What Does it Mean to be a Friend of God

what does it mean to be a friend of God

            The author of the Gospel of John has laid out a narrative which seeks to introduce the purpose, ideas and nature of Jesus to a widespread audience made up of Jews and Gentiles. From this understanding we can see how the author uses events such as the Farwell Discourse to demonstrate how one is to follow Christ and how they are to live in this world which is awaiting total redemption. Yet within the Farwell Discourse lies a brief exposition where Jesus equated his faithful disciples as friends. Therefore, what does it mean on both on a practical and a theological level to be considered a friend of God according to John 15:9-17?

            It is my intention to demonstrate how the Old Testament, Jewish culture and Greco-Roman philosophy influenced the original understanding of John 15:9-17 and provides insights into how we can apply this text today. John 15:9-17 historically demonstrates how being friend of God is a one-way designation given to obedient disciples who fulfill the mandate of “bearing fruit” through the expansion of the kingdom of God by preaching, discipleship and loving others according to the revelations they have received through a close relationship with Jesus. In a modern context the people who can be considered friends of God are Christians who work obediently and faithfully alongside the Holy Spirit to bring about long lasting spiritual fruit in this world.

John 15:9-17 Within the Narrative of the Gospel of John

            The passage in question is found in the second half of what is known as the Farwell discourse which spans from chapter fourteen through to chapter seventeen. The author dedicated such as large part of his gospel to this event as it provides the final instruction of Jesus given to the disciples before his subsequent arrest and crucifixion. In many ways these are “death bed” instructions given in a manner similar to Joseph demanding his bones be brought to the land promised to Abraham in Genesis 50:25.

This exposition then is Jesus’s attempt to prepare the disciples for life after the resurrection and to encourage them to go about continuing the work he began on earth. John 15:15 highlights the discourse on friendship is located between the parable of the vine and the admission to prepare to endure persecution with the help of the Holy Spirit. This section on friendship then is the climax of the disciples pre-Pentecost journey where they are recognized as being no longer the servants or followers of Christ but now have been promoted to a deeper relationship as through “the impact of fresh revelation, ‘servants’ give way to ‘friends’”.[1]

            To better understand this section and the overall concept of friendship with God we need to recognize two overarching concepts in the Gospel of John: friendship and love. In relation to the totality of the gospel the author speaks of the concept of friendship in other places such as in 3:29 which speaks of the friends of the bridegroom. Furthermore in 11:11 Jesus referred to Lazarus as “our friend”[2] who has fallen asleep. The final instance is in 19:12 where the Jewish leaders accuse Pilate of not being a true friend of Caesar. These verses speak to a level of interpersonal interaction a familiarity which goes beyond the idea of a passing neighbor and to something of greater significance.

The second key recurring in the Gospel of John is love which is expressed by God to the world (3:16), to Jesus (3:25, 10:17), and to the disciples (13:34). This love from God is expected to be reciprocated by the disciples and followers of Christ towards other people (15:12). Jesus then is the example of love and John 15 love is presented in “the aorist tense, depicting his love as a complete action, denoting perhaps the entire demonstration of Jesus’ love for his disciples.”[3] The emphasis placed on these concepts in the Gospel of John speak of a reciprocal relationship which is not based on feeling but instead on action.

Understanding the Meaning Behind “Friend”

            The modern concept of a friend and friendship in general is one which is mostly foreign to the culture leading up to and comprising the original audience of the Gospel of John. To better understand the usage of the term friend sued by Jesus through the author of the gospel we need to understand the way the Greeks understood this work. The Greek word used in John 15:15 is φίλος and it is seen as meaning “a person with whom one has a close bond or friendship or to whom one is under a basic obligation.” [4] In a broader sense φίλος was also used by the Greeks to demonstrate a personal friend, a loved one in a homo-erotic sense, the lover, the favourite (esp. of the gods), an ally, followers” of a political leader, and clients who cluster around a prominent and wealthy man. [5]   

            For the author of the Gospel of John the choice to use the word φίλος was not an arbitrary one as it was commonly used in the Septuagint to translate of the Hebrew word רֵעַ. In Hebrew רֵעַ was used to define both the ideas of friendship and being a neighbor to a person. However there does appear to be a divergence from the Septuagint’s and the Gospels use of friend in relation to the Hebrew connotation. As the “Alexandrian translators, who naturally thought of friendship in Hellenistic categories, arbitrarily introduced φίλος for רֵעַ at many points”[6] rather than the word πλεσιν which is more in line with the Hebrew understanding of being a neighbor. We see then that the Greek overtones of friendship are driving us more towards an understanding which is foreign both to modern understanding and to the ancient Jewish cultural context.

