I once had a conversation with four of my best friends about whether or not we would take bullets for each other, should we ever be held up at gunpoint. How we got to that conversation I will never know, except that it started with, “Would you go to war for your country?” and ended somewhere around, “If worst comes to worst, I would get shot in the leg to protect you.”
But the in between was heavy. Not heavy in a bad way, but full of weight because of the seriousness with which we were broaching this idea: What exactly are we willing to die for?
Turns out, none of us are willing to die for very much. We landed on the short list of definitely our families, hopefully our faith, and maybe our friends. And most of the willingness to fling ourselves in harm’s way came from guilt rather than hero’s valor, which was a fact we conceded to pretty quickly.
Then Keltcey, ever observant and thoughtful, said, “It seems to me that the thing you’re willing to die for, is also the thing you’d most want to live for.”
To live for something is to love it, and to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of that thing. The ultimate sacrifice is death. Literal death, yes, but living for something, or someone, is a figurative daily death of self.
“Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus says to his disciples, “than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
While he was certainly speaking to his upcoming death on the cross, I think Jesus was also laying out a blueprint for how to love well. Real love is, at its core, sacrificial. Love demands we give up our selfish tendencies—impatience, jealousy, pride, self-centeredness—in an effort to care for another person. To love is to be in the habit of constantly laying down our right to ourselves.
Following that logic to its reasonable conclusion would bring you to this: the thing you are living for is the thing you will die for.
Look at Jesus. He came down from Heaven for a single purpose: to redeem his people. On a grand scale, he had to die on a cross and suffer and all of that because the law demanded fulfillment. But between birth and death, he spent a lifetime simply loving people well. He sacrificed in big and little things, to show his friends how he much he cared about them.
Jesus’ coming to earth and dying on a cross was as big as rescuing all of humanity, but it was as small as his friendship with the twelve disciples. Or even just one of them. If I know Jesus like I think I do, he would have done everything he did on earth just they way he did it, even if it meant saving one single soul. He would have done it for the love of just one friend.
I have always understood God as Papa, Father. It’s an easy comparison to draw—my dad is the best guy I know, and I was beyond blessed to grow up in a loving, gracious, and safe home. So as a kid, when God was referenced as Father, it clicked without a second thought. And most, if not all, of my interactions with Him happen like a child’s would with her parent. But the familial love of a father is easy to take for granted. I do that with my earthly father, certainly, and probably with my Abba Father, too. After all, your parent pretty much has to love you. It’s hardwired into them. So when I think of God my Father loving me, I (unfortunately) can sometimes dismiss it as a given.
Friends are different. Friends choose to love you and stick out the tough stuff and put up with your worst. The best kinds of friends are willing to dig into the mess of life with you and laugh when everyone would rather be crying. Nothing is tying them to you, except their choice. That is a whole other kind of love. Not better than fatherly love, but a different facet of the same diamond.
God your Friend doesn’t love you because He has to (the way I assume God my Father loves me). He loves me because He wants to. Jesus laid down his life for you because you are his friend. Read that closely. Jesus laid down his life for you because you are his friend. Not an acquaintance, not a nuisance, not a person in the social circle that is kept around to be the butt of the jokes.
Jesus loves you as a real, go-the-distance, road-trip-until-four-in-the-morning friend. Just as you are certain your best friend in the world would do anything for you, be certain that Jesus would do the same, and exponentially more, for the sake of your friendship. He has already decided to stick through the messiness of life with you, because that’s what best friends do.
If all of creation in some way reflects the character of God, I think friendship is the part of the puzzle that speaks to his fierce loyalty and purposeful pursuit. If God is a coffee drinker (maybe he is), he would definitely want to get coffee with you. But he wouldn’t leave it there. After coffee, he would also probably want to talk at great length about your Meyers-Briggs profile and compare sleep cycle charts. You know, #squadgoals kind of stuff.
And then, if you ever talked about whether or not you would die for each other if worst came to worst, he would lean in close and say,
“Friend, I already have.”