The Most Dangerously Overlooked Verse in the Bible

"I am a friend of God," goes the worship song, and rightly so — except too often we miss the clear terms Jesus sets for that friendship.

By Tom Gilson Published on January 5, 2022

Which verse is the most overlooked verse in the Bible? I’ve got a list of them in mind, enough to do a series on, but I’ll start with the one that tops them all for the damage it causes. I’ll need to put it in context before I tell which one it is, though, because one reason this verse is so easily forgotten is because it stands right next to one that’s close to Christians’ hearts.

I’ve heard the other one, the familiar one, ever since I came to faith in Christ, back in the mid-1970s. The watchword then was, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” The point was that faith is not a confining set of rules and obligations, but a life lived in and through and for Jesus. And that is exactly right. Even the word “friendship” fits. Jesus said in John 15: 15: “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

So we have songs now like the Hillsong chorus.

“I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God,
He calls me friend.”

John 15:14: “You Are My Friends If You Do Whatever I Command You”

That’s Scripture. That’s the good news. And it’s also the context for what I consider the single most overlooked verse in the Bible, John 15:14, the verse immediately preceding that one. It’s where Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”

Somehow I have trouble seeing how you’d write that thought into that Hillsong chorus.

How often do we think of Jesus that way, as a friend to be obeyed? Try this for an experiment, and see what happens: Go to your spouse or your closest friend, and tell them, “You are my friend if you do whatever I command you.” See where that gets you.

Yes, Jesus is a friend, but this is no friendship between peers. He is very much the Friend in Charge. Look up the page a bit to John 15: 10: “If you keep My commandments you will abide in My love.” Or in John 14: 21: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Yes, Jesus is your friend and mine, but He sets the terms in this friendship, and He means to be obeyed.

How Is This Friendship?

You may ask, “How is this even friendship?” I cannot tell you the whole answer, for you will only know it by living it. I am still very much a learner myself. What I have learned so far, though, is that it has everything to do with God’s infinite power and holiness, qualities that would make Him completely unapproachable, if that were all that were true of Him. The distance between God and us is more than vast; it’s infinite.

So yes, I can sing that worship song, “I am a friend of God.” … But the only way I can sing it rightly is by dropping to my knees as I sing, and then getting up and asking, “Lord, what would You have me do? What do You command?”

God is in charge, and rightly so. He has all power, and He has moral qualifications in perfect degree. So when Jesus, God in the flesh, tells us to do whatever He commands us, He does it from a place of true authority. We should obey. We must obey.

The Unreachable Standard and God’s Astonishing Grace

That’s how we’re supposed to love Him. I’ll be first to admit I’ve fallen flat, a full 26.2 miles from the finish line on this particular marathon. Therefore I have no place to be thinking of myself as a friend of Jesus. Indeed, we can’t obey. Our best efforts fall short.

We’re supposed to love one another as He has loved us, just to give one example. How are you doing on that? Jesus gave everything of Himself to us. Everything. He came to our planet holding the power of God in His hands, and for whom did He use it? Not for Himself. Not even when the devil tempted Him, reminding Him in the wilderness how easily He could solve the hunger of His 40-day fast. He sacrificed His very life for us, when He could so easily have exited the whole rotten mess.

Love, Grace and Gratitude

This is love we’re talking about here, though; love that led Jesus to say, “You are my friends,” even when He knew we could never live up to His commands. Now, that may look like a contradiction: He said they had to obey Him to be His friends; He knew they couldn’t meet the standard He set; He called them friends anyway.

Is Jesus talking over His own head here? By no means! If overlooking a verse can send us off track, so can seizing on it as the key to all truth, once we’ve seen it. Elsewhere the Bible also tells us that God covers over our failures by His grace. This is why Jesus died and rose again for us.

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And even though I can’t take time to explain where grace fits in the picture, it gets us closer to understanding what it means for God to call us “friend.” For me, it means that I am stupefied in awe at the love and the grace of God. God loves me! I don’t deserve it, but He, the Creator of the worlds, loves me anyway. It’s too astonishing. It’s too good! It stops me short; it makes me catch my breath. 

And I can experience His love. It’s a perfect friendship, one unlike any other. I know that God will stand by me no matter what I do, no matter what I face. “If He is for us, who can be against us?” asks Paul, as he begins his glorious close to Romans 8. “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not with Him give us all things?”

The Friend We Must Obey

This friendship inspires awe and wonder, worship and gratitude. And it’s a friendship that won’t ever let me forget who’s in charge. Jesus rules my life, and rightly so.

We forget this to our peril, a mistake that explains much of American Christians’ casual attitude toward God. “He’s my friend,” we think, “so why should He want to interfere with my life?” As if God’s loving commands were interference! This is distrust and disobedience wrapped in one package, and it explains much of our pitiful condition of spiritual weakness.

We want a “God-friend” who makes life easy, who smooths the road for us, who takes care of us in the tough spots, but stays respectfully out of the way when we don’t need Him so much. We’ve got the “respect” turned completely upside-down there. And if you think that’s what friendship with God is about, you’d better think again. 

True Friendship With God

Of course you wouldn’t want this kind of friendship with anyone else. The imbalance would be wrong to start with, and would quickly degenerate to abuse. With God everything is different. The imbalance is right to start with. He is God, we aren’t; enough said there.

And the more thoroughly we recognize Who is properly in charge, the more completely we submit ourselves to Him in proper, loving, obedience, the more overwhelmingly we’ll experience His love. Then we can say with complete confidence, and in all wonder, gratitude, and astonishment, “I am a friend of God.”

So yes, I can sing that worship song, “I am a friend of God.” It’s fine; it’s the truth; it’s scriptural as far as it goes. But the only way I can sing it rightly is by dropping to my knees as I sing, and then standing up again and asking, “Lord, what would You have me do? What do You command?”


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the recently released Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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