The Brotherhood of the Cup
“There is no greater love than this — that a man should lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, Phillips translation unless noted).
by Timothy Krupa
The term “friend” is one of the language labels given to a relationship between two individuals. That label describes how they feel and behave toward each other.
That term is also scriptural, and therefore deserves some consideration.
In John 15:15 Jesus said, “I shall not call you servants any longer, for a servant does not share his master’s confidence. No, I call you friends, now, because I have told you everything that I have heard from the Father.”
The Greek word for friend is philos. It means “to cherish, to be fond of, to be dear.” Philos is close to phileo, which is most often translated “love.”
There are many kinds of friends: “Close, best, good, casual, devoted, trusted, inseparable,” etc. Unfortunately, there are also “distant, false, fair-weather, and former” friends.
Scientists tell us that “friendship” has an actual, physical effect on the human mind and body. People without friends get sick more often. The friendless have a higher number of diseases. If “friendship” is so important in the biological world, it must be equally important in the spiritual world.
Who are your friends? How good a friend are you? True friendship has requirements. We might say there is a recipe for friendship.
The greatest accolade of friendship was given to a man named Abraham. James 2.21-23 says of Abraham, “he was called the friend of God.” What was it about Abraham’s life that made him a “friend” of Jehovah and not just a “servant”? Abraham’s life had to have important elements that made that relationship something special. It did not just happen.
We will highlight seven values that might be required if any relationship is to qualify as friendship. If you have only one or two of these, it is likely not a solid friendship. Two or three of the values make for a casual friendship. If you have five or six, you might be considered good friends. If all are present, then you are the best of friends.
Values Required for Friendship
(1) Share. Common ideas, activities, interests, preferences. (2) Understand. Communication needs to be clear and frequent. (3) Respect. The other party is worthy of esteem. (4) Trust. They must each believe the other is honest. (5) Accept. They must be taken as they are. There is tolerance for error. (6) Loyalty. They look out for each other, they are constant, faithful, give support, and are ready to help (7) Teaching and Learning. Each learns from the other. They improve by their association.
Let us review the seven elements of friendship in the life of Abraham. What did Abraham share with Jehovah? They both loved righteousness and had shared values. They shared a vision of a better day for mankind when all the families of the earth would be blessed.
In Genesis 12:1-3, because of their shared foundation, Abraham was willing to leave his heathen homeland, and Jehovah promised that Abraham’s offspring would have a major role in the plan of blessing all mankind.
After the foundation of sharing, it was also necessary that Abraham and Jehovah understand each other. In Genesis 15 we see that Abraham’s understanding was not instantaneous and automatic. It sometimes had to be discussed and even debated. Understanding means to regularly communicate, to send messages. Abraham did not fully understand the promise at first. He thought his seed would have to be Eliezer. But his understanding grew as they continued their communication.
In Genesis 18:22-32 we have one of the most remarkable dialogues ever recorded, almost a debate between Jehovah and Abraham. This is where Abraham spoke to Jehovah regarding the destruction of Sodom. Paraphrasing, “If there be 40 righteous, will you spare the city. If there be 30 righteous … ?” Abraham continued asking all the way down to 10 people. In Genesis 18:32, Abraham “said, oh let not the LORD be angry, and I speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten” righteous. Only friends can talk like that to each other!
Number three, they had the great respect for each other. In Genesis 18:17, Jehovah said: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (NIV). Respect means that the other person is worthy of dealing with. Friends do not hide things from their friends.
Number four, trust. They trusted each other. Abraham trusted Jehovah with his son’s life (Genesis 22). And Jehovah trusted Abraham with the most remarkable promise of blessing ever made (Genesis 22:18).
Number five, acceptance. This may be the biggest key to any friendship. They accepted each other. This was the highest spirit being in the universe accepting a nomadic, desert sheik as a friend. Abraham accepted Jehovah as he was. He did not try to make him like the heathen gods. And Jehovah accepted Abraham as the herdsman he was. He did not try to make him a pharaoh. Friends accept the person for what they are. Not for what they want them to be. This does not mean just accepting their noble qualities and actions, but also accepting their weaknesses.
Number six, Abraham was loyal to God all his life. He offered his son, Isaac, because that is what Jehovah told him to do (Genesis 22). Jehovah was loyal to Abraham beyond Abraham’s life. He was loyal to Abraham’s seed, to all generations. Abraham was Jehovah’s ambassador, His prophet, and even the heathen recognized this. Jehovah “is with you in all that you do” (Genesis 21:22 NASB).
