Friendship with God

Philipp Ottenburg

What does it mean to be a friend of God in day-to-day living? We find clues in Abraham’s life. Encouragement from Genesis 18. 

James writes, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God” (2:23).

What a distinction Abraham received from God! He is the only person in the Bible to be called a friend of God. Jesus referred to some as friends (Lazarus, for example). He called others His friends as well: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13-14). This also includes us who believe in Him, who want to follow Him and live in sanctification.

Friendship involves serving each other. Abraham, the friend of God, exemplified this for us. His faith, which was credited to him as righteousness, was shown in the most exemplary manner through his service to the Lord.

One day, Abraham received a completely unexpected visit during the hottest part of the day. He was sitting in the shade and resting at the tent entrance: “And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him” (Gen 18:1-2a).

The remarkable visit was God’s response to Abraham’s obedient faith. Two of the three men were probably angels, and the middle one was none other than God in visible, human form. It is easy to imagine that this involved Jesus Christ, the Son of God, prior to His incarnation, as an angel of the Lord. Jesus could rightly say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

So, Abraham stood face to face with the Lord. He saw three strange men, at an hour when few people were out and about, because it was the hottest time of day. “When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, ‘O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant’” (Gen 18:2b-3).

Abraham served the men and provided for them (vv. 2-8). He brought them water to wash their feet, gave them a shady place to rest, and had Sarah bake flatbread so they could fortify their hearts. Abraham also had a servant prepare a good and tender calf. 

What’s remarkable is that in all this, Abraham personally served his Lord (v. 3). He describes himself as a servant to his guests. This also shows his humility. He bowed and welcomed them. He wanted to bring the bread himself (v. 5). So, he didn’t just put everything into the hands of his many servants who were with him.

Let’s imagine the scenery very vividly. Abraham was 99 years old at the time. Still, he chose to serve his master personally. He immediately rushed over when he saw the three strangers.—Have you ever experienced going to a restaurant and not being helped right away? The staff deliberately ignores you. In Abraham’s case, exactly the opposite happened. He didn’t hesitate to serve his Master. He was eager and hurried (vv. 2, 6). He ran from corner to corner and mobilized everything he could and possessed (cf. v. 7). This attitude is staggering, and let’s not forget that the day’s maximum temperatures were prevailing.

When the guests were served and had something to eat, he stayed still and had fellowship with them (v. 8). And then there was Abraham’s generosity: the bread Sarah had made was baked with fine flour. The meat was tender and good, as they say—definitely the finest veal. And the meal was topped off with curds and milk. Abraham’s guests didn’t receive the prior day’s bread, or anything that was out of date or second-rate.

What a difference from the priests of God’s people during the time of the prophet Malachi! They brought hobbled and sick animals to the Lord, even though it was God’s command that the sacrificed animals should be flawless. God said that it would be better for them to shutter the temple than to worship in that way. The altar fire was in vain (Mal 1). Abraham, on the other hand, did exactly as Paul later wrote: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23-24).

We can still use Abraham’s service to the Lord as an example today. His heart was concerned with spiritual things. Abraham, God’s friend, was very zealous and devoted to our Lord. And what about us? Do we have the same zeal for our friend, Jesus? In his attitude toward service, Abraham is also a metaphor for Christ. Our Lord Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve.

When we read further in Genesis 18, we learn of the Lord’s promise that Sarah would expect a son. Then the three men went on toward Sodom, and Abraham accompanied them. As they set out and turned toward the city, the Lord began to tell of His plan: “The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?’” (v. 17).

The words of our Lord are another display of grace. God, whose greatness is unfathomable, whose majesty shines gloriously: His rule endures through all generations. And we, the children of men, are like a breath; our days like a fleeting shadow. “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4; cf. Heb 2:6). He pays so much attention to us humans that He reveals His counsel to us in His Word—something He doesn’t have to do.

What doesn’t He show us in His Word! He lets us know what will happen to humanity and Israel in the future. The Bible tells of the end times. It’s not fear-mongering, as has often been preached and discussed. It’s grace, grace to know that our Lord is coming again and what that will bring. It’s how we can warn our fellow human beings. It was the same with God’s friend, Abraham. “Shall I hide from Abraham what 

I am about to do?”

Jesus Christ says, “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). First, Jesus revealed the divine plan to His disciples. This has now been recorded in the Bible, and we can read it any time; thus, He has revealed it to us as well. 

And so the Lord told Abraham about His plan: “Then the LORD said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.’ So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’” (Gen 18:20-23).

Abraham had served the Lord beforehand. He had run from corner to corner, with everything being done quickly. Now Abraham was standing still in awe before the Lord, making wonderful intercession. How Abraham pleaded! William MacDonald writes:

“After the LORD revealed to Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom, and while the two angels were walking toward that city, Abraham’s great intercessory countdown began— fifty … forty-five … forty … thirty … twenty … ten. Even for ten righteous people the Lord would not destroy Sodom! Abraham’s prayer is a wonderful example of effectual intercession. It was based on the righteous character of the Judge of all the earth (v. 25) and evidenced that boldness, yet deep humility which only an intimate knowledge of God can give. Only when Abraham stopped pleading did the Lord close the matter and depart (v. 33).”

God listened to Abraham until the end. Only after the prayer was finished did He move on. Our Lord always makes time for His children. Abraham acted as an advocate. An advocate must know the Lord personally and obey His will. They must be close to Him. When Abraham began to pray, he didn’t just remain in place—no, he moved closer to the Lord. Proximity to our God is crucial, because that makes us cognizant of the prayer requests on our hearts. This enlivens our prayer life.

Abraham knew much more about the dire future of Sodom than the people of the city, Lot included. Only the one who aligns himself with the Lord and His Word knows God’s “secrets.” And Abraham cared about the righteous Lot and his family. He had to spread these heavy burdens before the Lord. This, of course, reminds us of Jesus Christ, who is our Advocate. Indeed, our Lord’s present ministry, at the right hand of our Heavenly Father, is intercession for all believers. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom 8:34).

How often do we come before the Lord for others? Do we intercede for those in need? For believers struggling with sin? It is when we intercede for our fellow men that we are especially like our Lord.

Abraham served the Lord when He was his guest. We also see how he served the believers (Lot and his family) through intercession. Furthermore, God had appointed him to “command his children ... to keep the way of the LORD” (Gen 18:19). Abraham also served his family. He was a servant who lived a devoted life. Spiritual matters came first. That is exactly what defines a friend of God like Abraham.

News From Israel - 10/2021

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