Stick With Love

| John 15:8-14

The Point:  Let love permeate every relationship.

Abide in His Love:  John 15:8-14.

[8]  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. [9]  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. [10]  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. [11]  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. [12]  "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. [13]  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. [14]  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  [ESV]

[8-11]  “In John 15 the emphasis is upon the glory of God. In verses 8-11 the glorification of God is linked to four elements, each of which should be abundantly visible in the life of each Christian. The elements are: fruitfulness, love, obedience, and joy. Each one is linked to the central theme of the chapter, the need for Christians consciously to remain in Christ: abide in me … abide in my love. Fruitfulness [8]. The flow of thought is that if we are Christ’s and remain in Him, then we will be fruitful in the Christian life and God will be glorified in our fruitfulness. Moreover, the fact that we are fruitful will be a proof that we are indeed Christ’s disciples. At this point we should probably talk about the real meaning of fruitfulness, for if we fail to do that or if we define fruit wrongly, we are inevitably going to discourage some Christians, which we should not do. If we begin with a phrase like Paul’s words of expectation in writing to the Romans – that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles [Rom. 1:13] – and if we therefore identify the fruit of the Christian life with converts to Christ, then we will discourage any who, for whatever reason, do not see many come to the Lord through their witness. It is true, of course, that converts may be looked at as fruit in a certain sense. The Bible does so itself. But the real fruit is that listed in Galatians 5:22-23. This fruit is the fruit of Christ’s own character within us. It is His love, joy, peace, and so on, within the Christian. Once we see this, we see that a fruitful life can belong to any child of God regardless of their age or circumstances. They need not be disheartened by advancing years or by suffering. In fact, the person may even be encouraged by them, for it is in such circumstances that the character of the Lord can shine brightest and others can best see that they are truly their Lord’s disciple. Do not think that in taking this approach I am denying the need for fruit in the sense of conversions. We obviously need these too. But the starting point, indeed the indispensable heart of the Christian’s witness, is this divine character. Love [9]. The second of Christ’s emphases is love. This follows naturally since love is a fruit of the Spirit. In fact, it is the chief fruit, for the greatest of these is love [1 Cor. 13:13]. Verse 9 contains three parts. The first part is a declaration of love: I loved you. This is an astonishing love, for there is nothing in us that could give cause for it. We are sinners. Jesus is holy. We have rebelled against God. Nevertheless, Jesus loves us. The steps of the expression of His love are these. To begin with, He loved us with an electing love [Deut. 7:6-8]. He loved you because He loved you, not because you were lovable. That is the heart and full substance of it. Next, the Lord became a man like us, so great was His love for us. The eternal Son left His Father’s home in heaven to come to earth to woo and wed His bride, the church. He redeemed her. The incarnation is Jesus becoming like us so that we might become like Him. Finally, having elected us in love and become like us in a human form, Jesus died for us. It is not only a sublime declaration of love that we have in this verse. We also have the measure of that love. Jesus said, as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Jesus says that He has loved us, not with an imperfect or even a perfect human love, but rather with the greatest love there is; namely, the love which has existed within the being of the Godhead from all eternity and which will exist to all eternity, the love of the Father for Him and His love for the Father. Is there a greater love than that? It is impossible that there could be. This love is without beginning or end. It is without measure. It is without change. It is according to the measure of this great love, and consequently with that love itself, that Christ loves us. One thing more. First, we saw Jesus’ declaration of His love for us. Second, we saw the measure of that love. Third, we have the challenge of love, which is, in this case, to abide or continue in His love. If we continue in His love, then we will be remaining in Him and prove fruitful. Obedience [10]. The third word in this catalog of elements contributing to God’s glory is obedience, though it is expressed in a challenge to keep Christ’s commands, as has been done elsewhere [see John 14:15,21,23; 15:10,14]. The point of this emphasis on being obedient to His commands is obvious. We must keep Christ’s commands if we are to be Christ’s disciples and grow in His love. Let us note one thing further. It is true that we are reminded to obey all that Jesus has given to us by way of instruction. But even as He tells us this, Jesus points out that He is asking of us no more than He has already asked and given of Himself. Just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love is His comparison. We can be encouraged by this, knowing that the One who instructs us has Himself set the pattern and will give us strength to do as He requires. Joy [11]. In verse 11, Jesus introduces the fourth and final element that is to be in us and by which the Father shall be glorified. It is joy. Christ adds it to indicate that His commands actually lead in precisely the opposite direction from being grievous. They lead to the fullness of that joy that is of God and that is rightly listed as the second virtue in the list of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians. Jesus says of this virtue, These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This sentence speaks of the Christian’s joy in three senses: joy attained, joy abiding, and joy abounding. Joy is to be attained as a result of the things Jesus had been teaching. This is the reason why the Christian must abide in Him, so that the views, outlook, and aspirations of the Master will be those of the disciples as well. This is the reason for the twofold repetition of the word joymy joy … your joy. The joy of Jesus is to be the joy of the disciple. His joy was a wonderful thing, for it was not deterred by suffering or any other circumstance. In fact, it rejoiced in hardship; for we read that Jesus for the joy that was set before him endured the cross [Heb. 12:2]. Where did He find that joy? The answer is in His intense desire to do the will of His Father: I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices [Psalm 16:8-9]. Second, the verse speaks of joy abiding: that my joy may be in you. The point of this phrase is that joy does not necessarily remain. Many things can destroy it. Sin can destroy it. So can disobedience or unbelief. David confessed this in the great fifty-first psalm, crying out to God, restore to me the joy of your salvation [Ps. 53:12]. It was not that his salvation was lost, only that the joy had evaporated. This always happens when we become separated from Christ in the sense of having the fellowship that once was ours broken. In contrast to this, we must abide in Him; for when we abide in Him the joy abides also. Finally, the verse speaks of abounding joy. This is the meaning of the clause that your joy may  be full. We do not experience the fullness of this joy as much as we should. We should find great joy in all things just as Christ did even in the face of arrest, beatings, crucifixion, and death [Heb. 12:2]. When joy, linked to fruitfulness, love, and obedience, is found in the life of a Christian, all can see it and know that the source is divine. We can never produce these things. We cannot produce the Spirit’s fruit. We cannot produce love, we cannot produce joy. But Jesus can do it as we abide in Him.

