Love

| John 15:9-14

Week of April 26, 2020

The Point:  Let love permeate every relationship.

Abide in My Love:  John 15:9-14.

[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]

“Abiding in Christ [15:6-11]. The Meaning of Abide. 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 means “to dwell or remain.” J. C. Ryle explains how it speaks of our relationship with Christ: “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.” Jesus amplifies his own teaching by relating our abiding in him, first, to our resting in his love: 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 Christ’s love for them and so break the closeness of their fellowship. 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 [9]. 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 [1 John 1:7], and delights in those whom he takes as his disciples. How many Christians are paralyzed in their spiritual lives by a dread of Christ’s disfavor and disapproval. They see a constantly frowning face in heaven. But Jesus says that his love for us is like the Father’s love for him. We might say that Jesus not only loves us but likes us. Indeed, the primary biblical metaphor for Christ’s love for the church is that of a groom for his bride. A groom longs for his bride with great delight, and piercing joy. The Bible tells us that since believers are robed in the perfect imputed righteousness of Christ, then as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you [Isa. 62:5]. 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. These very words were ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament [Heb. 10:7], so that his 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 is describing a lifestyle of abiding in him that moves from love to love. Our defining reality as Christians is God’s love for us in Christ and Christ’s love for us on the cross. Both the Father and the Son continue to love us so that believers live through Christ, abiding in his love, living for his pleasure, and accepting his will as our own. John sums up the Christian life, saying, We love because he first loved us [1 John 4:19], and the way that we show our love is through joyful obedience to Jesus’ commands.

Four Great Results from Abiding in Christ. Having defined abiding in him in terms of his love and our obedience, Jesus also sets before the disciples four great results that ensure from our abiding in him. The first is that abiding in Christ delivers us from the judgment of God. Jesus expressed this truth in negative terms, speaking of false professors who do not abide in him [15:6]. Throughout the New Testament, fire is used to depict the torments awaiting those who stand under God’s judgment for sin. Jesus speaks here of God’s judgment not on sinners generally but on professing believers who did not possess his saving life and bear good fruit. The Old Testament background for Jesus’ teaching on the burning of the fruitless branches is Ezekiel 15:1-6. A profession of faith in Christ is of no interest to God unless it goes on to bear the fruit of a godly life, and such an empty profession of faith renders us fit only for the fires of God’s judgment. In contrast, to abide in Christ is to be delivered from God’s judgment, since the branches that abide in him bear fruit through their possession of saving life. How urgent it is that every professing believer actually abide in Christ – relying on his love, living in close fellowship with Jesus, and bearing the good fruit of obedience to the commands of the Bible – which is the only kind of faith that actually saves us from the just wrath of God on our sins. A second result is that abiding in Christ leads to power in prayer [7]. Jesus earlier said that if we ask in his name, he will answer our prayers; now he insists that we must pray with his Word abiding in us. A. W. Pink explains that Jesus refers here to a life that is “regulated by the Scriptures.” In God’s Word we find that Jesus tells us not to expect comfortable circumstances or the absence of trials and temptations. What we should seek is faith to trust Christ, strength to obey God’s will, grace to transform our lives, and compassion to care for a lost world. According to Jesus’ promise, whenever we pray for the priorities he has taught in Scripture, we should pray with an absolute certainty of divine answers. When we pray Jesus’ own words back to our Lord, when his teaching forms the substance of our pleas, we can be assured that they will be heard with favor in heaven. The “secret” to power in prayer, then, is to live closely enough to Christ that our own desires, expressed in prayer, have been molded by his Word. The third result of abiding is that in this way we glorify the Father [8]. This is an important statement, first, because it reminds us that we “prove” our discipleship by bearing fruit to the Lord. Jesus adds that the same fruit that grants us assurance of salvation also brings glory to the Father. This indicates that if we are not abiding in Christ and bearing the fruit of changed lives, then we are denying God glory that ought to be his. If we will abide in Christ, we will bear much fruit so as both to glorify the Father and to prove our discipleship. Fourth, 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. 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. Abiding in Christ, 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.