Old Testament Precedents Concerning Friendship         

            To better understand the concept of friendship which is being advanced by Jesus and the author of the Gospel of John we next need to look back to the Old Testament and see how this idea originates and develops. When we look at the dynamic of being a “friend of God” the first person which fits that description is the patriarch Abraham. In 1 Chronicles 20:7 the author speaks of how God drove the Canaanites from the land in which was given to the “descendants of Abraham your friend.”[7] This title is also attributed to Abraham in Isaiah 41:8 where the prophet speaks of Israel being the “offspring of Abraham, my friend” or in a literal sense “my loving one/who loved me.” [8] This recognition of this higher status of Abraham continued in the intertestamental period with Jubilee 19:9 and into the New Testament in James 2:23.

             With Abraham the Old Testament paints a theological picture of a person who was chosen by God for a purpose and reciprocated that calling through faithfulness and obedience. Paul speaks rightly of Abraham in Galatians 3:6-9 who through obedience and faith received the gift of righteousness, that is the right to stand near to God in relationship. In Genesis Abraham is seen as one who had the privilege to speak with God concerning his plans in the world. In Genesis 18 we see that Abraham’s relationship with God allowed him to elevate past the level of servant and to know what his master was doing and the ability to influence those decisions. Furthermore, Abraham is rewarded with a promise that through his descendants that the entire world will be blessed because of his active relationship with God.

            The second key example of a person being a friend of God in the Old Testament is Moses who is described in Exodus 33:11 as the one who spoke with God “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Much like Abraham this elevated status given to Moses was in response similar factors such as being chosen as an instrument of God, continual faith in God’s plans, in his continual obedience[9] to God. Conversely the “golden calf incident caused a clear rift between God and his people, but Moses was God’s loyal servant and friend. God was distancing himself from Israel, but growing closer to Moses.”[10] Unlike the people Moses was granted access to God’s plans and purposes and allowed to not only listen but to intercede. This relationship then becomes part of the underlying structure of what we see in John 15:15 where Jesus implies “that the mark of the friend (as opposed to the servant) is that he knows the purpose and meaning of the commands given to him.”[11]

            Aside from the idea of friendship between God and man the Old Testament also offers insight into the interpersonal concept of friendship between people. One of the strongest examples of interpersonal friendship is the relationship between Jonathan and David which is highlighted in 2 Samuel 1:26. Here David laments the loss of his friend by stating how “your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” In this simple example of friendship, we see a great deal of trust and active faithfulness which resulted in Jonathan protecting David from the Saul and David later seeking out to bless Mephibosheth on account of his friendship and covenant with Jonathan.

            This example factors into the John 15:15 as it demonstrates the long-lasting benefits and blessings a person can receive on account of the covenantal friendship or “the knitting of souls”[12] between others. We can summarize then that according to the Old Testament “friendship implies the sharing of information about oneself. Psalm 25:14 links the friendship of God with the fact that God makes his covenant known to his friends.”[13] From a place of friendship comes access to revelation and promises from God which carries with it a responsibility to contribute to the fulfillment of those promises while maintain hope that those same promises will be fulfilled by God.

Cultural Backgrounds of Friendship

Second Temple era Jewish Cultural Influences

            Beyond the bounds of the Old Testament there are several other significant Jewish cultural factors which influence our understanding of the idea of friendship the author of John was conveying to his readers. During the Second Temple era several pseudographical and apocryphal books were created which held a certain amount of respect in the Jewish community. One of those books was the Wisdom of Sirach which followed the narrative style of Jewish wisdom literature. This book addressees the concept of friendship in 6:16-17 and declares:

A loyal friend is like a medicine that keeps you in good health. Only those who fear the Lord can find such a friend. 17 A person who fears the Lord can make real friendships, because he will treat his friends as he does himself. (GNT)

Sirach demonstrates the importance of friendship and makes an interesting connection between the availability of friendship and one’s relationship with God. In the Gospel of John this concept is taken to the next level as the “loyal friend” being described is not a human but God himself.

            Other places such as 3 Maccabees 5:19, 44 also speak of the idea of friendship but in this context it follows a more Hellenistic understanding. Here friendship is less about a mutual relationship and has to do more with being an associate or and advisor to a king. This example furthers the idea that one of the more “important aspect of ancient friendship was the sharing of information and confidences.”[14] This sharing of information ranges from relationships between a king and his advisors and even between a Rabbi and his disciples.

            One place where Jewish culture differed from Hellenistic influences can be seen in the willingness to die for one’s friend.Antiquity shows examples such as Tigranes the king of Armenia declaring that he would give his own life to rescue his wife from Cyrus the king of Persia in an event which unexpectedly forged a new friendship between both men. [15] Despite this high moral value Greeks placed upon on such actions Jewish contemporaries of John such as “Rabbi Akiba argued that one’s own life took precedence over another’s.” [16] This cultural understanding then adds greater significance to Jesus’s words in John 15:13 as to die for the law was noble but it was not so for another person.

