I have called you friends
Muriel’s all-time favourite TV programme (at the moment, anyway) is Downton Abbey. She loves the characters, the wit, the costumes, the language, the machinations, the beautiful settings, and the fact that much of it was filmed in Bampton, near where we once lived. Perhaps above all it’s the other-worldliness that is so fascinating; the feeling of ‘is it really possible that, once upon a time, people actually lived like that?’
The story depends on the interplay between the well-off, ruling classes on the one hand, and the people who seem to have been born to serve them. Your ‘station’ in life depended entirely on who your parents were, your relationships were pretty much mapped out for you at birth. Many, at all levels of society, accepted their role unquestioningly, and felt comfortable only when amongst those of a similar background. But times were changing, and the whole structure of society was about to be transformed.
In the Bible, Israel is often called God’s servant. There is an absolute assumption that God is God, and we are His servants. If we serve Him well, we get along fine. If we rebel against Him, all kinds of trouble are guaranteed. And it doesn’t matter where we come from, or what our ‘station’ in life – if we honour Him as Lord, we are accepted and can count on His blessing.
But there is so much more. God is not content to call us His servants: He wants more.
Jesus says in John 15:15 ‘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’.
There are some special moments in Downton Abbey, when someone from the upper class forms a friendship with someone from the lower class. At such moments there is a sense of something rather daring happening, something that perhaps ‘shouldn’t’ be happening. There is always someone around to express disapproval of this breaking of convention, and measures may be taken to ensure that it is not repeated. After all, this kind of behaviour could threaten the whole fabric of society.
God, on the contrary, is not threatened by seeing His servants become His friends. In fact, that’s what it’s all about. Right from the beginning, God wanted to walk with Adam in the garden, in the cool of the day – that’s what friends do. Again and again He declares Himself our Father, and calls us His children. That is not the language of a servant/master relationship; it speaks of family.
And ultimately, in Revelation 7:9, we see God’s family gathered round His throne in worship. No differences here of nationality, class, gender, colour or any other barriers. Oh, He is still God, and we are still His people. But all are united in perfect harmony, and in infinite joy.
What a prospect! What a family! What a God!