No Greater Love [15:12-17]. 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. 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]. J. C. Ryle marvels, “For sinful men and women like ourselves to be called ‘friends of Christ,’ is something that our weak minds can hardly grasp and take in. the King of kings and Lord of lords not only pities and saves all them that believe in Him, but actually calls them His ‘friends.’” 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]. A clear implication of Jesus’ statement is that he did not die in order to save all persons, but died to save only those who, though his enemies at the time, had been chosen by God to be Jesus’ companions through his redeeming work. This doctrine is called limited atonement, which limits Christ’s saving death only in terms of the scope of persons for whom it was intended: Jesus spoke of his coming death in this way, saying that he laid down his life not for everyone but for his friends. Limited atonement does not denigrate but rather exalts Christ’s death: while the atonement was limited in terms of the persons for whom he died, it was unlimited in terms of its power to save those who believe. Christ really and fully saved his people when he died on the cross, but it was only for them that he made atonement for sin. When other men or women sacrifice their lives for another, that person is almost always someone particularly beloved. But Jesus died 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. We may therefore rest on Christ’s friendship, knowing that it originates in his sovereign, unchanging grace and not in ourselves. 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. Primarily, 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 [14]. Clearly in verse 15, 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: 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 [15]. We have likewise been entrusted with the revelation of Christ. Friends bare their souls, and Jesus has opened his mind to us in the Scriptures. 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. We should never listen to those who tell us that we must compromise the Bible in order to be relevant or that careful obedience to the Bible will stifle our ministry. Our requirement for ongoing obedience to Jesus is confirmed by his repetition of this obligation: You are my friends if you do what I command you [14]. 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 Christian faith and the path on which we abide with him. For us to speak about being Christ’s people, while we are obeying the commands of our sinful world instead of those of Christ, does us little good. This is not teaching salvation by works, but rather a salvation that necessarily involves obedience to our Savior and Lord, since, as branches in the vine, we have his Spirit working in us. 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, he stressed, 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. Indeed, a chronic failure to obey Jesus’ command to love presents troubling evidence about our salvation. John thus wrote in his first epistle: Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love [1 John 4:8]. If we notice Jesus’ repeated summons to prayer, we must certainly notice his ceaseless emphasis on love. 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. The aim of our charge, Paul wrote, is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith [1 Tim. 1:5]. To realize that while we are yet sinners, God receives us with love at his throne of grace, and that he cares for and meets the needs we express in prayer, is to grow in our love for both the Father to whom we pray and Jesus in whose name we ask. Jesus commands us to obey his commandment to love, to bear good fruit in the gospel, and to pray “so that you will love one another,” knowing that in this same way we express and grow in our love for him as well.” [Phillips, pp. 291-310].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does it mean to abide in Christ (note the Ryle quote)? Why did Jesus attach such great important to abiding in him? How can you grow and continue in abiding in Christ? Why is obedience to Jesus proof of our abiding in him?
  2. What lesson is Jesus teaching us by comparing his love for us with the Father’s love for him [9]? What comfort and assurance can you draw from this love comparison?
  3. What are the four great results from abiding in Christ that Phillips mentions? To what degree are you experiencing these results in your life?
  4. What would it mean for you to love other Christians as Jesus loved his disciples and as he has loved you? Think of some specific acts of love you should be practicing this week.
  5. Note the emphasis Jesus places on relationships in these verses. What is the relationship between the Father’s love and Jesus’ obedience? What relationship does Jesus describe between our love for God and our obedience? What is the relationship between belief and obedience? How is abiding or remaining in God related to love and obedience? What is the relationship between obedience and joy?

References:

The Message of John, Bruce Milne, Inter Varsity (ebook).

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

John, Andreas Kostenberger, BENT, Baker.

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

The purpose of this article is to provide additional reference material for those Sunday School teachers who use Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life material.