            Despite the apparent Jewish upbringing of the author of the Gospel of John we must concede that many of the original readers of that gospel would have been Hellenized Gentiles and Diaspora Jews. Therefore to understand Jewish culture in the first century we must consult the writings of Philo of Alexandria (20 BC – AD 50) to better Jews outside of Palestine, and of those in the early church.

            When it comes to the concept of friendship Philo stresses “that cleaving to God is a spiritual process that leads to true friendship and love of God, which leads in turn to eternal life next to him.”[17] This cleaving to God is later seen in his comments about Moses’s relationship with God and explains how God’s “frankness of speech is akin to friendship.”[18] In terms of a similar relationship between Abraham and God Philo comments:

He alone is nobly born, for he has registered God as his father and become by adoption His only son, the possessor not of riches, but of all riches, faring sumptuously where there is nought (sic) but good things, unstinted in number and sterling in worth, which alone wax not old through time, but ever renew their youth;[19]

            The overarching idea then presented by Philo that “a full union with the transcendent creator is not only possible but in fact the pinnacle of Mosaic Law.”[20] Although this pinnacle was not reached until the incarnation and resurrection of Christ who made this union and friendship truly possible to a wide range of people.

Hellenistic Cultural Influences

             Given the spread of Christianity into Hellenized parts of the Roman Empire we must assume that given the universal nature in which the Gospel of John was written there would have been some allowance given that many of its original readers would have been steeped in Hellenistic culture. Therefore, it is important to examine the larger Hellenistic concepts of friendship and determine which if any can have bearing on the larger idea of friendship. As we have already seen the general concept of φίλος was relatively foreign to the Jewish vernacular, so it is necessary to trace this concept back to its source and see how it influenced what was recorded in the gospel. Often this idea of friendship was equated with royal patronage as we see with those allowed into inner circle of Alexander of Macedon; “the king honoured the physician with magnificent gifts and assigned him to the most loyal category of Friends.”[21] While this view of friendship was quite common in Roman culture the Greeks also extended this idea to include people who were social equals and those in a client-patron relationship even if they were part of different social classes.

            One common denominator stands out in Greek friendship that no matter “one’s social level, reciprocity stands out as the key feature of friendship.[22] This reciprocity ranged from favors and services and could be seen to include even the death of one to protect the other. Aristotle spoke of this ultimate sacrifice by saying “But it is also true that 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 in their behalf.”[23] Aristotle goes on to speak highly of the concept of friendship between people going as far as to say, “it is thought that a good man is a friendly man, and that friendship is a state of the moral character.” [24] This view on friendship is later coupled with the idea that such friendships are being based on goodness, utility and pleasure.[25]

When it comes to the possibility of a friendship between mankind and the god(s) Aristotle believed that this was no more likely than a man could be a friend to his slave or his tools. The philosopher saw the vast differences between man and the gods and concluded that “but when one becomes very remote from the other, as God is remote from man, it (friendship) can continue no longer.”[26] This viewpoint however was not accepted across all facets of Greek philosophy as Epictetus commented “did not Socrates love his own children? He did; but it was as a free man, as one who remembered that he must first be a friend to the gods.”[27]

            For the readers of the Gospel of John they would have been confronted with the understanding of the separation between people and the God’s advanced by Aristotle and the bridging of such a gap by Jesus in his offer of friendship. In the Greek viewpoint Jesus was fulfilling the role of a friend in dying for his followers which are prophetically referred to as a new nation. It can be concluded then that the Greek ideas of friendship are generally compatible with the narrative set in the gospel. Although the limited form of friendship is taken to a higher level the expectation of reciprocity expected from the followers of God will form a core pillar of the idea of being a friend of God.

The Impact of John 15:9-17 on its Original Audience

            What the original readers of the Gospel of John may have first noticed is that Jesus in this passage “were addressed to a group that was not going to act very friendly… What sort of thing must Jesus think friendship is if he used it so confidently of these people?”[28] In terms of the narrative of John just a few hours after Jesus granted to title of friends to the disciples they ran away from him and Peter went as far as to deny him three times. Despite the short-term failures of the newly minted friends of God there remains a great deal of theological insight the original audience of the Gospel would of gleaned.

Initiated by Jesus

            Jesus states in John 15:16 that he was the one responsible for choosing the disciples to be his students and companions. This language would of evoked the memory of the likes of Abraham and Moses the friends of God who to had been chosen to advance the plan of redemption and to announce a new inauguration of a covenant. This selection of the disciples is not seen in a light of slavery but instead of love and Jesus affirms love for them if they continue to follow his commands, a similar offer made to Israel in the wilderness.