[12-14]  No Greater Love. When Jesus says, You are my friends, it is evident that He is speaking to us on the human level in terms we can clearly understand. And He is doing this so that we might contrast His friendship, which is great and perfect, to even the best of the other friendships we have known. The best known of the biblical examples is the friendship between Jonathan, the son of King Saul, and David, the young hero of Israel. Jonathan was in line for the throne. But David was so evidently blessed of God that the people were saying that he should be the next king. Here was the cause for great antagonism between the apparent rights of the one and the supposed aspirations of the other. But there was no antagonism. Instead there was a great and beautiful friendship. Sometimes the love that exists between one friend and another leads to the ultimate sacrifice, to death. This is what Jesus says in verse 13: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. But it is not really fair to talk about Jesus’ sacrifice in merely human terms, for His death surpasses anything we can imagine. It may not happen often, but sometimes one human being will voluntarily die for another; still, this gift never equals or even parallels Jesus’ sacrifice. We see this when we reflect on Jesus’ death. First, when we begin to reflect on Jesus’ death we recognize that His death was exceptional if only because Jesus did not have to die. That is not true of us. We are mortal. We must die. But Jesus was immortal and therefore did not have to die. Indeed, He was life itself. He could have come into this world, performed a full and varied ministry, and then have returned to heaven without ever having experienced death. What does this mean in terms of self-sacrifice? Merely this. If you or I were to give our lives for someone else, while that would undoubtedly be a great and heroic sacrifice, it would nevertheless at best be merely an anticipation of what must eventually come anyway. We would simply be dying a bit sooner than normally. The Lord did not need to die under any circumstances. Second, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ is exceptional in that He knew He would die. Again, this is not usually the case when a mere man or woman gives his or her life for another. Few who die in this way do so knowing in advance that they will die. Rather, it is usually the case that although the act is a risk and death is possible, they nevertheless think they may escape death while yet saving their friend. People take calculated risks and sometimes die, but they do not often die deliberately. Jesus by His own testimony deliberately went to the cross to die for our salvation. There is another area in which the love of the Lord Jesus Christ for His friends shines brighter than any love of which we are capable. The text says that we are Christ’s friends and that He was going to give His life for His friends. But if we think of this closely and honestly, we must recognize that, when the Lord Jesus gave His life for us, strictly speaking we were not exactly his friends. True, He calls us friends. It is also true that we become His friends. But we become friends because of His act, because of His electing grace toward us manifesting itself in the atonement and in the ministry of His Spirit by which our natural rebellion against God is overcome and our hearts are drawn to love and serve Jesus. When He died for us, He did so while we were yet enemies or were foreseen to be enemies. It was while we were still sinners, Christ died for us [Rom. 5:8]. Here especially do we see the wonderful love of the Lord Jesus Christ. So long as we think of ourselves as being somewhat good in God’s sight we do not see it. But when we see ourselves as God sees us, then the surpassing worth of the love of Christ becomes evident. God made us in His own image. But we have rebelled against Him and defaced that image. Instead of God’s glory, we have advanced man’s depravity. Instead of His sovereignty, we have sought human autonomy. Instead of holiness, we have sin. Instead of love, hate. Yet, in spite of our depravity, Christ came to be our friend and prove His friendship by dying for us. There is one more reason why the love of the Lord Jesus Christ for His friends, seen in His death for us, is superior to all human loves. The death of