I heard that a couple of you guys in the muso team have been recently discussing particular lyrics in a worship song of choice, as to whether these lyrics exhibit theological truths that are potentially unhelpful (at the very least), or catastrophic (at its very worst) to our congregation, who will be singing these songs in corporate worship.
The song of choice, ‘As the deer,’ contains a rather controversial verse that has been the focal point of this recent discourse:
You’re my friend
And You are my brother
Even though You are a King
I love You more than any other
So much more than anything
Which prompts one of you to ask: ” Is there even any biblical/theological basis for considering Jesus as our friend? Also, it’s not entirely correct to see Jesus as a brother right? That’s not the way our relationship with Christ is defined right? Like even though we are saved and adopted as God’s children, surely Jesus sits in a whole different category as God’s only Son.”
I firstly want to praise God that our muso team have great discerning minds to be sensitive to the pockets of truth that are contained in the lyrics of the songs we sing in worship. A mark of great worship leaders are leaders who recognise that the congregation is indoctrinated not only by the means of the Word being preached to them, but also through worship in song, which plays a catechetical role in the formation of understanding of the Christian faith. This is an excellent question and their concerns about the truth spoken in these lyrics is understandable.
So is it wrong to call Jesus our ‘friend’ or our ‘brother’? In short the answer is ‘No,’ but let me elaborate further with a couple of bible passages that will substantiate my answer:
1. Jesus calls us His friends
John 15:15 NIV says: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
John 15:13 ESV says: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
John 15:14 ESV says: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
Lastly, James 4:4 says: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
I think our initial horrors with the very notion of calling God or Jesus our friend, is because we usually don’t (and perhaps even shouldn’t) relate to our friends the way we relate to God. We usually see our friends as equals, and one of the most orthodox ways that we Australians use to display our affection to close mates is to verbally defecate them with our banterous remarks. But we can never fathom doing that to our God, can we? God is not our equal – He is the Creator of the whole universe (Isa 40:28) and rules over it as the King of Kings (Ps 47:7). If anything our relationship with Him seems to be defined as one where we, servants, submit and honor the King with all-encompassing reverence and awe at His power and authority. A servant who calls His King his buddy, is a fool who knows not his place. So surely we can emphasise with our questioner that it sounds inappropriate to relate to God in this way, is it not?
But what is most profound about what we find in Scripture is that this King, the Creator of the universe, has condescended to our world to be a servant for us (Mark 10:45; Phil 2:6-8) to lay down His life… for who? For His friends! (John 15:13). Jesus no longer wants to call us His servants, for He knows that there is a certain nuance within a servant-master relationship to which intimacy cannot thrive in utter fullness. He has revealed the Father to us as the defining mark of His love and desire that He wants to be with right relationship with us (John 15:15). Jesus wants us, befriends us first, calls us His friends and has signified His friendship with us through His atoning sacrifice (John 15:13). So it is certainly biblical to call Jesus our friend, because He firstly calls us His friends and invites us to call Him our friend as well!
2. Jesus calls us His brothers (and sisters)
Now, is it okay to call Jesus our brother? Alongside some of the principles that are already established from the previous point, there are some other bible passages to consider:
Hebrews 2:11 NIV says: Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.
Romans 8:29 NIV says: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Mark 3:34-35 says: Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Again we see a common denominator in most of these passages we have read thus far – that God initiates and defines the relationship between Himself and His people! We don’t have any privileges or status to determine how we relate with God. Follow the logic of the writer in this passage: Hebrews 2:11 says that “both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.’ The writer says that there is one defining characteristic about this special family, which also defines the only way one can become a member of this family – that is, holiness. But who is able to make one holy, other than the one who makes people holy, God Himself? It is God and God alone who adopts us as His children, by foreknowing us and conforming us to bear the image of His Son (Rom 8:29). To bear Christ’s image is to bear the emblem of the divine family, and we share in glory as co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17). By the regenerative work of the Spirit, true Christians magnify their spiritual bloodline to Jesus, as brothers and sisters of Him, when they live and do the will of God in loving obedience and submission to Him (Mark 3:34-35).
So similarly, there are both strong biblical and theological grounds to call Jesus our brother, and Scripture uses many rich analogical terms to define our relationship with the triune God. Jesus as our brother and friend are one of many ways we can relate with Him! But I understand your reverence towards God, and it’s strange sometimes, if not even disrespectful when we describe our relationship with God this way – it can come off as condescending to God. But if Jesus calls us His friend and brother, well that’s a different story, isn’t it? How great of a God we have, that though we are utterly undeserving to be able to relate to Him on those terms, that He desires to want that intimacy with us!