            Jesus then is taking responsibility for the initiation of the relationship but places upon the disciples an obligation to fulfill their part of the relationship. Not in a client-patron manner but a progression from teacher-student to a closer relationship which would continue not in face to face encounters but through the coming Holy Spirit. Through this unmerited favor shown through Jesus we see that “God has initiated everything about this friendship, leaving those brought close to him to respond in faithfulness as they draw on the example of the Father and his sent one.”[29] For those reading this section they would be encouraged that they too have been set aside by God and they to through the Holy Spirit can come to a deeper place of knowing Christ.

Friend of God: A One-Way Designation

What stands out from this offer of friendship is that at no point does anyone declare they themselves are a friend of God. Here we see Jesus declare that he is their friend but the disciples (and later followers) do not make the same reciprocal comment. This is because “Jesus the Son is never our peer either! He calls the disciples his ‘friends’ in order that they might know and do the will of his Father.” [30] The original readers would of recognized that this “friendship is not mutual in the same way as human friendships usually are.” [31]

Jesus and Jesus alone is the one giving commands while the disciples, although being friends, are the ones expected to fulfill those commands. In this sense even the concept of prayer can fit into this idea as God is not bound to fulfill all of our own desires and he encourages us to pray according to his will. While we can petition God as Abraham did over the fate of Sodom we cannot command God to do things contrary to his will. This left the disciples and the original audience to grasp the idea that while they have greater access to God they are still expected to submit to the King.

Love and Obedience

Leading up to the declaration of friendship made by Jesus he first expounds the necessity for love to be present within his followers. Using first the example of himself first loving them he sets the stage for part of their responsibility as friends of God. In John 15:12 Jesus give the explicit command to “Love each other as I have loved you.”

            The type of love and intimate union being modeled in this passage is “ not merely a mystical experience but a relational encounter, for he gives it content with the term ‘love’”[32] For the early followers they would of perceived this being a command to follow in order to demonstrate their faithfulness and allegiance to Jesus. Love is an action which is required to demonstrate the reality of one’s conversion to Christ. We see this demonstrated in John 13:35  where Jesus declares “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Expectation to Go and Bear Fruit

            Along with the exception for the disciples to love one another Jesus also placed upon those who are called friends the responsibility to continue his work upon the Earth. Following the declaration of being friends Jesus returns to the language of the parable of the vine and commands the disciples to go out and bear fruit. One of Jesus’s primary goals during his ministry was to bring glory to the Father and now Jesus appoints those he calls friends to continue that very same work.

            Much like the test of fruitfulness given to the branches of the vine in John 15:1-6 so to are the friends of God expected to take what they receive from Christ (spiritual sap) the vine and to bring about the expansion of the Kingdom of God upon the earth. Understanding this context, we see why “Father would answer their requests in order to accomplish that mission”[33]

and why Jesus would offer the “the full sharing of confidential information”[34] The goal of a friend of God then is to go about in love and produce spiritual “fruit that will last”[35] in the Earth which results in added friends of God who go about and do likewise.

Possible Applications of John 15:9-17

            Traditionally this section from the Gospel of John has been interpreted in a variety of ways. John Chrysostom emphasized the aspect of heavenly revelation: “and since to speak of secrets appears to be the strongest proof of friendship.” [36] While Augustine focused on the concept of obedience: “that it is the duty of servants to yield obedience to their master’s commands.”[37] Finally Ambrose of Milan spoke of our unity with Christ: “to unfold to him our secrets which we hold in our own hearts… He who is of one mind with Him, he too is His friend.[38]

            In a modern context we can apply this verse through two primary avenues. First of which is in the development of our personal relationships with Christ through the Holy Spirit. By which we receive insights and illumination from the scriptures which aid us in living according to the commands of Christ, as a good friend of God is one who is obedient. We to have the same offer of revelation and relationship available to us today if we are willing to demonstrate obedience and commitment to Christ.

            Secondly, we are to continue the work of Jesus upon the earth, through ministry, preaching, teaching, love and a host of other means. We to are bound to the commands to love others and to bear fruit that will last upon this Earth as we draw from the vine. In fulfilling those commands, we to can have assurance that God will hear our prayers which are in line with his will and that he will provide the revelation needed to fulfill that mandate.