Number seven, Jehovah’s teaching of Abraham is easy to see. And Jehovah delighted in Abraham. Abraham was a free thinking, free decision-making creature. He was creative. He came up with new ideas, and he argued his point of view with his friend. Despite Jehovah’s foreknowledge, Abraham was not a robot. Jehovah watched, accepted, and delighted in all of Abraham’s daily efforts.
Because of the presence and growth of these elements, something happened between these two individuals. Their relationship crystallized into something we call friendship. They became friends. There was caring, feeling, emotion, affection — a philos. They were friends.
Notice what their friendship was not. It was not owning the other person, Jehovah did not own Abraham. Abraham was not a puppet. Jehovah shared him with family, with the angels, with worldly contacts. Abraham did not own Jehovah, he was not exclusive. He shared Jehovah with everyone he could. There was no exploitation, no continual asking for favors. Abraham and Jehovah were good friends. They were the best of friends.
For our second example, let us look at Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. Jacob had a lengthy relationship with Jehovah. But Jacob was a different personality. Later writers did not give him the label “friend of Jehovah.” But he was. Perhaps a little different kind of friend, and in this alone there is a big lesson. Being friends does not make people identical. One person can have different kinds of friends, whose personalities and characteristics greatly contrast.
When we look at the relationship between Jehovah and Jacob, do we see the requirements for Friendship?
They certainly shared many values, especially the all-important promised blessing. The understanding seems clear. And respect was there. However, when we come to trust, we see that Jacob definitely leaned on the arm of flesh versus total reliance on Jehovah. Multiple times in his life Jacob would do something less than totally honest and maneuver situations for his fleshly benefit.
Still, in Genesis 31:3 Jehovah sent Jacob back to his homeland and told him, “I will be with you.” Jehovah sent his angels (Genesis 32:2). Jacob had the trust and courage to wrestle with the messenger. Jacob was blessed yet again with his name being changed to Israel. Jacob spoke of their friendship, saying “I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30 NIV).
Near the end of Jacob’s life, Joseph wanted Jacob to relocate to Egypt to be closer to the family. Genesis 46:2, Jacob’s dialog with God is given. Jehovah spoke to Israel, “Jacob, Jacob … do not be afraid to go to Egypt … I will go … with you” (NIV). Something special happened at that moment. Jacob’s name had been changed to “Israel” years earlier, but when Jehovah spoke to him near the end of his life, Jehovah said, “Jacob, Jacob.” That was his old name. These were two old-time friends talking to each other for the last time and Jehovah used his name, Jacob, just like when they first met.
We see the seven elements of friendship in this relationship even though Jacob was not the person his grandfather was. But Jacob was still a friend of Jehovah.
A friendship has responsibilities. Jude said, keep yourselves in the love of Jehovah (Jude 1:21). That is strictly up to you. Jehovah will not change. We can ask ourselves regarding our daily relationships, how good of a friend are we? Are there elements of friendship that we are ignoring or could improve?
One of the saddest situations is that of former friends. People do change, and as each grows and changes, the basis of the seven elements of friendship can also change. If this happens when it is “friendship with the world,” then it is a good thing (James 4:4). But it can happen even with brethren. Possibly there is a lack of communication. Sometimes one of the parties violates the trust. There might be an act of disloyalty. Whatever ingredient changes, the relationship is damaged, and it becomes a condition called “former friends.”
One of the greatest friendships that degraded into a “former friendship” was Adam’s friendship with Jehovah. This is in Genesis 2, 3, and 4. Adam was placed in a beautiful garden. He was given a helpmate. He was allowed to name the animals. These were all acts of Jehovah’s friendship. Genesis 3:8 implies that the two spoke regularly together.
But Adam’s friendship with Eve was greater than his friendship with Jehovah. Adam was disloyal to God and there was a separation. Fighting thorns and thistles and tilling the cursed ground did not compare to the personal agony of having lost communication with Jehovah. Adam lost his best friend.
In a spiritual sense, we have the same risk. If we have inadequate trust, if we fail to keep a current understanding, a current communication, if we have lapses of disloyalty, then we run a great risk. Friendships are to be treasured and cultivated.
On the last evening that our Master spent with his disciples, Jesus made a profound statement (John 15:15). “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” (NIV).
Our Friendship with Jesus describes the depth of our relationship with him. This is the true brotherhood of the Cup that we share. May we all become better friends of our Lord and of each other.