At his table one day Martin Luther said, “Christ is friendlier than we are. If I can be good to a friend, how much more will Christ be good to us!” (LW 54:143) In this blog post I will discuss Luther’s understanding of friendship with Christ. Although He is much more (i.e., Lord, Savior, God), Jesus is the believer’s friend.
Even the pagan Roman philosopher, Cicero, described friendship as “an accord in all things, human and divine, conjoined with mutual goodwill and affection.” He also described true friendship as rooted in the eternal law of nature, not based on favors and seeking personal gain. (On Friendship 6.20; 9.32) Holy Scripture similarly describes a friend as someone whose love is constant and like a brother shares in his friend’s adversity. (Proverbs 17:17) Jesus described true friendship both as Law and Gospel when teaching his disciples:
Greater love has no one that this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:12-15)
In the late 1530’s Dr. Luther preached on these passages. Here he described Christ as “exceedingly friendly” and “full of kindness,” who laid down His life for believers. Luther teaches that Christians will demonstrate their faith in Christ through love for one another. That is, believers do not become friends with God through love but Christ befriends them through his blood. Thereby, they will seek to live in love and reject hatred, envy, and malice. Luther explained Christ’s words as if the Lord said:
I am not imposing a heavy burden and load on you, many sacrifices and manifold service of God, or anything that entails great expense or labor. I have imposed the Gospel, Baptism, and the Sacrament on you. And this is no commandment; it is your treasure, which I have given you gratis….You are not ordered to do this as a service to God; you are to accept it for your own benefit, to find your salvation there if you want to be saved. But now, since you have all received the treasure that you should have, do just this one thing: be joined together in the bonds of love. (LW 24: 252-53)
Ultimately, God demands no service from sinners to make Jesus their friend. He makes Himself our “Friend above all friends” through His redemptive actions. However, Luther points out that God has placed believers in a body so that they may serve and assist one another in love as the result of their faith. (LW 54:253)