the Lord was a spiritual death, whereas ours, if we are Christians, is only physical. If we were to give our life for someone else, the death we would endure would be only physical. We cannot die spiritually in the place of another person. But that is precisely what Jesus Christ did. Death is separation. Physical death is the separation of the soul and spirit from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul and spirit from God. This is what makes hell such a terrible place; those in hell are separated from God. And because God is the source of all good – all joy, peace, love, and other blessings – hell is the opposite. It is misery, unrest, hate, and so on. This is the separation that Jesus endured for us. He died physically also; that is true. His death was particularly painful and degrading. But the truly horrible aspect of His death was His separation from the Father when He was made sin for us and bore sin’s punishment. This is the meaning of the cry wrung from His lips in that moment: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? [Matt. 27:46]. I do not know how to explain that. I do not know how it is possible for the second person of the Godhead to be separated from the first person of the Godhead, even for a brief time, as this was. But this is what happened as Jesus experienced ultimate spiritual death in order that we might never have to experience it. Love like that goes beyond our best understanding. These truths and more are involved in Christ’s statement: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. There is one other question that arises from verse 14: Are you Christ’s friend? Jesus suggests this when He declares, you are my friends if you do what I command you. This means that we are to show our friendship to Him by an active, continuous obedience in all things. That our obedience is to be active is shown in Jesus’ use of the present tense verb do. Unfortunately some Christians talk about the Christian life as though it consisted largely in refusing to do certain things. But this is a negative type of obedience, when Jesus requires a positive obedience. Christ calls upon us to love one another, and that cannot be done except in very practical ways. We are to pray. We are to worship with other Christians. Our lives are to be marked by good deeds. It would make a great difference in the lives of many Christians if, as they read their Bibles and pray each day, they would pause as part of their devotions to ask what practical things the Lord would have them do. Second, our obedience should also be continuous. We are to do and keep doing what He commands. The idea is of continuous action, day after day, year after year. There is no vacation from being a disciple of the Lord. Finally, our obedience is to be in all things. We are to do whatever Jesus commands us to do. We must come to Him in love to do whatever He asks of us, not picking and choosing as some do, not exalting those aspects of the Christian faith we like, and neglecting those we dislike. Rather it means coming with that yielded humility of mind and body that places us prostrate at His feet and asks from that position, “Lord, what will you have me do?” It is only when we ask that question and mean it that we find ourselves being lifted up to do the great errands of our king, and not as slave either, but rather as a friend of Jesus.”  [Boice, pp. 1171-1182].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What are the four elements in 15:8-11 which should be present in every Christian life? Meditate upon these four elements. How can these elements grow and increase in your Christian life? What does Jesus mean by commanding us to abide in him?

2.         How was Jesus’ death for His friends different from our dying for our friends? Think about how this difference defines the great love that Jesus has for His friends.

3.         How can we be Jesus’ friends? What does Jesus command us in these verses [see 15: 12]? How does our ability to love one another feed off of the four elements in 15:8-11?

4.         What kind of obedience does Jesus require of His friends in 15:14 (active, continuous, all things)? What is the difference between positive and negative obedience?

References:

John, volume 4, James Boice, Baker.

The Gospel According to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.