Love like Christ

| John 15:9-17

Week of June 4, 2017

The Point:  Base every relationship on the unconditional love of Christ.

 Abide in Christ’s Love:  John 15:9-17.

[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. [15] 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. [16] You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. [17] These things I command you, so that you will love one another.   [ESV]

“Abiding in Christ [9-11].  Jesus’ teaching on abiding in Him is evidently of great importance, as seen not only by the fact that Jesus taught this parable on so pivotal an occasion as the night of His departure but also in the extended treatment He gave to the subject. It is clearly important for Christians to understand what it means to abide in Christ. The Greek verb ‘meno’ means “to dwell or remain.” Jesus amplifies His own teaching by relating our abiding in Him, first, to our resting in His love: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love [9]. This informs us that the Christian who abides in Christ is one who believes, trusts, relies on, and rests within Christ’s love for His own. Even while Christ’s love for His disciples is unbroken, it is still possible for Christians to live without being mindful of His love for them. This is why Jesus urges us to remain in His love. To be a Christian is to know the love of God in Christ, who died on the cross for our sins. To abide in Christ is then to rely on that love, so that in all things we draw near to Him, look to Him in faith, and confidently expect His saving grace to be at work in our lives. Jesus has proved His love for us forever on the cross; now we are to abide in His love. Jesus points out to us an analogy between His relationship of love with the Father and our relationship of love with Him: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. This reminds us that Jesus’ love for us consists of more than mercy and compassion, since the Father does not pity the Son but rather delights in the Son, approves of His Son, and desires the fellowship of His Son. Likewise, then, Jesus delights in His people, approves of those who are cleansed by His blood, and delights in those whom He takes as His disciples. Christians who know and rely on Christ’s love will respond by obeying His commands. This is the second relationship that Jesus identifies with abiding in Him: 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 [10]. Jesus is not saying that we are saved by obedience, since we are saved by faith alone in His perfect saving work for us. What He is saying is that as we rely on His love for us and respond with loving obedience to His commandments, the result is that we are drawn near to abide in His love. Christ’s obedient love to the Father sets the pattern for our obedient love to Him. Jesus took great pleasure on earth in showing His love to the Father by obeying His commands. Likewise, our love for Christ and our abiding in Him involves the submission of our will  to His will, so that on the path of obedience that Jesus Himself walked we have close fellowship with Him. Realizing this, we are warned against thinking that abiding in Christ manifests itself in mystical experiences. Instead, abiding in Christ manifests itself in devoted obedience to His word. Jesus states that abiding in Christ fills us with joy [11]. The world insists that turning from sin to follow Christ is bound to take all the pleasure out of life. Jesus insists that exactly the opposite is in fact true. The way to possess true and abiding joy – not the joy of the world, but what Jesus calls my joy – is to abide in Him. It is obvious from this that we may fail to know the joy that ought to be ours. We lose our joy when our fellowship with Christ is broken through worldly distractions. Disobedience and unbelief steal our joy. Jesus found His joy in pleasing the Father through obedience. Jesus stated His desire that by abiding in Him, your joy may be full. Abiding in Jesus, as a living branch in the true vine, we experience His life flowing into us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, so that our deep experience of blessing matures into the rich wine of spiritual joy as we abide in Him. Do you find that you long for the fullness of Christ’s joy in your life? It is evident that Jesus longs for this, too. Indeed, there can be no greater object in love than for the One we adore to have joy in our fellowship. We do not need to live joyless lives, but we do need to abide in Christ, relishing His love, offering our obedience in return, and then abounding in the perfect divine joy that He has eternally possessed and that He delights to give to those who abide in Him.

