Jesus IS Our Friend

CrucifixionAt 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)

About Dr. Matthew Phillips

My name is C. Matthew Phillips and I am an Associate Professor of History at Concordia University, Nebraska. I completed my Ph.D. in medieval European history at Saint Louis University in 2006. My research has focused on medieval monasticism, preaching, devotion to the True Cross, and the Crusades. Additionally, I have interests in medieval and early modern European education and the writings and life of Martin Luther.

At Concordia I teach World Civilization I, World Civilization II, Europe Since 1914, Early and Medieval Christianity, Renaissance and Reformation, The Medieval Crusades, The History of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, and The Modern Middle East.


Jesus IS Our Friend — 3 Comments

  1. I agree with that to a certain point. As defined by Luther, yes; Jesus is our Friend. But not in the same way that other people are, because Jesus is also our God as well.

    The problem comes when the word “friend” becomes defined a la modern American evangelicalism; i.e., that Jesus is our “hanging out buddy” who is on the same level as we are.

  2. Great post. I saw a girl wearing a Jesus is my Homeboy shirt once. That’s not the kind of friend Jesus or Luther talk about. Thanks for making that clear in your post!

  3. As far as regular dudes of modern times go, the first person coming to mind that embodied (as much as this sinful flesh will allow) this trait of genuine friendship is Dr. Sasse.

    “DR. HERMANN SASSE WAS A CONSISTENT and persistent advocate for genuine confessing Lutheranism. Sasse wanted no substitutes but only and always our Lord’s pure Gospel and Sacraments. Sasse was a friend of Christendom, for he embodied the true ecumenical spirit—not an artificial “agreeing to disagree,” or the disingenuous “reconciled diversity” that is so often put forward today as true unity in the faith. Throughout his lifetime, Hermann Sasse cultivated many friendships and earned the respect of many church officials and theologians.

    Even those who disagreed with Hermann Sasse respected his intense passion for truth, his profound commitment to Lutheranism, and his impressive knowledge of church history and dogmatic theology. Those who read these essays will quickly recognize these qualities and grow to appreciate them. Above all, Hermann Sasse was a man consumed by devotion to Christ and His church.”

    Christ and His Church, essays by Hermann Sasse

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