Friday, January 7, 2011

The Friend/Disciple Conundrum

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34,35

What exactly makes someone a good friend? What is the difference between a "good friend" and a "disciple"?

The English word disciple originates from the words dis, which literally means "apart", and capere, which means "to take". In other words, it means break it down or to take something apart to study it's pieces. The word later evolved into discipere, which means "to grasp intellectually, to analyze thoroughly".

The concept of a disciple is not new to me by any means, but I've never thought to look up it's definition until recently. I was struck (as I often am, it seems!) by it's similarity to the concept of a friend. If you think about it, isn't a true friend someone who we have both broke down and studied and analyzed thoroughly, and visa versa? The concept is the same for a friend as it is for a disciple. They both require a deeper relationship than that which is given to the average person we come into contact with on a day-to-day basis. The average person usually only gets a surface level interaction from us, and it's generally with an image we choose to project. However, a friend or a disciple is someone who knows better. Figuratively, oth have torn us down, and know the most intricate parts of us. From our quirks, to our ticks, they know the best and worst we have to offer.

The apostle John never left Jesus. He was with Jesus at the most important parts of his ministry. John observed the transfiguration and conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijiah (Matt. 17:1-9). He was near him in the upper room (Mark 14:13-25), he was near him in the garden of gethsemene (Mark 14:32-41), he was at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion (John 19:26,27), and he outran the other disciples to Jesus' tomb after receiving news of his resurrection (John 20:4).

He didn't understand everything Jesus did. He didn't want Jesus to surrender to the guards, but he also never said "I told you so!" and left Jesus. Neither did he appear to ever give up his hope or his love for Christ, even when everyone else had. Because he had faith and love for Christ on Saturday, he witnessed a miracle on Sunday. He never gave up, he never accepted leaving Jesus, depite how desperate it continued to look. For all he knew, he was next. While Jesus hung from the cross in agonizing pain, his concern was not on himself, but rather for his mother, and one other person- John. While suffering agonizing pain, Jesus instructed Mary to take care of John as her own son (John 19:26). Likewise, Jesus intrusted the care of his mother in his absence to John (John 19:27).

Is this being a disciple, or being a true friend?

Was John merely a disciple of Christ?

Is it even possible to merely be a disciple?

Doesn't being a disciple require being a true friend?

The line really begins to blur when we study the character of John and his love for Jesus. Please understand that I'm not trying to diminish the place of John as an Apostle of Christ, or suggest that he was anything less than such. However, the lesson is perfectly clear. What kind of a friend are we to one another? Are we the type of fair-weather friends that are so fickle that we can be blown to-and-fro by the wind? Or do we have the "friendship fortitude" shown by John toward Jesus? Some people are like friendship sponges; the only thing they do is soak others dry, while giving nothing in return. However, this is not a friend at all. After all, it is not what we receive from others that determines the value of a friend, but rather what we are willing to give for them.