My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.
— John 15:12-17 (emphasis added)
When you read this passage of scripture spoken by Jesus, you immediately pick up on Jesus’ use of the word “friends”. Greater love has no man than this, that he would lay down his life for his “friends”. You are my “friends” if you do what I command. Instead I have called you “friends”. The word translated “friends” here is not some nice, feel good, term that is all encompassing, like everyone is his friend. The Hebrew word used here for friends is “haverah” (plural) or haver (singular-hah-Vair). It is much more than what we think of as friends in the casual sense in the English language. Haverah is a religious brotherhood, a small group who intimately know each other. It is an accountability and study group, where the members partner with each other to grapple with and discuss the religious text. The brotherhood rises and falls together and everyone looks out for each other. The term also means community and emphasizes togetherness and that no one is above the other. There is no room for “I” in the haverah. To illustrate the concept of haverah, the early rabbis often told the story of 3 men in a boat fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Suddenly, one of the men began drilling a hole in the boat beneath his seat. The other two men cried out for him to stop and the man replied, “what are you concerned about, I am only drilling beneath my seat”!
The concept of “haverah” was very important in Jewish history. Consider the words of this early rabbi who said, “When two sit together and exchange words of Torah, then the Divine Presence dwells among them”. Sounds a lot like Jesus’ words when he said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in there midst. Jesus spent most of his ministry living side by side with his haverim (friends). They traveled together, camped out together , and took their meals together. Now re-read John 15:12-17 adding what you now know about “friends”. We immediately see that it is more of a commitment than at first glance. It is going to take a lot of time and effort if we want to be part of Jesus’ “haverim”, because we are going to have to first learn what he commands and then do it. We learn to be his “friends” by spending time with Him and His words. Jesus’ band of brothers are a tight knit, well trained, sold out to each other and God , group , that are literally willing to die for each other.
Probably the greatest part of the whole passage is that we didn’t choose Him, but He chose us to be a member of His haverim. He wanted us to be a part of his close, tight knit, brotherhood and to learn to be like Him. Are you one of his friends?