“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 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. 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. 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. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:9–17)
I wonder if you noticed the extraordinary claim at the beginning of today’s passage? Read again: “as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you”.
I wonder if you can being to think about the love which exists between God the Father and God the Son? The perfect, eternal love which exists in the very heart of the Trinity. The love from which all other love derives its meaning? This very same love, Jesus tells us, is the love he himself has for his disciples. Extraordinary! Not mercy, not pity but the eternal triune love. What a wonderful, assuring statement! Who would not want to abide in that kind of love?
And then Jesus says something confusing: “if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love”. Now you are faced with the question: do I have to earn God’s love? Is this more of a tyranny than anything else?
The short answer is, of course, no. The longer answer is to read on and see that this keeping of commandments is something which marks Jesus love for his father. This is to say that love is an active force, not a passive basking. It is love which prompts action, and motivates you in what you do. Christianity is not something which is inherited, or simply a cultural affair. It is the active following of Christ, motivated by his love for you. These commandments, you see, are not motivated by any malicious intent, or by simply a desire to get the other person to do something. As Jesus says, he is telling his disciples these things so that “my joy may be in you, and that your joy might be full”. The commandments, when followed, are pointers to joy and paths to contentment. To put is simply, it is living in the way you were created to live. This is why some talk of the Bible as being a manual for living: it is a true guide to being who we are at our deepest level.
So back to that commandment - what is it? Jesus continues: “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”. That love has to be a command demonstrates how difficult it actually is. It is simply a matter to receive love, to enjoy its warmth, it is another to love someone you think is wrong or irritating. Or just plain unlovely. Sometimes it is difficult because of how someone else behaves, but often it is all the more difficult because what is behind our irritation is actually some bias we hold. Or, let’s be honest, because we see the worst of ourselves in someone else.
Yet, the commandment remains: “love one another as I have loved you”. As if to underline that Christ understands the cost this might bring, he continues: “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”. It may cost us our pride, but it cost Christ his life. Love is not simply an emotion, it prompts action.
Now before I carry on, perhaps it’s worth pausing for a moment. This passage is simply an excerpt from a much larger block of teaching, and you may remember that last week we looked at what Jesus had to say about abiding in him, and his use of the imagery of the vine. That’s the context for today’s passage, and it’s important to remember that our ability to love others does not simply come from our own willpower, but rather from the Spirit of God within. As we are rooted in Christ, his ‘sap’ rises within us and gives us life. Our ability to love another is watered by prayer, and motivated by the scriptures. It is a result of us looking at the world through Christ’s eyes, and echoing his love. We become a conduit: as God’s love flows into us, it flows out to others.
Returning to today’s passage, we find Christ calling us friends. Rather than blindly following orders, we are told what God is about and so we share in his mission. More than that, we are friends who have been chosen by Christ himself. We need not have been particularly loving people, or great moral examples, we simply need to heed the call of Christ. “You did not choose me, but I chose you”. What a humbling delight it is to have been noticed, let alone chosen by God. Chosen to go out and bear fruit.
Here then is a glimpse into the eternal purposes of God, a sight of his long laid down plan for humanity. He chooses people to abide in his love, to become more like him as they draw from him. He appoints people to bear fruit, and become a community of people who love each other with the love extended to them by God.
That is the church - the living body of Christ. Not simply a charity or a building, but a people called together by God himself. What an awe inspiring vision, what a wonderful prospect.
So, go and love each other as Christ loved you.