A FRIEND OF GOD

In December of 1833 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints living in Jackson county, Missouri were facing great persecution by mobs who caused them to flee from their homes and lands with little of their personal belongings. Concerned about their welfare, the prophet Joseph Smith went to the Lord in prayer to seek His help. In the revelation that came as a result of that prayer, the Lord gave Joseph the parable of a certain nobleman who owned a very choice spot of land who sent his servants into the vineyard to not only plant twelve olive trees but to build a hedge around the vineyard and erect a tower. At the end of the parable the nobleman said unto his servants, "Go ye straightway and do all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And this shall be my seal and blessing upon you - a faithful and wise steward in the midst of mine house, a ruler in my kingdom" (D&C 101:60,61)

While Jesus lived in mortality, He often taught by way of parables, which are fictional stories that illustrate a principle. In a number of these parables Jesus would begin by saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like" and then tell a story that would make a comparison between something we're familiar with here on earth with the way things are in heaven, thereby helping us to gain a better understanding of what heaven in like.

In many of His parables Jesus used the illustration of a king or a master of a vineyard who had servants that did his bidding. A servant is a laborer whose duty it is to do whatever they are told by their master or lord. The clear implication of these teachings is that Jesus is our master and we, as believers in Christ, are expected to be His servants. As such, when God asks us to do something we are expected to perform that which He commands.

In the Doctrine and Covenants God often referred to Joseph Smith and other leaders of His church as "my servants." In the New Testament, each of the apostles described themselves as being servants of Jesus Christ. The scriptures speak of the prophets Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and others as being servants of God and even the angels act in the capacity of ministering servants. More than that, Jesus Himself declared that He came, not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him and for this reason the scriptures describe Jesus as being God's servant (Matthew 12:18, Philippians 2:7).

Servants are usually hired help who get paid for the work they do and in many of His parables Jesus illustrated that those who serve Him will be rewarded or compensated for their service. Thus the scriptures teach that servants of God are not expected to work for nothing but that each of them will be paid for their labors (Luke 10:7).

The scriptures indicate there are two types or categories of servants - those who are wise and faithful and those who are foolish, slothful and unprofitable. The scriptures also point out that the reward is different for these two groups of people. Jesus described it this way: "For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward" (D&C 58:26). "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes" (Luke 12:43-47).

On the other hand, those who have performed their labors to the best of their ability and have served God with all of their heart, will hear Jesus say to them, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord" (Matthew 25:21).

Another word the scriptures use to describe the relationship between us and God is "steward." Concerning the building up of God's kingdom, the Lord has said, "He who is appointed to administer spiritual things, the same is worthy of his hire, even as those who are appointed to a stewardship to administer in temporal things" (D&C 70:12). The apostle Paul told Titus that "a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God" (Titus 1:1),

A steward is someone who has been given responsibility to manage or oversee the work of those who have hired them. In a spiritual sense, that is anyone in the Church of Christ who has been entrusted with overseeing the work of salvation. However, the job of being a steward is not limited to just a few individual. Instead, every believer in Christ has a stewardship in the kingdom of God. The Lord has said, "it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor" (D&C 88:81) and every parent has a stewardship over their children which the Lord expects them to teach the principles of the gospel (see D&C 68:25).

But with stewardship also comes accountability. In many of His parables Jesus tells of a master who leaves his servants in control of his property and when he returns he has them give an account of what they have done while he was gone. Christians of every faith believe there will come a time when all of us will stand before the bar of Christ to be judged for the things we have done in the flesh and that includes even the members of Christ's church. In fact, the scriptures tell us that when the judgments of God do come it will begin at the house of God (1 Peter 14:7).

The gospel of Jesus Christ plainly teaches that every believer is a servant of Christ and every servant is a steward. The scriptures tell us that "it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:2) therefore, when the Lord does return, those who have been a faithful and wise steward "his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season" (Luke 12:42) and they "shall inherit all things" (D&C 78:22). Those who have been "unfaithful and unjust stewards [shall be] appointed their portion among hypocrites and unbelievers" (D&C 101:90) and God shall cast "the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:30).