            To be a friend of God according to not only John 15:9-17 but also the cultural undertones which permeate the Gospel of John is not a matter of mystery but of concrete action. Those who are willing embrace this status of friend of God have hope if they are prepared to live a life of obedience to the commands of Christ. Which includes the mandate of bearing fruit through the expansion of the kingdom of God by preaching, discipleship and loving others according to the revelations they receive through a constant fellowship with the Holy Spirit.  While we are never an equal with God in this relationship, we are offered the opportunity to go beyond a distant relationship with a heavenly teacher and instead come into intimate fellowship with him. That is if we are faithful in our commitment to bring about the commands of our King in this world as he goes about bringing glory to God and creating additional friends of God.

     [1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 510.

     [2] All scriptures used in this paper are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

     [3] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 315.

     [4] Justin Langford, “Friendship,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

     [5] Gustav Stählin, “Φιλέω, Καταφιλέω, Φίλημα, Φίλος, Φίλη, Φιλία,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 146–147.

     [6] Ibid, 156.

     [7] Hebrew: אָהֵב LXX: τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ

     [8] J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 286.

     [9] With the exception of the incident at Meribah in Numbers 20.

     [10] Anthony T. Selvaggio, From Bondage to Liberty: The Gospel according to Moses, ed. Iain M. Duguid, The Gospel according to the Old Testament (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014), 145.

     [11] R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 2, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 234.

     [12] see Deuteronomy 13:6.

     [13] Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 309.

     [14] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 317.

     [15] Xenophon, Xenophon in Seven Volumes, 5 and 6, trans. Walter Miller (Medford, MA: Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, Ltd., London., 1914) 3.1.37.

     [16] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Jn 15:12–13.

     [17] Afterman, Adam. “From Philo to Plotinus: The Emergence of Mystical Union.” The Journal of Religion 93, no. 2 (2013): 191. Accessed April 6, 2020. doi:10.1086/667598.

     [18] Philo, Philo, trans. F. H. Colson, G. H. Whitaker, and J. W. Earp, vol. 4, The Loeb Classical Library (London; England; Cambridge, MA: William Heinemann Ltd; Harvard University Press, 1929–1962), 295, Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres, Book V, verse 21.

     [19] Ibid. 473, De Sobrietate 11:56.

     [20] Afterman, Adam. “From Philo to Plotinus: The Emergence of Mystical Union.” The Journal of Religion 93, no. 2 (2013): 189-190. Accessed April 6, 2020. doi:10.1086/667598.

     [21] Diodorus, Siculus, 17.31.6, Perseus Digital Library, accessed April 8, 2020, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0084%3Abook%3D17%3Achapter%3D31%3Asection%3D6

     [22] Justin Langford, “Friendship,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

     [23] Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 19, translated by H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1934), 1169, Nicomachean Ethics Book 9.9.

     [24] Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Translated by H. Rackham., vol. 20 (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1981), Eudemian Ethics Book 7.

     [25] Ibid.

     [26] Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 19, translated by H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1934), 1169, Nicomachean Ethics Book 8.7.

     [27] “Epictetus Diatr. 3.24.60, Perseus Digital Library, accessed April 8, 2020, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0236%3Atext%3Ddisc%3Abook%3D3%3Achapter%3D24

     [28] Peter Dula, “The Politics of Friendship in the Gospel of John.” In Reading Scripture as a Political Act: Essays on Theopolitical Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Tapie Matthew A. and McClain Daniel Wade, by Fowl Stephen E. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, 2015), 43. Accessed April 5, 2020. doi:10.2307/j.ctt155j37g.6.

     [29] Darrell L. Brock and Benjamin I. Simpson, Jesus According to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 633.

     [30] Robbie Castleman, “The Last Word: My Father and Common Grace,” Themelios 29, no. 3 (2004): 44.

     [31] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 317.

     [32] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary vol. 2 (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 1003.

     [33] Edwin A. Blum, “John,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 326.

     [34] Joseph Dongell, John: A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 1997), 185.

     [35] John 15:16

     [36] John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Gospel of St. John,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. John and Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. G. T. Stupart, vol. 14, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 282.

     [37] Augustine of Hippo, “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John,” in St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. John Gibb and James Innes, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 351.

     [38] Ambrose of Milan, “On the Duties of the Clergy,” in St. Ambrose: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. H. de Romestin, E. de Romestin, and H. T. F. Duckworth, vol. 10, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1896), 89.

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Life Beyond Church Ep. 24: How To Experience The Goodness of God

Life Beyond Church Episode 24: How To Experience The Goodness of God

Do you trust in the Goodness of God? How can you have faith in a God that appears so absent from creation? Come and learn the 4 keys to understanding God’s nature and how that knowledge can revitalize your life.

Go even deeper with the article and Podcast this video is based on HERE!

Life Beyond Church Ep. 18: Two Questions That Determine Your Life

LBC 18 Two Questions that determine your life

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Your life is made up of a series of questions which have been answered by you and those around you. “Should I turn left or should I turn right?” “Do I work here or there?” “Can I see myself spending the rest of my life with this person?” “What is all of this really about?” Our journey of faith began with two questions, and at some point in our lives each one of us must answer two key and monumental questions.

