“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.” John 15:15
In the first century Roman culture that surrounded Jesus, the term “slave” did not necessarily mean mistreatment or indentured servitude associated with the oppression of any particular race.
Slaves under Roman rule often held positions of authority and power. Oftentimes, they had been enslaved as foreign prisoners-of-war or enslaved due to non-Roman families who had sold them into slavery to repay a debt. It was a common practice in those days.
While serving his master, a slave could earn wages, enter into contracts, and even buy and sell property. Some slaves even owned slaves themselves.
In Jesus’ day, slaves could serve in many different capacities, including a hairdresser, midwife, or even a cook. They also served in chain gangs, as well (which is how we understand slavery from our American history courses).
It was typical for Roman slaves to strive for release from servitude by the time they reached thirty-years-old, as was the usual practice. Once freed, they could live out their lives as ordinary, free citizens, carrying with them the wealth and/or possessions acquired during slavery.
Believers in the Old Testament were called servants of God: Moses (Psalm 105:26), Joshua (Joshua 24:29), and David (2 Samuel 7:5), among others. The apostle Paul even used the term slave or servant to describe his work as a messenger and agent of God (Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 4:1).
A servant in the first century culture was simply an agent doing whatever his master commanded, even if he did not understand the purpose.
That scenario makes me think of a bank teller today. If the bank manager asks a teller to transfer money from one account to another, the manager does not owe the teller an explanation or a reason for the request. The teller is merely an employee who follows instructions without question.
So how can we be assured that we are friends of Jesus, not slaves? Look back at John 15:15 above. Being a friend of Jesus means that He reveals to us what the Father revealed to Him (John 3:11, 3:32).
Jesus testifies about what He has seen and heard, and His message is truth (John 8:40). Jesus did not hold back anything from us that the Father made known to Him in order that you and I would be fully equipped. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, He enables us to obey all He commands us: love one another as He loves us.
Even though there are still hidden things of God that we do not know, Jesus relates all that He does know.
The intimate relationship that Jesus enjoys with the Father, He expands to include His friends.
We can share our joys, our struggles, and our doubts.
When you and I abide in the true Vine we are granted access to a relationship with and knowledge from the vineyard Owner – God Himself. Servants or slaves would never be given such unfettered access in their master’s house; friends alone receive such privilege.
As branches abiding in Christ our true Vine, we are not simply granted access into the Master’s vineyard. We are welcomed into His family as adopted sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 6:18).
Usually when something is bought at a price it becomes a possession. Yet Jesus did not sacrifice His life to gain us as trophies.
He sacrificed His life and calls us friends.
What an incredible blessing it is to be a friend of Jesus!