What does it mean to be a friend? In recent times I have been looking to the gospel of John for some answers. John is the gospel where Jesus calls His disciples friends (John 15:14), and then commands them to love each other as He has loved them (John 15:12). The love of friend Jesus, then, is to guide how we love each other as friends. I see at least five traits in John that characterise Jesus’ love for His disciples and therefore are guides to how we are to love each other.
1. Loyalty. In John 13:1, we are told that Jesus loved His disciples and loved them to the end. He was with them to the end of the line. Fair-weather friends are only with you during the good times or when things are not too complicated. But a true friend loves at all times (Prov. 17:17). A true friend sticks by us in the ups and downs of life.
2. Acceptance. Jesus knew what was in the hearts of people (John 2:24). He knew that Judas would betray Him. He knew that though sincere in his protestations of loyalty unto death, Peter, and the rest of His disciples would let Him down. Yet He accepted His disciples and loved them. A true friend knows our strengths and weaknesses and still chooses to love us.
3. Sacrifice. This is Jesus’ definition of Christian friendship (John 15:13). The cross. There is no love without sacrifice. Jesus, our true friend, dies for us. This is a theme that appears again and again in popular media: from Stranger Things, to A Better Tomorrow, to A Tale of Two Cities. I think of all my friends who put themselves on the line for me. I don’t deserve them.
4. Full disclosure. Jesus tells His disciples/friends everything the Father tells Him (John 15:15). No holding back. Paul would remind us to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Truth telling is a key component of friendship, needed even more in an age of misinformation. We all need friends in our lives who love us and can be counted on to tell us the truth even if it hurts.
5. Challenge to serve. Jesus wants His friends to bear fruit that will last (John 15:16). True friendship has a missional dimension. A true friend challenges me to be the best me I can be for others. The writer of the book of Hebrews (Heb. 10:24) reminds us that we are to stir one another to love and good deeds.
These then are five traits of friendship that we learn from Jesus, the ultimate friend. A true friend is loyal; he or she loves you at all times. A true friend is accepting; he or she knows your attractive and not-so-attractive qualities but loves you anyway. I think a true friend accepts you but also wants to help you be better. A true friend loves you sacrificially. If your friend can help you, he/she will even if it costs him/her. True friends don’t hide things from you. They can be counted on to tell you the truth. True friends inspire, challenge, and help you to be the best you can be for others.
Into this lonely world Jesus comes in love. His response to our loneliness is twofold. First, He brings His love to us. He loves His disciples and makes them His friends. Indeed, He invites all to follow Him so that we can experience His loving friendship.
Then He commands His disciples to love each other in the same way He loves us. He commands His followers to offer loving friendship to each other.  And He shows us how.