17 – How To Demonstrate Our Love For God

CCR PC 17 How To Demonstrate our Love for God

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Do you love God, if so how can you prove it? Jesus laid out for us a simple yet profound formula on how to demonstrate our love for God. But what is it and how can that truth reshape our hearts and lives?

How To Experience The Goodness of God

How To Experience The Goodness of God

A core part of our relationship with Christ is rooted and grounded in our faith in the goodness of God. By that I mean we have a trust, love and respect for God which is built upon our knowledge that He is a good and loving God who is trying to restore a creation which has gone haywire. In the beginning we read repeatedly how God saw what He created as being good (Genesis 1:31). If God were not good and loving why would He have created a good and pleasant world in the first place?

He is a good and loving God who is trying to restore a creation which has gone haywire.

Unfortunately, that good world which God created was infected by the consequences of Adam and Eve’s actions. The world became corrupted, the nature of men and women was sent into chaos, but God did not change. God’s nature was not affected by the fall of man, His heart was not corrupted and the God who created a good universe didn’t suddenly become evil and vindictive. No, rather the good and loving God had been separated from His children because of sin. God’s goodness remained but that same goodness is misinterpreted as anger in the Old Testament because of the sin, brokenness and rebellion of the people. God wanted to be good and loving to them, so He poured our blessings upon them (Psalm 33:5) and eventually sent Christ.

We fail to understand that God’s anger or judgement is often a response to His rejected or abused goodness. This also applies to those who benefitted from covenant with God but failed to honor it. Be honest with yourself are you really that different from God in this manner, how do you respond when you try to love, bless, or help someone who just takes advantage of you, rejects your gifts or acts as if they are entitled to those things?

Why Is God Good?

This is the big question that many people struggle with, actually the biggest question people struggle with is “is God good?” We look at the chaos and problems of this world and assume that God is like an absentee father that doesn’t care how His kids are doing. This couldn’t be further from the truth God’s identity is rooted in Him being able to be the ultimate expression of good, to create good things and to show that goodness to those He has created (Exodus 34:6-7, Deuteronomy 6:25, Psalm 52:1, 100:5, Philippians 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:11).

God’s default setting is not “vengeance on my enemies” but it is “I desire to bless those who lovingly follow me and listen to me faithfully.” I don’t think God wants His creation to be bombarded with pain, suffering, disease, sin, death, poverty, brokenness, disappointment or fear. I believe that we through our own actions (and/or in agreement with the enemy) bring those things upon ourselves, then we go about and blame God for them.

Just look at the life of Jesus, what did He do throughout His ministry? He taught the people and undid the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus loved the people, healed the people, taught the people and provided atonement for their sins. God is not bi-polar, He doesn’t have an angry side known as the Father and a loving side known as the Son. Both are the same, both have the same nature, both have the same capacity for love, goodness and holiness. You can’t say Jesus is one way and God the Father is another, when you see one you see the other (John 14:9). Do you think God was upset when Jesus healed the crippled, or the blind man, do you think God regretted Jesus’s actions? No of course not because through Jesus we get an idea of how God wants to interact with humanity without the barrier of sin in place. That is what we see through Jesus, the Creator walking with the created, a glimpse of what God originally planned for us.

God is not bi-polar, He doesn’t have an angry side known as the Father and a loving side known as the Son. Both are the same, both have the same nature, both have the same capacity for love, goodness and holiness.

God is good, Jesus is good and the Holy Spirit is good, they are the Good Shepherd spoken of in John 10 and Psalms 23. Yet we ascribe all kinds of evils to God and see Him as the source of the world’s problems. I’m sure the people of Jeremiah’s day felt the same way, I’m sure they saw themselves as holy and pure but fell so far short of their covenant obligations that God had to intervene. Do you think God enjoyed sending Babylon into the Southern Kingdom? Do you think He relished the opportunity to kill the majority of His people (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11)? Of course not, but was it God’s fault or the people’s fault that tragedy fell upon them?

We need to begin to have faith that God is good and has blessed and favorable plans for not just us but the world in general. Just consider these scriptures for example:

Psalm 86:5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.

Nahum 1:7 “The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.

Mark 10:18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.

The Goodness of God In Action

Going through all of this I don’t even think I can come up with an adequate definition for the word good which matches up with who God is. Everything we can come up with is far inferior than what God is capable of and when we begin to realize and accept that then we can begin to understand that God is Good.

The words used in the Bible for “good” are Towb (H2896) in Hebrew and Talos (G2570) in Greek. To get a better understanding of these words just look at how they are translated into English: good, better, well, goodness, best, merry, fair, prosperity, precious, fine, wealth, beautiful, favor, honest and glad.

