Monday, March 23, 2015

Love One Another (John 15:12-17)

In his best-selling book The Five Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman says, “Love is the most important word in the English language—and the most confusing.”[1] The Greeks had at least four distinct words to describe the various aspects of that spectrum of actions and emotions that we lump under the heading of the single English word love. Most often, we think of love as a feeling we get. We talk about “falling in love,” and by that we refer to the state of euphoria that we feel when we are infatuated with another person. But love is not a feeling, it is an action. It is something we do.

The Bible commands us to love. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus replied that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus went on to say that second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. He said there is no other commandment greater than these (Mk 12:28-31). Here in our text, Jesus begins and ends by stating that His commandment for His followers is that they love one another (Jn 15:12, 17). Now, we may find these commandments difficult to understand primarily because we associate love with a feeling. If I am commanded to love another person, I may object that I cannot make myself feel something for that person that I simply do not feel. But the issue in the commandment is not how we feel but how we act toward that person. Feelings aside, we are called to demonstrate loving actions toward one another. We may have loving feelings toward that person, or we may not. As we act lovingly toward them, our feelings may change, or they may not. We may have loving feelings for them, but they may not have loving feelings toward us. But this does not get us off the hook of obeying the command of the Lord Jesus to love one another. And while the Bible has much to say about love for one’s family, one’s friends, one’s neighbor (which the Bible defines very broadly to include anyone who is in need to whom we can do good), and even one’s enemies, the context here in this passage of John’s Gospel is the love that we are called to express to one another within the Church, the family of God. Jesus commands us to love our fellow Christians – our brothers and sisters in the faith.

Friends, there are a lot of things that we can do as a church, but there are only a few that we must do in obedience to the Lord’s commands. We must proclaim the Word of God. We must engage in the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations. We must continue in the observance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And we must love one another. We are not talking about a feeling. We are talking about how we treat one another, how we serve one another, and how we act toward one another. This is the Lord’s command for His church – that we love one another.

The repeated command to love one another in verses 12 and 17 is like a set of bookends that hold up the verses in between. So these verses unpack how it is that we are to love one another in the Body of Christ. We find here what our love is to look like and how it is to be enacted. So, as a people of God, let us sit at the feet of Jesus and hear Him speak tenderly to us about how He has called us to love one another, and then let us commit ourselves to this kind of love.

I. We must love one another in imitation of Christ (v12-13)

When I was a kid, I decided I wanted to take up golf. I began watching it on television, and reading every book and magazine I could find about it. Then I went out on the golf course and I shot ten over par … on the first hole! Golf is an expensive hobby, and all the more if you aren’t any good at it, so my parents decided that I needed to take lessons from the PGA professional at a local golf course. I never became great, but I became good enough to enjoy it for a long time until my back started giving me problems. The point is that when we want to do something, the best way to learn is to have a good teacher, a good example, a good role model to emulate. And when it comes to loving others, we have the ultimate example in the Lord Jesus Christ.

His command in verse 12 is this, “that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” He calls us to love one another in imitation of His love for us. But Jesus’ love for us is not just a giddy feeling that makes Him tingle when He thinks of us. His love for us is exemplified in loving actions that He has taken on our behalf. He describes His love for us in verse 13: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” The Apostle Paul put it this way in Galatians 2:20: “The Son of God … loved me and gave Himself up for me.” This is, in the words of Jesus, the greatest measure of love that anyone could ever have – to put his or her own life aside for the benefit of another. And no one ever loved you like Jesus. He did this in the ultimate way. Our greatest need in life, whether we realize it or not, is our need to be rescued from the destructiveness of sin. Sin is destroying us from the moment we are conceived, and left unremedied, it will destroy us eternally in hell. But because Jesus loves us, He met that need. He took our sins upon Himself in His death on the cross, and died to bear the wrath that our sins deserve so that we could be forgiven by God, reconciled to Him, and granted His righteousness in exchange so we can live forever in God’s presence in heaven. No one else could do that for you, and you cannot do it for someone else. Only Jesus could love you in that way, and He has.

