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
At the Last Supper Christ said that the disciples were no longer just His disciples but that they were His friends. When they were performing miracles in His name and casting out devils they were not called the friends of God. They were called the friends of God when Jesus began to share His heart with them. They were not called friends until they allowed Jesus to wash their feet. This is symbolic of the fact that one cannot be the friend of God until they have allowed Christ to serve them – until they have allowed Christ to cleanse them of their day to day worries and troubles and remove all their fears.
One thing that the church has forgotten is that discipleship produces imitation but friendship produces intimacy.
Who were the friends of Christ?
There are few people called the friends of Jesus, but two stand out in particular – Mary and Martha.
We see Mary mentioned in John 12:1-3 “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 11:1-2 specifies that Mary is the sister of Lazarus).
In Luke 10:38-39 we see Mary’s second encounter with Jesus, “Now as they (Jesus and the disciples) were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.”
Let’s stop and examine Christ’s relationship with Mary. No where else in Scripture is it ever said that ” […] wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” Matthew 26:13. This is an incredibly profound thing to say. Of all the miracles that the disciples performed and of all the numerous souls who followed Christ, none were ever awarded this honor.
Secondly, no where else in Scripture does someone learn at the literal feet of Jesus – but Mary did. The disciples saw Jesus feed the 5,000 but they did not have the same one on one encounter with Christ. They did not see the face of Jesus only His hands – His miracles that He performed. Mary got to see His face. Jesus spent His formal time with the disciples and His leisure time with Mary and Martha; He chose to spend His free time with His friends. One of Christ’s disciples betrayed Him and the other denied knowing Him – His friends never did. When Christ needed them most, the disciples could not stay awake while He prayed in the Garden. Whereas, His friend Mary was not only there for His crucifixion but was also present at His resurrection. The friend of God had to tell the disciple of God that Christ had risen. The friend hears firsthand. The disciple hears second hand and must be taught to hear God for themselves. There is a privilege that comes with being the friend of God. He will tell you secrets that no one else hears. He will reveal things to you that no one else sees. There is a privilege that comes with being a friend of God. You see the side of Him that no one else does.
I believe Christ desires for us to be friends more than disciples. As we allow Christ to be our friend and greatest influence, we will become more like Him and become instep with His movements. Discipleship cannot produce this – only relationship can. As we allow Christ to take that place in our lives, we will become more and more like Him in thought, action and deed. We won’t have to worry about trying to be like Christ because it will be ingrained as a part of who we are through the influence we have allowed Him to have. We will not have to study the ways of Jesus in order to know Him but we will instead know Him through influence and by intimate interactions. I believe this is what Christ desires to have with us.