“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).” Jesus says this after telling us that He’s the True Vine and we are the branches. He says that in order to bear fruit the branches must remain rooted in the vine. The vine gives the branches what they need so that they can bear fruit. Let’s dive deep into this verse to see what gifts it has in store for us.
You may have heard of “the last four things:” 1) death 2) judgment 3) heaven and 4) hell. These are the gifts that God will give us at the end of our earthly life. Each of us is guaranteed to experience death and judgment. We must choose which of the last two we want.
The most beautiful of the last four things is heaven, the ultimate gift that the Good Lord wants to give to each of us. How do we prepare ourselves to receive it? Our True Vine has given us—the branches—a priceless gift to help us on our way: friendship.
Friendship is the bond that allows us to grow closer to one another in mutual love and encouragement as we pursue shared goals. As we dive into Jesus’ words, we discover four important gifts that can help us build authentic, faithful friendships. God gave them to us when we were born. The four gifts—the first four things—are: 1) Love 2) Life 3) Dignity and 4) Free will.
The first thing is love. God has loved us since before we were born, before we could ever begin to love Him. What is love? Jesus gives us the purest definition when He says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Love is the decision to place another person’s good before our own.
To love is to willingly sacrifice our own will for that of another (regardless of our emotions, which can change at any time) without worrying about what it will cost us. Fr. Mike Schmitz says that is a choice favoring the good of another person.
Love is the first thing because it gives rise to, well, everything. God has given us all the gifts we have because He loves us. God’s Love is the foundation of faithful friendships. It helps us build enduring connections with each other.
Love helps us fight the power of pride. Pride closes us off to those around us because it causes us to focus on ourselves. We cannot build faithful friendships if we are consumed by pride because it weakens the foundation of our friendships.
Love involves our feelings to an extent, but authentic love calls us to move beyond our feelings into action. When we prioritize the good of another before our own we realize there’s more to life than ourselves. This helps us appreciate the gifts that God wants to give us.
Jesus wants us to love one another without reservation. Even people who have no intention of loving us? Yes, Jesus has called us to love everyone, even our enemies. Love is the beginning of faithful friendships. We don’t have to be friends with everybody, but we should always seek what is good for everyone around us.
Building faithful friendships takes time and trust. The first friendship we’ve been invited into is friendship with God. Once we’ve accepted that invitation, we shouldn’t let anyone undermine it. Our first calling is to live as God’s children. Faithful friendships will flow from this first friendship.
You and I are alive on earth because God loves us. He wants us to experience His love and share it with each another.
The second thing is our life. God gave us life because He loves us. He created each of us as unique individuals to serve a purpose in His Divine Plan for creation. No other person can serve our purpose!
Without our life we could not experience the beautiful things that God has in store for us here on earth. This includes the joy in building friendships.
Jesus explicitly mentions the second thing, life, by name in our verse. In doing so, He reveals just how important friendship is: the greatest form of love is to lay down our life for our friends!
The greatest form of love is to lay down our life for our friends! Jesus is inviting us to be willing to offer up our life, which is so intimately linked with love, for the good of our friends. It takes time and trust to get to this point. This an important truth about building faithful friendships.
Jesus isn’t asking us to rashly open our lives to everyone we encounter. We’re not being asked to allow people to keep using any of the gifts that God has given us however it pleases them. We aren’t expected to intentionally put ourselves in situations where we risk losing our life. However, Jesus is calling us to be willing to stand up for another person’s good.
Life is a beautiful gift from God. We should treat it better than our most valued possession. He gave it to us for a purpose, and we give Him glory when we honor our life’s purpose. This can’t happen if we open ourselves to anyone who wants to use our life for their own self-focused desires. To allow that is to undermine another gift that God has given us—dignity.
The third thing is dignity. In our verse Jesus shows us how much dignity God has given us as His children. He followed His words perfectly when He freely accepted His Passion and death on the Cross. In doing this, He showed us how much God wants to invite us into friendship with Him. Jesus’s Sacrifice uncovers the dignity that each of us has in God’s eyes. When we love another authentically, we communicate to them that we honor their dignity.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said, “You must remember to love people and use things, rather than to love things and use people.” To authentically love another means to give them priority in our life over things. When we do this we are demonstrating to them that we want them in our life.
Building faithful friendships with others requires us to honor their dignity. True friends do NOT say, “I need you to be in my life.” When we do that we suggest that we desire to use them to meet our own needs. True friends DO say, “I want you in my life.” Friendship should be built on desire, not need. The only person we need in our life is God because without Him there is no life.
We must honor our own dignity too. We either honor or dishonor our own dignity by the ways we let others treat us. True friendship is built on trust. We enter into a friendship because we trust the other person to value our dignity over self-centered desires. We shouldn’t enter into friendships with anyone we cannot trust. To expect another person to respect our dignity is not selfish. It is a way of honoring the gifts that God has given us.
The fourth thing is free will. Jesus came to us to help us to live our lives to the fullest and to free us from all forms of captivity, including sin. He came to be with us, to become the Word made flesh, to restore us to an authentic friendship with God.
God will never force us into this friendship. If He did, then we could say that He has been using us only for His own good. We know this isn’t true though because that would go against His nature as the God of love. He has invited us to decide on our own whether to accept or reject His friendship. Free will can help us decide whether we want His friendship.
Faithful friendships are based on true love, and each individual must choose it freely. It goes against the nature of love to be in a friendship without free will. As we said above, love is the foundation of friendship. Authentic friendships would not be possible without our free will.
Let’s look at Jesus’ words again: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).” In order for this to make sense, laying down one’s life for one’s friends would have to be freely chosen, using free will. Any other interpretation would go against what Jesus has revealed about love.
Before we can follow Jesus’ call, we need to know what He’s asking to do and to understand what He’s asking. Then, we must choose to follow it. We must answer these questions: Do I want to do this, knowing full well what is being asked of me? Am I resolved to follow through on it? Obviously, we shouldn’t take this decision lightly!
We should ask ourselves these same questions when building our friendships. Building friendships is demanding. It requires time, trust, and energy. We need to rely on much more than our feelings about another person when building friendships.
Obviously, emotions are important in helping us decide to become friends with someone, but we shouldn’t rely on them to make that decision for us. To make a decision using free will means we can do something even when we don’t feel like it. We shouldn’t make decisions based on what others want us to do or on our sinful inclinations. Free will is a gift that God gave us dominion over. We must use it wisely.
Protect Them Always
When God gives us gifts, they are for a purpose. He designs a unique purpose for each of us. Our purpose is meant for His greater glory and our greater good. We must use our gifts to serve our purpose. Our main purpose is to love God and others. Friendship is an important gift that can help us do that. The first four things can help us build faithful friendships.
Love gives us the foundation we need to build authentic friendships because it opens our hearts to God’s love and the people around us. Life allows us to appreciate our friendships. Dignity allows us to see that each of us has value as children of God. Finally, free will gives us an opportunity to build faithful friendships.
Did I miss anything? Has God given us any other important gifts that we can use to build faithful friendships? Let me know in the comments below! ☺