But Jesus says here that we can imitate the selfless, sacrificial love that He demonstrated in that ultimate way. We cannot die to atone for another’s sins, but we can give ourselves up, lay our lives aside, to meet the need of another person. John puts it this way in his First Epistle: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn 3:16). In the context there, the laying down of our lives would include doing anything we can to meet the need of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In Acts 2, we read that the first generation of believers loved each other in this way. The believers were said to have “all things in common, and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” This is the greatest love that we can have – to elevate the well-being of our friends above our own, and make whatever sacrifice is necessary to meet their needs.

Believe it or not, there are some who quibble about this verse and claim that there is an inconsistency or contradiction here in God’s Word. They base this on two other passages of Scripture. One is in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43-48. There Jesus calls us to love our enemies, saying, “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” The other passage is Romans 5:8, where Paul says that God demonstrated His love toward us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, some say that the greatest measure of love is not actually to lay down one’s life for his or her friends, but even greater to lay it down for one’s enemies. Well friends, we do not have a contradiction or inconsistency here at all. As I mentioned earlier, there are several Greek words for love, and the one that is most commonly used of God’s love for us is the group of words related to the root agape. But another commonly used word for love is the word phileo, which we often associate with brotherly or friendly love. Here Jesus uses both: Greater agape has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his phileo. There are different nuances of the word, but frankly too much is often made of the distinction. In John’s Gospel, at least, the words seem to function almost as synonyms. Therefore, we could just as easily translate Jesus’ statement here as, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for the ones he loves.” In this case, it really doesn’t matter if that one is a friend or enemy, for we are called to love them both. Christ’s love is so magnificent and strong, that in laying down His life for those whom He loves He is able to make friends of His enemies. And He calls us to do the same: to lay down our lives for the ones we love, be they friends or enemies, and by that sacrificial love to make friends of our enemies.

Nevertheless, our context here is not dealing with enemies, but with friends. Jesus is talking to His friends, and He is talking about how we love our friends – those ones whom we love within the family of God. As Carson writes, “[G]enuine love for God ensures genuine love for His Son … ; that genuine love for the Son ensures obedience to … the command to love (13:34-35; 15:12). By an unbreakable chain, love for God is tied to and verified by love for other believers.”[2] As John writes in 1 John 4,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. …We love because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 Jn 4:11-21)

We have not merely been commanded to love, we have been given the ultimate example and role model in love. How could we ever love with the kind of sacrificial love that is commanded of us? By looking at our example, Jesus, and imitating Him. If we are to love one another as He has loved us, we must do so in imitation of Him. This brings us to the second aspect of the love to which Jesus has called us.

II. We must love one another in obedience to Christ (vv13-15).

Years ago, I heard a story about Dr. Graham Scroggie, a great English preacher of the last century. I hope it is true, but I haven’t found a source for it. As best I can recall the details of the story, it seems that after a service, Scroggie counseled with a woman who confessed that she struggled in an area of obedience in her life. Scroggie took out a pen and a piece of paper and wrote on it two words: “No Lord.” He explained to her that those two words cannot coexist side by side. If Jesus is our Lord, we cannot say no to Him. If we say no to Him, then we prove that He is not our Lord. He told the woman to take the paper home and pray about which one of those words she would mark out. If Jesus is Lord, then whatever He commands, the answer is “Yes!”