Doesn’t this describe the promises of God given throughout the scriptures in both the New and Old Covenants? How often do we expect God to bring these types of things into our own lives? Or are we more concerned with bringing those things into our lives through our own work and merit?

How can we deny God being good to those of us who lovingly and honestly serve Him in friendship, holiness, humility, love and obedience? Just think about it, God answers prayer, provides atonement, speaks to us, does miracles, leads people to him, judges the nations, judges the church (Revelation 2-3), loves us, guides us, gave us the Holy Spirit, allows us to move in the power and authority of Jesus and genuinely cares for us despite our outward and inward circumstances.

Look at it this way, the land which the people of Israel were promised and lead into, was it a good land or a barren one (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)? It was described as flowing with milk and honey, it was a good land which would bless and sustain the people, but only as long as they followed the covenant. God didn’t bring them into the promised land to curse and condemn them, if that is what God intended then He could of just left them in the wilderness or in Egypt. God wanted something better for them, and for us today under the New Covenant we to have also been promised the goodness of God. Not just in the natural but also spiritually and with the greatest gift and expression of God’s goodness the cross, which brought forgiveness, atonement, justification, sanctification and adoption.

What all of this has in common is that for us to receive God’s goodness we have to be in a constant and life long process of cooperation and relationship with Him.

Job 36:11 If they obey and serve Him, They shall spend their days in prosperity, And their years in pleasures.

Psalm 107:8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

The Price of Receiving God’s Goodness

What we have seen so far is that the outpouring of God’s goodness in our own lives comes with a cost. We are to live according to God’s standards, desires, nature, love, holiness and justice. The more blessing and goodness God pours out into our lives the more will be expected of us to live a Christlike life. This is nothing new and we see a similar expectation placed upon the servants in the parables of the Talents and the Minas. They were each given a gift and at the end a reckoning was brought about to see what they did with those gifts. The faithful were blessed with more while the lazy and unproductive were reprimanded.

We are to live according to God’s standards, desires, nature, love, holiness and justice. The more blessing and goodness God pours out into our lives the more will be expected of us to live a Christlike life.

We see this type of story play out over and over and over and over throughout the history of Israel. God would bless, protect, restore or empower the nation/people then the people would take those blessings for granted and return to living in the ways of the Canaanites. It seems to me that we want the blessings of God but without expectation for our lives to change. We want God’s best as long as God doesn’t make us do anything. We want to live like the world yet at the same time witness the miracles found in the book of Acts. We want to do mighty deeds like Elijah or Paul but we have the heart of Balaam, the devotion of King Ahab and the character of King Saul.

Do you not think that God is watching your lives after He blesses you? We can’t assume that God is some sort of celestial courier that brings us a present then turns His back and leaves us alone until another order comes in? It is this type of thinking that brought cycles of judgment upon Israel. The judgments didn’t come because God wasn’t good, they came because the people rejected, scorned, hated, and were ungrateful of what God had done for them. He tried to love them but they continually broke His heart. God tried to lead them back to their covenant, a covenant they relied on for blessings but also casually ignored when it wouldn’t let them do what they wanted.

We want the blessings of Deuteronomy 28:1-14 but also want to be exempt from the curses of Deuteronomy 28:15-68. We want sprinkles and rainbows to continually be over our heads but we also want to cherry pick which of Jesus’s teachings we actually have to believe and follow. You can’t have the goodness of God active in your life if you are unprepared to live the life God called us to live by.

You can’t have the goodness of God active in your life if you are unprepared to live the life God called us to live by.

Even back in the days of Joshua the people of Israel tried to get away with this. They took just enough of the land to get comfortable in and they settled for a fraction of what God had promised to bless them with. Do you know what God’s reaction was, He left them as they were, they abandoned the quest to receive the promise so God left them right in the middle of enemy territory (Joshua 23:13-16) and revoked His promise of totally taking the land.

Then over the next decades the people who had enjoyed the blessings of God became indistinguishable from the Canaanites around them, the covenant became a meaningless (with the exception of the people wanting its benefits), they participated in the terrible sins of their neighbors and it wasn’t until disaster came that they turned back to God. The people saw the clear blue skies and took advantage of their relationship with God, they ignored the winds, they ignored the voice and it took a mighty storm for the people to turn back to God. But then after the storm they got comfortable and went through the cycle all over again.

