God is the covenant friend of his people. Abraham “was called the Friend of God” (James 2:23), for God said about Abraham and his seed, “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend” (Isa. 41:8). Jehovah “spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex. 33:11). The church confesses about God, her divine husband, “This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem” (Song of Sol. 5:16).
It is especially in Jesus Christ that the church sees God as her covenant friend. Jesus spoke that way to his disciples: “And I say unto you my friends…” (Luke 12:4). Jesus said about Lazarus, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep” (John 11:11). Our Lord says to us, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you”(John 15:14–15).
God is the covenant friend of his people.
But what does that mean? What is a friend? And what can it possibly mean that God is our friend?
There are two ideas to being a friend. One is obvious; the other is perhaps not so obvious. The first and obvious idea of friendship is the bond of fellowship that exists between two friends. Friends spend time together, friends talk together, friends look forward to seeing each other. Friends have a bond, and friends commune. Even Merriam-Webster defines a friend in terms of this bond and this fellowship: “one attached to another by affection or esteem.”
Scripture certainly speaks of friendship according to this bond of fellowship, and calls it God’s covenant. To Abraham God says, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). Do you hear the language of friendship there? “I am your God.” That is the way a friend talks. A husband and wife say in that very close friendship that is marriage, “I am yours, and you are mine.” That is the language of God in his covenant.
About God and his church, the psalmist writes: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant” (Ps. 25:14). Do you hear the language of friendship there? Jehovah tells a secret to his people, which secret is his covenant and his love. Literally, the word “secret” means “cushion.” The figure is of two friends sitting on a couch together, speaking their hearts and minds to each other, or even a husband and wife, with their heads on the same pillow, talking and whispering. In close intimacy, God is the covenant friend of his people, revealing himself and his love to his church.
In his covenant friendship with his church, God dwells with us and brings us into his home. He does that now already by dwelling in our hearts by his Spirit. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). He also does that now by assembling us in his presence in worship, for the church is the temple of God. “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). God also prepares an eternal home in glory for us, where we will forever dwell in fellowship with him. “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). Do you hear the language of friendship in all of this? God dwells with us; he lives with us; he abides with us. This is the behavior of a friend. This is the language of fellowship. God is the covenant friend of his people.
How can such fellowship be? God is God, and we are dust! Will the majestic King of kings dwell with dust? God is holy, and we are sinful! Will the pure and righteous Jehovah befriend sinners and rebels? Yes! Yes he will! The whole word of God testifies that God is indeed our friend! And the whole word of God also testifies how it is that God is our friend: through Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son. By the incarnation of our mediator, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The eternal Word, the second person of the Trinity, came into our dust and united it to himself! He is Emmanuel, God with us! By the death of the mediator, all our sins were covered in the sight of God, and we were redeemed from sin and death to serve the living God. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:14–15). God is the covenant friend of his people through Jesus Christ!
The second idea of friendship, which is perhaps not so obvious at first, is that friendship is costly. It is pleasant to be a friend, but it is not easy to be a friend. To be a friend, a true friend, means suffering with a friend through his trial, bearing a friend’s reproach when she is despised, sticking by the friend when it would be easier or safer for one personally to end the friendship. Even unbelievers recognize that hard times reveal who your true friends are. How much more so for believers, who know the true love of God to them, and to whom God gives a true love for God and the neighbor. That true love of true friendship is full of sacrifice and self-denial and service of the friend.
The Bible speaks of the costliness of friendship. “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly.” And how does one show himself friendly? Not only by being a nice, pleasant person, which is fine in itself; but by sticking with one’s friend even when your friend’s own family forsakes him. “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). The cost of friendship is sharing in your friend’s reproach.
The cost of friendship is also being willing to rebuke a friend who is erring, thus wounding him, or being willing to be rebuked by a friend when you are erring. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Prov. 27:6). When everyone else is willing to tolerate and excuse sin, a faithful friend is willing to wound the sinner through rebuke. Those who tolerate sin show themselves to be enemies, not friends. When the church world today tolerates and even praises divorce and remarriage, it shows itself to be an enemy of the divorced and remarried, who perish as impenitent adulterers. Only those who rebuke the divorced and remarried to their wounding show themselves to be true friends, seeking the true good of their neighbors in true love for them.
Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered as our covenant friend. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). God’s love of true covenant friendship sacrificed his only begotten Son for our salvation. Christ’s love of true covenant friendship was full of sacrifice and self-denial and service of us.
We will also suffer as the covenant friends of God. We will suffer the hatred and enmity of the world against us for our friendship with God. “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me” (John 15:20–21). “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:24–25).
Oh yes, there is a cost to being God’s covenant friend. But what a little cost it is! It is only our life and only our self, which is nothing! It is only the world and all that is in it, which is nothing! It is only a lifetime of afflictions, which are light and are only for this present time and are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us! How happily we suffer that cost! For to be a friend of God in his holy covenant and to know his love in Jesus Christ is better than life. Our friend Jesus Christ gave his life to redeem us unto God, so that we now joyfully offer ourselves unto him.
What a blessed thing: God is the covenant friend of his people!
Originally published August 2020, Vol 79 No 8