When one who is Lord speaks, it is incumbent on all who are His servants to obey Him. In our human nature, we like to ask, “Why?” We see it in children. We tell them, “Clean your room!” They respond, “Why?” And we say, “Because I said so.” Because we speak from a position of authority, we do not have to explain our reasons. But though Jesus can relate to us in this way as Lord, He has also chosen to relate to us in a more intimate way. He has called us His friends. He loved us as a friend when He laid down His life for us. And as His friends, He gives us insight into His word, His will, and His purpose for us and for the whole world. He says in verse 15, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

It is an astounding thing to be called a friend of the Lord of lords and King of kings. In the Old Testament, of all the men and women whose lives are recorded there, only two are called friends of God: Abraham and Moses. And both of those men are known for having extraordinary access to and revelation from God. God had graciously drawn these men into His secret counsel. Now that title of “friend of God” is placed upon all who call upon Jesus Christ. He has drawn us into the intimate circle of friendship and made known to us His truth. I love how Mounce puts this: “In times of difficulty, when we may be tempted to think that God has removed Himself from us and concealed His plans, it is good to remember that we are still friends of Jesus and as such have access to insights unavailable to the unbeliever.”[3] There will always be mysteries. Our minds are finite; God is infinite. But the Spirit of God who indwells us as believers discloses to us the truth of the Word of God so that, even when we do not know all that we may wish to know, we know all that we need to know about who the Lord is and how He works in our lives and in the world. This is a benefit exclusively restricted to His friends.

But make no mistake about it, His friendship with us does not exempt us from the expectation of obedience. Some years ago, I was pulled over for speeding in my hometown. I knew I was speeding, and I knew I deserved a ticket. I was so pleased to roll down my window and find that the deputy was an old friend I had known for my entire life. We had a chat, and he told me to slow down and go on my way. Whew! My friendship with him caused him to bend the rules for me! But Jesus does not work this way. He is our friend, but He is also our Lord, and obedience is necessary. He says in verse 14, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Make no mistake about this, it is not our obedience that makes Him our friend. He befriended us in the depth of our disobedience to Him, not because we earned it or deserved it, but because He loved us and laid down His life for us. Our obedience does not make us His friend, but our obedience proves that we are His friends. If you call yourself a Christian, you are claiming to be a friend of Jesus. Does your obedience to Him prove that you are His friend?

In the context here, the obedience that we are referring to is obedience to the command to love one another. Let’s suppose you have two friends. You love them both and enjoy their company. But, let’s suppose that those two friends don’t really like each other. Whenever you are all together, those friends of yours are constantly bickering and fighting with each other and tearing each other down. At some point, do you not intervene and say, “Listen, I love you both, but if you are my friends, you need to get over this stuff and love one another”? Friends, this is how Jesus wants us to conduct ourselves. You say, “Jesus is my friend.” Another Christian can say the same thing. But when we fight with each other and treat each other unkindly, we are betraying our friendship with the Lord. We need to take up that old adage that any friend of his is a friend of mine! We prove our friendship with Jesus by how we relate to His other friends. If you are His friends, obey His command and love one another as He loves you. Lay down your life, your preferences, your differences of opinion, and embrace that one as your brother or sister! This is the proof that we really are friends of Jesus: our obedience to His command to love.

Now we come to the third and final aspect of this love …

III. We must love one another as ambassadors of Christ (v16)

When nations seek to establish diplomatic relations with one another, they commission ambassadors to live in the other country as an authorized representative of his or her home country. The Kingdom of Heaven has ambassadors of its own here among the nations of earth. Look around you. A group of those ambassadors has assembled here this morning. Do you recognize them? You are them. You are the emissaries of Christ who have been commissioned to speak and act on His behalf in the world and with one another in the church. And when you love one another in the body of Christ, you are the embodiment of the love of Jesus Christ to one another.