While this doctrine is clearly spelled out in the scriptures, on the night before Jesus was taken prisoner by the Roman soldiers He was with eleven of His apostles in an upper room where, after eating His last meal in mortality, He gave them some special words of council. Part of what He said to them at that time was, "Henceforth, I call you not servants for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15).

On that fateful night Jesus told His apostles that He no longer considered them to be His servants but rather He called them His friends. A friend is not a servant but rather is someone who feels a close companionship to another. Furthermore, a friend is someone who does something for someone else, not because they have to or because they're being paid to but because they want to. A friend never feels compelled to do something for another but rather whatever they do is done out of genuine love. And neither are friends held to account for what they do. Friends over look one another's faults and they love one another no matter what.

And yet, not withstanding this statement of Jesus, each of these eleven men later went on to describe themselves as being "servants of God." Did they not believe what Jesus told them that night or did they misunderstand what He said?

Apparently they did understand His message because Paul told the saints of his day that they were "no more a servant but a son, and if a son then an heir of God through Christ" (Galatians 4:7). Children are heirs of their parents and have a legal right to all that their parents have, while servants are not entitled to anything belonging to their master. More than that, while children are expected to be obedient to their parents they are not considered as servants.

Then are we servants and stewards to God, accountable for how well we perform our duties or are we sons and daughters of a heavenly king who have a legal right to all that God has simply by virtue of our linage to Him?

The answer is that we are both a servant and a child of God - but not necessarily at the same time. It is only after we have proved ourselves to be faithful servants and wise stewards that we truly become real sons and daughters of God and friends with Christ. As such, servitude and stewardship are the requirements to becoming heirs of all that God has and it is only when we have obtain that honor that Christ no longer considers us as servants but as friends.

As Latter-day Saints, we believe that we are literally sons and daughters of God, born to Him as spirit children long before this world was ever created. In that sense, we have divinity flowing in our blood and godhood is in our genes. The very reason why we left our home on high to come here on earth to suffer pain, hardships, and encounter evil was for the express purpose of preparing us to return to our celestial home and possess all the power and glory that our Father has.

But such an honor is not bestowed upon us simply because of our lineage. It is a terrible responsibility to wield the powers that control the universe and God is not going to allow anyone to hold such powers unless they have first demonstrated they are worthy and capable of properly handling such an awesome responsibility.

As Latter-day Saints we believe that in the resurrection people will inherit one of three degrees of glory and that only in the highest of these, known as the celestial kingdom, is where God lives. But, the Lord has also revealed that within the celestial kingdom there are three degrees and it is only in the highest of these, known as exaltation, is where God resides (D&C 131:1-4). God's purpose for us is not simply to have us enter into the celestial kingdom but to enter into the highest degree of that kingdom and become exalted beings like He is.

It is only when we enter into this degree that we reach our full potential and inherit all power and glory. This is where we experience a fullness of joy and have eternal life in the truest sense of the term. And it is only then that we become the real eternal sons and daughters of God. All others remain as servants and, as such, they not eligible to fully inherit the kingdom of heaven. The Lord explained that those who do not become exalted: "are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory" (D&C 132:16).

But before we can become exalted we must first demonstrate that we are worthy of such a glory. Notice how the scriptures describe this process. Jesus taught "Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:27). The only way we can become exalted is by serving others. Through just His atoning death alone Jesus served all mankind more than any other person and because of that He is chief above all others. As we have already read, Jesus further taught, "it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:2). When the Lord does return, those who have been a faithful and wise steward "his lord shall make ruler over his household" and shall say, "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things" (Matthew 25:23)

When reading verses such as these it's easy to miss the fact that a transition has taken place from someone being a servant or steward to becoming a ruler. The Lord was a little more explicit on this point when He said, "Go ye straightway and do all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And this shall be my seal and blessing upon you - a faithful and wise steward in the midst of mine house, a ruler in my kingdom"

After we have proven our faithfulness as servants to Christ, and shown that we can be wise stewards of His Church, helping Him do the work of building up His kingdom, then we graduate from being servants to becoming rulers in His kingdom.