The Paradox of God’s Goodness

I think we see God move through the storm because we become so lost that it is the only way we can recognize Him. It’s hard to repent when things are going well, blessings are flowing, God’s favor is upon us but there are issues deep inside that God is trying to correct (and its not always sin issues). But we ignore those issues because everything is great, we stop praying because we have nothing left to pray for, we forget how Christ lived because it doesn’t seem to matter what I do because good days are hear and are never leaving. This is the goodness of God in action, yes, but it is also God’s judgment in action, the storm is never the judgment it is the result of unfavorable judgement.

God’s judgment doesn’t happen when we find ourselves in trials because those trials are often (but not always) expressions of God’s grace because He tried to get our attention during the good days and we ignored Him. The greatest tests and judgments always come on the sunniest and clearest days, because those are the days where we don’t fear the oncoming storms. Those are the days where our hearts grow dull, our ears become deaf, our eyes become consumed by what is in front of us and our relationship with God takes a back seat to the great things we have brought about with our hands.

The greatest tests and judgments always come on the sunniest and clearest days, because those are the days where we don’t fear the oncoming storms.

The goodness of God is a great thing, it is good to call to God for blessings (Psalm 84:1) but we must remember that we are always supposed to seek God’s face before we reach out for His hands. Then when God does pour out His goodness on us we have to be extra vigilant to continue living the life He has commanded us to follow. We have to be pressing in even harder in prayer, we must be continually looking deep within ourselves to ensure there is no rot or rust present. Yes, God can forgive us, yes God can renew us and how much greater will that be if it happens on the clear and sunny day (Psalm 125:4) instead of the day the storms came crashing upon us.

I fear that many drift away and/or reject God in the good seasons and don’t realize it until the storms come. Often the storms come to break off the dead and dying branches from the tree, yet at the same time the heavy winds only strengthen the healthy roots.

In John 15:6 Jesus is showing us how God protects those who are a part of His family, people have the choice to join with Him or to remain on their own. Those who choose and remain with God receive life and blessing while those outside are pushed out (Jeremiah 21:10, 24:3-6, 29:32). This happens so the healthy vines are not corrupted or poisoned, which could spread to the other healthy vines (Romans 11:22). It is a hard thing to speak of but there are times when God expresses His goodness through protecting His honest, faithful and loving servants from those that follow in name only (or bear the mark of covenant/circumcision but have no change in their hearts). Hear this though do not go about as God’s judge and condemn your brothers and sisters your obligation is towards seeking out the corners of your own heart (Luke 6:42).

Our Response

I fear that often we don’t see God as being good either in our own lives or in general, so many slump back into darkness and spiritual slumber and remain motionless and unproductive. God is a good and loving Creator which still watches over but it pains me to see so many people reject this idea (I’m speaking of those inside the church). We are called to be conduits of God’s goodness, love, holiness and message to the entire world and if we can’t settle the debate on whether God is good why would the world want to hear anything we have to say about it?

3 John 1:11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. (see also Amos 5:14-15, Micah 6:8)

In my time of prayer and journaling last month I was asking God about His goodness and He spoke of how we often miss out on recognizing His goodness because of our own ungratefulness (Deuteronomy 26:11). I asked point blank “God why don’t I naturally see you as being good?” His responses over a couple of days were:

“ungratefulness, life is about more than going from point A to point B, true progression happens when you value every step of the way even if your compass is telling you otherwise, to go forward sometimes you must go right (sideways) for awhile to get to the next path which will take you to your intended destination. Look around you, don’t get caught up in the leaves which all look alike but focus on the trees themselves notice their differences, their grain, their shape, study each one as you travel and you will learn more than you thought possible. Often my goodness is hidden in the details, in how one tree has deep groves in its bark while others have smooth thin bark. My goodness is found when you lean in and take a good look at the differences of the trees… You need to have faith in My goodness, just as the tree does not worry about the rain because of the stream so to must you ground yourself in the knowledge of my goodness towards you… Honor me by giving me time, honor me by taking my words seriously and honor me by concentrating on what I say long after I have said it, then you will understand my goodness… Rest and partake of my goodness, haven’t you figured that out yet, look at everything I am showing you, my goodness is your strength. You must embrace it, look at me as good and don’t see me as being far off or distant or ambivalent towards my creation.”

The next step for us to receive and witness the goodness of God in our lives is for us to first repent and cry out “God I accept your goodness and I repent for misjudging you and condemning our relationship. I repent for losing sight of our relationship and being ungrateful in the good seasons when I forgot what you have already done for me. I pray that you restore my heart and forge me into someone that resembles Christ on this Earth. I ask you to pour out your goodness, love, holiness and heart to me right now. I repent of ungratefulness, I repent of laziness and I repent for not taking our relationship seriously.”

Now after praying that prayer believe and hold on tightly to the revelation of God’s good nature and expect Him to be a living part of your life. And never forget these words:

Psalm 34:8-10 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. 10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.

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How To Experience The Goodness of God Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.