Friends with Benefits: What a Friendship with Jesus Brings for Us and Asks of Us

One of the most common pieces of marriage advice I’ve heard in the last couple years is that it’s not 50-50, it’s 100-100. Both parties are supposed to give 100 percent of themselves to the relationship. Most of the people I’ve heard this from are Christians.

But it’s not a solely Christian idea. Cornell professor Dr. Karl A. Pillemer interviewed many older married couples to find out what made their marriages last so long. An excerpt from a post he wrote for The Huffington Post in 2012:

The common belief that marriage is a 50-50 affair is a myth. You can’t spend your time calculating “50 percent in, 50 percent back.” The attitude has to be one of giving freely. And according to the elders, if you start keeping score you’re already in deep trouble.

For long-term success, couples have to orient themselves to giving more than they get. Both individuals are contributing to a relationship, the benefits of which transcend immediate interests on a given day. What couples must avoid — if they wish to remain together as long as the elders we interviewed — is keeping score about who is getting more and who is getting less. This kind of economic attitude works with a vending machine: If I put in my dollar, I will get a candy bar of equal value. According to the oldest Americans, this definitely does not work in marriage.

As I get older and consider marriage myself, this is something I must repeat to myself and remind myself of on a daily basis.

But thankfully, I’ve got a perfect example of what that looks like in my relationship with my friend Jesus.

In John 15, Jesus is speaking with his disciples in the midst of what is called the “Farewell Discourse,” Jesus’ last words before He goes to the cross. He says these words about His friendship with His disciples (v. 14-16):

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. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

In these verses, we get to see how our relationship with Jesus is 100-100, not a 50-50 deal.

We’re called to “bear fruit,” v. 16 says. Christians are chosen by God, set apart for service to Him. Obedience is the No. 1 call on a Christian’s life. It’s by our obedience that we are known to be followers of Jesus. James 2:14-17 says:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

The evidence of our salvation is that we live out of our faith in Jesus. We know His Word, believe it, and live it. Simple as that. That is our 100 percent into the relationship. We give everything we’ve got. We don’t hold anything back. We make sacrifices. We choose the non-natural life. We go against our nature. We choose righteousness over sin.

But what about Jesus? What is Jesus’ 100 percent?

I love how Christ frames the relationship as no longer master and servant. In a show like Downton Abbey (which I’ve never watched, but I imagine it’s like this), where there are servants who live in a house, the master doesn’t necessarily tell the servant the reason why he/she wants something done, he/she just tells them what to do and they do it.

This is not the relationship we have with Christ. Jesus tells the disciples, “All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (v. 14). The relationship between Jesus and His disciples, His friends, is one of a mutual respect and love for one another. Jesus doesn’t hide everything from His disciples. He shares and cares. He is open to discussing everything with us. He gives all of Himself to the friendship we have with Him.

Just look at how He lived with His disciples. He shared things He learned from His Father with them. He lived with them, ate with them, taught them, comforted them, corrected them.

But most importantly, He gave His life for them on the cross. That life-giving was also for us. It means we have forgiveness of sins, a right relationship with God that will last forever and ever and ever. That’s the 100 percent He gives, all of Himself to us.

It’s interesting that Paul compares the relationship between Christ and His Church to a marriage in Ephesians 5. Both parties in each relationship are called to give 100 percent. Yet, Christ is the only one that is perfect in it. And because He is, we get all the benefits: forgiveness, grace, eternal life, stability in our relationship with God.

That’s a friends-with-benefits relationship I can get behind.


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