No Greater Love [12-17].  Having been loved by Christ with so great a redeeming love, we are to love others in a way that reflects His matchless grace. Jesus emphasized this truth to the disciples, saying, This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you [12]. When we think about the greatness of Christ’s love for us, which Paul said surpasses knowledge [Eph. 3:19], we find that one of its more amazing features is that Jesus loves His people so as to take us as His friends. This is amazing because it is the Son of God who speaks this way. In human society, it is not common or easy for man and women of different stations to enjoy friendship. Learned men are seldom close companions with the unlearned. People in high positions are isolated from others and isolate themselves, often being more admired than known and loved. But no person is higher above others to the extent that Christ, God’s holy Son, is high above us all. He spoke the simple truth in Isaiah 55:9: For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Yet for all His infinite superiority in terms of His being, station, majesty, authority, knowledge, holiness, and power, Jesus says to us You are my friends [14]. We became Jesus’ friends not because we had some affinity for Him but because of what He did for us. We are brought near to His heart, He says, by the greatest love imaginable: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends [13]. This verse adorns countless war memorials, honoring soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice for their nation. These sacrifices are justly celebrated, but there are differences when it comes to Christ that makes His death the greatest expression of love ever. First, we should realize that Jesus did not have to die, since His life alone was not intrinsically destined for the grave. Every heroic sacrifice of life that any other person makes is the gift of a life that was going to die sooner or later anyway. This by no means diminishes the sacrifice of those who die for others. But Jesus’ death was in a higher category. He alone possessed a life over which death had no power: He suffered death when the grave was perfectly avoidable if He had so willed. Moreover, Jesus’ sacrifice differs from others in that He intentionally gave His life. When a person gives His life to save another, he normally does not know that He is going to die, and usually hopes to escape death. But Jesus’ death was especially priceless because He knew and intended that He would die to save us from our sins. Furthermore, Jesus dies for us when we were not really His friends. He was our friend, but He died to save men and women who had done nothing but wrong to Him and would in fact hate Him until He saved us. Paul said, God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us [Rom. 5:8]. When other men or women sacrifice their lives for another, that person is almost always someone particularly beloved. But Jesus dies for us, knowing all the details of our wickedness, knowing all our sins and every corrupt twist in our hearts, but loving us nonetheless and giving His life for our salvation. The greatness of Jesus’ sacrifice is understood when we remember the nature of what He suffered. Jesus suffered intense physical anguish on the cross. But so infinitely intense were His spiritual sufferings that His physical pains must have been relatively insignificant. Jesus suffered the infinite wrath of God on our sins that He bore. Not only was Jesus’ death physically degrading, but it included what was for Him the horrifying separation from the Father as He bore our curse and suffered divine wrath. Recognizing the uniquely anguishing experience that Jesus underwent for us in death, we can then appreciate the truth of His claim, Greater love has no one than this [13]. This is the love that God’s Son has for us even now, having proved His unparalleled love on the cross. Recognizing Christ’s love for us, we receive His friendship as the single greatest possession of our lives, and also as the great calling on our lives. Jesus spoke of our friendship with Him, saying, You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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 [14-15]. The New Testament shows that the disciples as apostles continued to know themselves as Christ’s servants [2 Peter 1:1; Rom. 1:1; Titus 1:1]. One of our chief privileges as Christians is to be personal servants of so great a Lord as God’s Son, Jesus. Clearly, then, Jesus did not intend to convey that Christians are no longer His servants, for in this very passage He speaks of the necessity of our obeying His commands. What he does mean is that our relationship with Him is not merely one of hierarchical submission. Even when a friend is in a subordinate position, he is a confidant and companion. Jesus emphasizes the idea of our entering into His confidence and His full disclosure of His plans and practices. Jesus opens up His heart to His friends, telling us through the Scriptures what He earlier confided personally to the original disciples. Jesus thus contrasts His disciples with mere servants. We have been entrusted with the revelation of Christ [15]. Friends bare their souls, and Jesus has opened His mind to us in the Scriptures. Through God’s Word, Paul said, we have the mind of Christ [1 Cor. 2:16]. The Bible is not only the holy book for us to revere, but also Jesus’ disclosure of His own heart for us to treasure as His friends. In the Bible, Jesus has clearly told us the purpose of history and of His kingdom, informing us of His plans, explaining His works, and entrusting to us His promises. We are to receive His teaching not as reluctant servants but as eager friends and partners in Christ’s kingdom, knowing that His commands are good and filled with blessing for us and for others. Our requirement for ongoing obedience to Jesus is confirmed by His repetition of this obligation. Jesus has repeatedly stressed our obedience to Him in this Farewell Discourse, and the relationship between our obedience to and our love for Him. He is obviously determined for us to realize that obedience is the true test of the Christian faith and the path on which we abide with Him. Having reiterated this principle, we should also note here that Jesus’ emphasis seems to be on His special command that we are to love one another. