Jesus says something both astonishing and moving in today’s reading from John: “I do not call you servants any longer… but I have called you friends”
But something else He says might take you aback: “you are my friends if you do what I command you”
Now, we don’t tend to think of friends as issuing rules, and we don’t think of friendship being dependent upon keeping them.
Let’s think about the Red Arrows for a moment, they are arguably the best-known aerobatic team in the world. But to get to that level of precision and skill takes years of training; and of course, training requires obedience.
With such high stakes you can bet that fighter and aerobatic pilots take obedience extremely seriously – because they know that their lives depend upon it.
Since we don’t have earth spinning towards us at hundreds of miles an hour, we don’t have to obey commands in order to save our lives. Or do we?
Throughout the Gospels Jesus spells it out with stark warnings and parables, the slave who failed to use his talents, the wicked vineyard tenants, the unproductive fig tree; they all end up being thrown out of heaven because they disobeyed God’s commandments.
So, in fact our eternal lives also depend upon obedience, the stakes could hardly be higher. It would be a poor friend who didn’t do anything in his power to save our lives, even if that means laying down the law.
One problem that we have in our modern society is that we confuse obedience with spineless submission. But it depends upon who you are obey and why.
We don’t think of the Red Arrows as being spineless in obeying orders during training or manoeuvres. We admire them for their dedication and discipline and understand that, when it’s a matter of life and death, obedience is essential.
Another problem is that we tend to think it’s dull to be obedient. The answer to this dilemma can be found in 1 John 5:1-6, read it and see for yourselves!
We hear God’s commandments are “not burdensome” and get a glimpse of obedience leading to a faith which, in turn, leads to victory.
A third problem is that we don’t think we’re very good at obedience, so we give up before we have really tried.
What’s the root of this crisis of confidence?
Perhaps it’s because obedience involves a deep faith commitment. There’s an expression “It’s hard to believe because it’s hard to obey”. The deeper we go into Christian life, the mire we find that faith and obedience go hand in hand.
Obedience isn’t a side-line to faith, but a key element to it, it is no less than faith in action.
Obedience is not simply saying “Yes” to everything but making a deeper commitment to live in faith and, above all, to obey Jesus’ commandment to love one another.
It’s a skill like any other and we need to practice it, as if our very lives, both earthy and eternal, depended upon it.