“You did not choose me but I chose you.” –John 15:16
It is an honor to be chosen. When we are chosen to fill a job opening, chosen to be a friend or partner, chosen to take on a special role or responsibility… it is a sign of affirmation. Someone wants us, needs us, trusts us, believes in us. We feel honored to have been selected. And yet, even the highest earthly honors pale in comparison to the honor that has been bestowed on us in Christ, who has chosen us in love to be his friends.[i] Imagine! “You are my friends,” he says to us, “I have chosen you.”
For what has he chosen us?
He has chosen us to live in intimate union with himself, a union characterized by joy and love. William Barclay tells us that in the courts of Roman emperors and eastern kings, “there was a very select group of men who were called the friends of the king, or the friends of the emperor. At all times they had access to the king… He talked to them before he talked to his generals, his rulers, and his statesmen. The friends of the king were those who had the closest and the most intimate connection with him, and who had the right to come to him at any time.”[ii] That is the relationship Christ desires with each of us. “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (v.15). Think of it: Christ is waiting to make known to you the deepest desires of his heart; he is willing to teach you everything that he has received from the Father. He invites you to be his friend.
He has chosen us to be his friends, intimate companions on the way, but he has also chosen us with a purpose in mind: “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…” (v.16). He has chosen us in order to send us out, to represent him and his cause, to be partners in his mission. “A slave could never be a partner,” Barclay tells us, “The slave was defined in Greek law as a living tool. His master never opened his mind to him; the slave had to do what he was told without reason and without explanation.”[iii] But Christ has welcomed us as partners in his mission. He has opened his heart to us and shared his mind with us. He has told us of his plans, his hopes, his vision. How can we refuse to join in so great a cause?
He has chosen us to be privileged members of the family of God, promising that whatever we ask in his name will be given to us by the Father. If we come to this saying thoughtlessly, it sounds as if Christians, because they are chosen, will receive everything for which they pray. But we know this is not the case, nor would this be desirable. We are asked to pray in the name of Jesus; that is, with him and in him and for the sake of his cause. We are not to pray in a selfish way, nor solely for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all, always asking that “Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”
“You did not choose me, but I chose you,” says Jesus. I chose you to be friends of God, to be participants in God’s loving and redeeming work in the world, to bear the fruit of love. God is not a distant being, far beyond our reach and indifferent to the world’s need. And we are not slaves who have no right to enter into the presence of their master. No, we have been called “friends,” partners in God’s work of reconciling the whole world to himself.
[i] “For us no honor exists that could be greater than Jesus calling us his friends.” (from The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist; (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1997); p. 84.
[ii] Barclay, William; The Gospel of John; (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955); Vol 2, p.208.
[iii] Ibid, p.208-9.
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