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Friend

A meditation on our relationship toward God

Much from these thoughts comes from Mr. Zodhiates[1] insightful contrast between two different Greek words, “hetairos” and “philos”, which are equality translated “friend” in almost every translation. A difference in meaning can be sensed from passages where they are used[2]:

Hetairos:

  • Matthew 20.12-13

[Some laborers complained] ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’  But he [the master of the house] replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?

  • Matthew 26.48-50 

Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he [Judas] came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

Philos:

  • John 15.13-15:

[Jesus said to His true disciples] Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 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.

  • James 2.21-23

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.

Mr. Zodhiates remarks that true friendship is expressed by philos: “to befriend… means to appropriate another person’s interests unselfishly”; whereas hetairos “means a selfish acquaintance [companion, comrade] one who seeks his own interests above the interests of others. He is a partner in a company, not necessarily for the good of others but primarily for his own advantage”.

Judas was a companion to Christ (and the eleven) for long (Psalms 41.9), and having charge of the moneybag, used to help himself to what was put into it (John 12.6). Once he realized Christ’s determination to lay down His life, Judas sought another opportunity for gain: “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matthew 26.15).  Judas companionship was self-centered, and he did not adopt Christ’s interests as his own. In these days when the import of the word “friend” is cheapened, it’s useful to remember that not every companion is a friend, not every “friend” a true friend, whether of God, or even us. We may become surprised, we may not be able to tell, but “Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6.64).

Likewise, the laborers that complained in Matthew 20 had entered into a relationship with the master of the house not because they adopted the master’s interests as their own (they did not do it for the master’s prosperity, honor, etc.) but because of their expected gain from working. They were companions in business (hetairos), not real friends (philos). 

Another disciple’s response is highlighted the night the Lord was betrayed. Simon Peter vowed “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you![3]” (Matthew 26.35). But the Lord, as usual, was looking beyond the cross, thus beyond His own people’s failure: “but I have prayed for you [Simon] that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22.32). Prayer, an essential resource, availed by Him, was not duly availed by them: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26.41, Matthew 6.13). 

Simon Peter, for fear of men, failed to be a friend, and this could be illustrated from the following paraphrase of John 21.15-17 if we take into account that the Greek word for “love” that Simon Peter spoke there every time, and that Jesus spoke only in His last question, comes from philos (“friend”):

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I am your friend.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I am your friend.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, are you my friend?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Are you my friend?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I am your friend.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

True disciples appropriate the Master’s interests as their own, and they don’t do it to gain anything in return. They’re true friends, not just acquaintances/companions/comrades. Their attitude toward the Son is the result of God’s work in their hearts by faith (John 6.44-47, Ephesians 2.10 and Hebrews 13.20-21 among others), so that even in this the glory is God’s. Nevertheless human responsibility is not in the least excluded, and thus we’re exhorted, even warned, to have a faith that works through love (Galatians 5.6), which is a living faith, such as Abraham’s (James 2.21-23), who not only believed God, but was commended by God as His friend after laying his beloved on the altar, both from faith and obedience to Him, thus showing that he was seeking not his own interests but those of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2.21).

We know and are reminded by John 15.13-15 that Christ has dealt with His own as the True and Ultimate Friend. This point may be further illustrated by noticing how several translations of the well-known passage on Christ’s humility (Philippians 2.4-8) use the phrase “his own interests[4]” or “their own interests” to communicate what in Greek is simply “his own” or “their own”:

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves[5], which is yours in Christ Jesus, who… humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

His Father’s interests were above everything else. Our own interests were above His own wellbeing. Our eternal wellbeing/interests are His own eternal interest! Thus, in adopting more of His interests unselfishly we can’t but end looking for the interests of those He loves – as He said:

“You are my friends if you do what I command you”,

“Are you my friend? … Feed my sheep”

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“I’ve found a Friend; O such a Friend”[6]

“What a Friend we have in Jesus”[7]

“Lord Jesus, Friend unfailing!”[8]

“Then with our Saviour, Master, Friend,

The glad eternity we’ll spend,

And celebrate His grace,

And celebrate His grace”[9]


[1] “Complete Word Study Dictionary” edited by Spiros Zodhiates

[2] Passages quoted from the English Standard Version. These are only some of the passages where these Greek words (or their cognates) are used

[3] “And all the disciples said the same”

[4] KJV “his own things

[5] NASB “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus”

[6] Believer’s Hymn Book, N° 103

[7] Believer’s Hymn Book, N° 317

[8] Believer’s Hymn Book, N° 131

[9] Believer’s Hymn Book, N° 40

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