While it is true that we are children of God in a biological sense, that is not true in a spiritual sense since all of us have cut ourselves off from God because of sin. One of the purposes of baptism is to have us reborn into the family of God by washing away our sins but because we continue to be disobedient to the will of our Father in heaven and since Christ is the only person who has been fully obedient, He is the only true son of God in a spiritual sense.

However, because of His great mercy and grace, God is willing to adopt us into His family (Romans 8:15), and it is through this adoption that we then become spiritual sons and daughters of God (Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). And that adoption is based on how faithful we were in our service to God. But until this adoption takes place we remain as servants, unable to inherit anything the Father has.

But Jesus called us His friends and a friend doesn't have to be someone who is personally related to us. Therefore, it is obvious that Jesus intends for us to be more than just a child of God.

There is an old Protestant hymn entitled, "What a Friend I Have in Jesus." The idea behind this song is that no matter what our problems may be or how much we may have sinned we can always go to Jesus and He will always be there for us. That is what a true friend is like. God is faithful to us and that is something we can always depend upon. But friendship is not a one-way street. It's a mutual relationship. It's not one person doing all the giving and the other person doing all the taking. Friendship is reciprocal.

While we may sing "What a Friend I Have in Jesus," Jesus is hoping to say "What a friend I have in You." Just before Christ told His apostles that they were no more servants but friends, He said, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (John 15:14, emphasis added). He also told them "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." (John 15:9-11).

There are a number of important things we learn from this short statement. God loved us first and wants to be friends with us but the way we remain in His love and preserve that relationship with Him is by doing what He asks of us. This is how He remains in the Father's love. But, since friendship is a two-way street that means God is just as willing to do whatever we ask of Him when we show we're willing to do what He asks of us. Jesus verified this when He said, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." (verse 7).

It is quite common for us to seek the Lord's help in prayer and we have faith that He will answer our requests but God has requests for help from us as well. Christ wants to save all of mankind and He calls on us as believers to help Him in that task. Friends help one another, not out of duty but out of desire. God is more than willing to be a friend to us but what He is hoping for is that we will return the favor and be a true friend to Him. While God is more than willing to overlook our faults and be patient with our shortcomings, if we are His friend we will treat Him the same way. We will stick with Him through thick and thin, through the good times as well as the bad, in sickness as well as in health, and that we will be there for Him whenever He needs us no matter what the circumstances or what the cost.

The reason why Jesus told His disciples these things was so "that your joy might be full." As stated earlier, the only place where we can experience a fullness of joy is in the exalted realms because it is there where we will inherit all that the Father has. This is what Christ wants for us. His concern is for our happiness and well-being. He told His disciples, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (verse 13,14).

Christ loves us so much that He willingly laid down His life for our sake but if we are truly a friend of Jesus, we too will desire to lay down our life for Him if necessary. That may not mean dying for Him but it does mean sacrificing our time, energy, talents, desires and even our worldly possessions if need be to do whatever He asks of us. If we are a friend of Jesus we will be concerned about His happiness, not because we have to but because, as a friend, we want to.

Jesus said, "Abide in me and I [shall] abide in you" (verse 4). The word "abide" means "to endure, remain, be steadfast and persistent." It implies a relationship that is permanent, durable, and long-lasting. The way God knows if we are His friend is by seeing how faithfully we're willing to serve Him and how well we carry out the stewardship given to us. Those who serve with a willing and glad heart show, by their actions, that they are true friends of Christ. On the other hand, those who are slothful in keeping God's commandments and must be compelled in all things, show, by their actions, that they are like hired servants who are more interested in their own reward than in rewarding their Master.

But there will come a day of accountability when all will be judged. To those who have shown their friendship to the Savior He will say, "Henceforth, I call you not servants for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; I have called you friends." "Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee [a] ruler over many." (Matthew 25:33).

It is only those who have proved their faithfulness in keeping the Father's commandments, who will be known as the true sons and daughters of God, thereby becoming eligible to inherit all that the Father has. Although Christ will be our King forever and will always have authority over us, nevertheless when we become exalted we will no longer be servants of Christ but, instead, will have become partners, ruling with Him as friends and sharing a close companionship with Him in a way that no servant can enjoy.


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