Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Thoughts on Easter 6: True Friends Tell It Like It Is

To be a friend means you tell it like it is. True friends speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). For to speak the truth is to love. To be a friend, then, to truly love, then, is to speak plainly, openly. It's to speak frankly and honestly and truthfully. And when one does this, when one person puts what he really thinks out there he lays down his life for the other's sake. In speaking plainly and frankly to someone, you put them first, you put their needs before yours, you put what is in their best interest before your own. You lay down your own life for the sake of theirs. For in speaking plainly, in speaking frankly, in telling it like it is, you give yourself for their gain rather than taking from them for your own, and thus you subject yourself to rejection, to misuse, and to all kinds of abuse. Nevertheless, this is the mark of true love and true friendship--open and honest speech, laying down your life for theirs.

And this is what, at last, our Lord gives to His disciples when He goes to the Father and sends them the Spirit of Truth. He lays down His life for His friends in being lifted up from the earth on the cross. He goes to the Father and sends the Spirit of Truth. He sends the Paraclete, who comes to lead them into all Truth, to lead them into what is to come, to declare to them what belongs to Jesus. Though they are His enemies according to the flesh, He treats them as friends because he speaks plainly, frankly (John 15:15) and because he lays down His life for them (John 15:13).

And so when the Holy Spirit comes, when the Paraclete, who bears and rears the children of God comes, he will lead them into a life as a friend of the Lord, a friend of the King of Kings. He will lead them into a life of prayer, a life of sacrificial prayer.

παρρησία (John 16:25) is an attribute of friendship because those who spoke plainly were understood to be trustworthy and speaking in the friend's best interest not their own. Whereas someone seeking their own interest would flatter by word and conduct. They would not be honest. They would not be frank and open.

The Lord is free to speak what He wants. He has nothing to hide. He is always open and frank. He has the freedom of speech because He is the Lord, the King. Thus our Lord will speak frankly and openly, plainly, to His disciples. He will use His παρρησίᾳ and thereby give to His disciples the status of friend and the freedom of speech with Him. Our Lord's παρρησία works παρρησία in those who hear Him. For by freely giving His Word He gives them His Spirit, His Voice. He gives them Himself. They are now one, even as the Father and the Son are one.

So now those who hear the Lord's παρρησία have the same. They can speak openly, honestly, frankly, candidly with Him. They are His friends.

But notice that the Lord rebukes His disciples for their response to His gift of παρρησία.
"Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone." (John 15:30-32)
The disciples don't respond in παρρησία. They respond with flattery. They don't treat Him as friend. They are trying to make themselves look good, hold themselves up. To point this out to them, our Lord says that they will all desert Him. They will all leave Him alone. Their response is a rejection of the παρρησίᾳ He gave them. The disciples, therefore, reject Him as their friend, as one who will will give His life for theirs. It is a rejection of Him, of His Word, of His Spirit. They don't want to be friends. They want to be slaves.

Consider your own life. Consider your own prayers. Do you couch your thoughts and your words to make you look good? Do you flatter your people, your confessor, your Lord with vain and idol speech? Are you open with them. Do you lay down you life for them? Are you their friend?

But here's the point: Despite your answer, regardless of your actions, The Lord is nevertheless your friend. He gave His life for you. He gives you His Spirit, His Word. You, therefore, have the right of παρρησία. You have freedom of speech. You can speak openly, plainly, honestly and frankly. You can tell it like it is. You can complain. You can ask the Father of your friend, our Lord Jesus Christ, anything. You have His ear because He gave it to you. Use it. Use this gift. Use your παρρησίᾳ. Open the Psalter to learn how. It is His Word, which carries His Spirit. And this will lead you into all Truth, which will give you life, joy, a freedom. Oh Lord open my lips. And He does.


  1. Thanks.

    V. 31 may simply be a statement and not a question. "You believe now. But the time is coming when you won't." I think it makes more sense this way because He just told them (v.27) that they believe in Him.

    There is a nice article in the TDNT on φιλέω. This is the preferred word for love in Greek in all literature before the NT. The NT elevates ἀγαπάω but we shouldn't blame the Holy Spirit for all the flakey sermons this has caused.

    Despite the switch to ἀγαπάω, I think there is still something to the Greek ideal of φιλέω as the highest form of love and that it should color how we read these passages. φιλέω is knowing, respectful love. It is not romance or blind affection and it is certainly not generic or abstract. It is held for comrades, for peers, those whose opinion is honored and valued, those who could speak in the assembly.

    That being said, the TDNT article demonstrates how the two terms are synonyms and that v. 27 is the only time the word is ever used of God's love for man.

    But maybe, just like in those flakey sermons about agape, we can benefit from the discipline of Greek thought even if the actual nuances aren't in the NT. In other words, even if ἀγαπάω and φιλέω are interchangeable, the idea of distinguishing between different types of love and how the Christ fulfills and embodies them all for us is worthwhile.

    On a side note, the word for kiss in Greek is a cognate of φιλέω. That is how Judas loves the Christ, how he is His friend. And it is accepted. Jesus receives that love in His love.

    I feel like there is a connection here because of v. 31 but can't quite figure it out.

    1. You're onto something. Look at John 21, too, with regard to Peter's restoration and John's witness. For Peter, the Lord asks if he loves (ἀγαπάω) the first two times and Peter responds that he does love Him (φιλέω). The third time, however, our Lord uses φιλέω not ἀγαπάω. Immediately our Lord then says: "'Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.' (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, 'Follow me.'" So that Peter will lay down His life for His friend. He will follow Him to a death on the cross.

      Then John, although the word παρρησία isn't used, speaks that he bears witness to the truth. John, too, will be a friend in speaking the truth plainly, in bearing witness. So there must be some connection as you say.

  2. Thanks to both of you, Fr. Braaten and Fr. Petersen, for these very helpful comments and insights. Although I follow the three-year lectionary, all of this is still quite pertinent and useful to me, not only in general, but in preparing to preach on St. John 15 this coming Sunday. Good stuff that you have given here.

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  4. I think we miss something when we do not allow παρρησία to have it's original Greek political usage of "right to speak in the assembly". Kleinig makes much of this with regards to its usage in Hebrews. Our great High Priest's ministrations in the Father's presence in the heavenly tabernacle do not give us merely an emotional boldness to speak before the Father (as per most English translations) but a legal right to do so. The Easter 6 Gospel is referring to this divine service that Our Lord is about to perform in heaven (His "going to the Father" or "little while that they will not see Him") as axiomatic to what will give Him παρρησία before the Father and to speak on behalf of the Father, and what then gives us παρρησία before the Father through Christ.

    1. Thanks, Unknown. Yes, this is precisely my point. But it is this going to the Father and giving the Paraclete that we have παρρησία. We have παρρησία in the ekklesia by Spirit and Truth, the Spirit of Truth. This makes us friends of the King. It has a political flare, but not necessarily democratic. In the Spirit we are his trusted advisors, his trusted friends.

    2. It also fits with the idea of philew. This is love for peers, those who have the right to speak in the assembly, as opposed to the love one has for a wife who, in Athens, is barely above a slave. The whole Athens problem aside, the idea that God counts us as worthy of respect and includes us in the assembly, is really astounding.


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