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you [12]. He concludes this section on the same note: These things I command you, so that you will love one another [17]. At the heart of our obedience to Christ, then, is our treatment of other people, especially our fellow believers. Loving one another requires us to bind our temper, to speak in ways that build others up, to turn from envy and contempt to respect and goodwill, and to sacrifice readily for the well-being of others. Jesus follows up His command to obey through love with another statement that is well known to many Christians: You did not choose me, but I chose you [16]. This statement joins up with many other similar statements to teach clearly that all who are saved have benefited from God’s sovereign grace in salvation. Jesus added that He not only chose the disciples but appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide [16]. Three things should be noted here. The first is that Jesus is probably emphasizing the gospel mission of His disciples as apostles. We have often described the fruit of a Christian in terms of a transformed, Christlike character, as well as general obedience. But here the expression go and bear fruit reminds us of the Great Commission, in which Jesus commanded us: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations [Matt. 28:19]. This gospel mission is our calling as well, and Jesus has appointed all Christians to bear the fruit of salvation through our witness of the gospel and service to the church. Second, we might wonder about Jesus’ purpose in reminding us about sovereign election. Evidently, He intended to remind us of the grace He has had for us so that we will share it with others. The doctrine of election reminds our tender consciences that we are not saved by our works but by God’s sovereign grace. This then becomes the greatest message that we can share with non-Christians. We can tell what Jesus did for us and how we, though sinners, are saved by the grace of God in Christ. Correspondingly, being aware of God’s sovereign mercy, you can best show your gratitude by sharing that same mercy by bringing the gospel to the lost around you. The word for appointed means ‘set apart,” and everyone who was chosen by God from eternity past and called by Christ through the gospel to salvation is also set apart for the gospel. Through our witness we bear fruit that will truly abide, enduring forever through eternal life for all who believe. Third, Jesus links our abiding in Him and our bearing fruit to His promise to answer our prayers: so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you [16]. This is the third time in this Farewell Discourse that Jesus has made essentially the identical promise about prayer [14:13-14; 15:7]. This repetition indicates the emphasis that Jesus places on our prayer. We tend to think of prayer as a privilege, but here we find that it is a duty. We are not to be Prayerless! In the context of Jesus’ reminder of His matchless love for us and His calling us to be His friends, we are no doubt to remember that His friends are our friends and that we must pray as an essential ministry of our love for others. More than this, we find in Jesus’ emphasis that prayer is not merely a means to an end. Note that Jesus does not say that we are to pray in order to bear good fruit – true though that is – but that we are to bear fruit so as to pray more effectively. If we notice Jesus’ repeated summons to prayer, we must certainly notice His ceaseless emphasis on love: These things I command you, so that you will love one another [17]. Why the repetition? One reason is that our unwilling hearts obviously need the repeated emphasis. Moreover, it is evident that everything to which Jesus calls His disciples is summed up in love. Our salvation originates in the love of God and manifests itself in love for God and others. This means that we may gauge the quality of our Christianity by our loving treatment of others, our loving concern for the needs around us, and our loving prayers for God to help one another. It suggests that the measure of a church is not merely the faithfulness of its doctrine but also the fervency of its love; indeed, Jesus indicates that the efficacy of the doctrine is measured in the love of the believers. Paul wrote: The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith [1 Tim. 1:5].”  [Phillips, pp. 291-310].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Whenever we are confronted in Scripture by commands like the ones in this passage, always look in the context for a promise from God that will enable you to obey the command. What promises do you find in John 15:1-8 that enable believers to keep Christ’s commands so that we can abide in His love [see 15:3,4,5,7]? How can you apply these promises to obeying Jesus’ commandment that we are to love one another as Christ loves us?
  1. What does it mean to abide or remain in Christ’s love? J.C. Ryle writes: “To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with Him,—to be always leaning on Him, resting on Him, pouring out our hearts to Him, and using Him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best Friend.—To have His words abiding in us, is to keep His sayings and precepts continually before our memories and minds, and to make them the guide of our actions and the rule of our daily conduct and behavior.” [J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels]. How does this abiding in Christ play out in your daily life? How does it affect your priorities, your decisions, your work, your marriage and family life, etc.?
  1. In this passage Jesus teaches us about three relationships: Jesus and the Father; Jesus and believers; and believers and believers. Each relationship is characterized by obedient love and joy. What does Jesus teach about the priority of these relationships? Note the use of as in verses 10 and 12. Our love for one another is to be determined and characterized by Jesus’ love for us. And Jesus love for us is characterized by the Father’s love for Jesus. What do we learn from this priority in these relationships concerning how we are to love one another? (The way we love one another must always be in agreement with the way that Jesus loves us and the way that the Father loves Jesus. Jesus’ love for us never overlooks nor accepts our sinful behavior. His love confronts our sin because our sin interferes with what is our highest good and greatest joy: a loving relationship with Jesus that brings glory to the Father.) Pray for the strength and wisdom to love one another as Jesus loves you.

References:

John, vol. 4, James Boice, Baker.

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

John, vol. 2, Richard Phillips, REC, P&R Publishing.

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John, vol. 3, J. C. Ryle, Banner of Truth.