Notice that Jesus says here in verse 16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you.” You didn’t volunteer for this service. You were drafted. You say, “No, I made a choice to follow Jesus.” Indeed, you did. But your choice was merely a response to His. You did not choose Him prior to or apart from His sovereign choice of you. For reasons only of His glory and grace, He selected the likes of you and me to be His divinely appointed ambassadors in the world. Being chosen by Him for this task is a great encouragement for us. Imagine if Jesus had said, “I did not choose you, but you chose Me.” That would mean that when we come to Him in our time of need, He would be turning a cold shoulder to us, as if to say, “Don’t come crying to me. You are the one who picked this role. Didn’t you know what you were getting into?” But that is not what Jesus said. He said, “I chose you.” That means He takes full responsibility for you being in the role of His ambassador. Therefore, when we have a need – for instance, when we find it difficult to obey His command to love one another – we can come to Him and say, “Lord, you chose Me! You are all wise and all knowing. You do all things well and for good purpose. Here I am. I need help to do what you chose me to do.” Do you think for a moment that He can turn a deaf ear to such a cry? He cannot. He will not. He chose you. And He chose you for this very purpose.

Notice how He says next, “[I] appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain.” Let me remind you what we said last week about this fruit that Jesus speaks about here in John 15. What is it? I gave you a definition last week: “the fruit that is borne by a Christian in right relationship with Jesus is a combination of Christlike characteristics, produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit, as a means to accomplishing God’s purposes in and through the believer.” Specifically, throughout Scripture, we find two overarching “varieties” (if you will) of this fruit. One is the characteristics of Christ that are being formed in us, described in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Notice the first one in the list: LOVE! The other is the fruit of evangelistic converts – people who are won to faith in Christ through our witness. These two things are inseparable. We cannot win others to faith in Christ apart from the demonstration of the transformed life that Christ is producing in us. We have no credibility with an unbeliever if Christ is not shaping us into His likeness.

The simple fact is that you cannot obey this command to love one another, or any other command of Christ, apart from the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He must produce that kind of love in you. What we often fail to realize is the power of the testimony of Christian love for one another. Jesus said this very thing in John 13. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus is willing to stake the integrity of His gospel on our ability to demonstrate His love toward one another within the church. Let me ask you something: do you think your non-Christian friends are impressed with how you can bicker about your church, complain about your pastor, or criticize another Christian? They are not! But when they see us love one another in a way that is humanly inexplicable, they are profoundly impacted by what they see. They will want what you have, because they have never encountered it before. I have told you many times that I was won to Christ primarily by the demonstration of Christian love that I began to see in the lives of the Christians God placed in my life. I don’t expect it to be any different for anyone else. Jesus said so Himself.

These two varieties of fruit go together. If you have the fruit of the Spirit which is love for one another, you will see the fruit of others coming to faith begin to blossom. But, you will not see the latter if you do not demonstrate the former. It is as simple as that. You may say, “But it is so hard to love one another!” Indeed. It is. I find it almost humorous how hard people will work to be unlovable! But we are unlovable before God in our sins, and Jesus loved us anyway and laid down His life for us. He calls us to do the same. It is a mission impossible in our own resources. But we do not operate in our own resources. We have all the resources of heaven available to us to help us love one another.

Notice the last part of verse 16. Jesus says “I chose you and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit … so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” Now, it would make more sense to us perhaps if it was reversed, if Jesus said, “I will answer any prayer you pray so that you can go and bear fruit.” But that is not what He said. He did not say, “I gave you prayer so you could have a fruitful mission.” He said, “I gave you a mission to be fruitful, so you would pray and I would answer.” Jesus gave you a difficult mission so that you would never forget how utterly dependent you are on your relationship with Him. If you find it difficult, maybe even impossible to love your brother or sister as Christ would have you love them, that is normal. But it is not designed to make you give up on them. It is designed to bring you to your knees and cry out to Him. He has promised to answer any thing you pray for in relation to your obedience to this command to bear the lasting fruit of love. Come to Him and call upon Him. “Lord, you have chosen me! You have appointed me to bear the fruit of love and to bring the lost to know you! You have even said that my love for these other Christians is how you want to win those unbelievers! But I cannot do it Lord! I cannot love them! I do not love them! O Lord, will You love them through me? Can I here and now lay down my life for them, that Your love will take on flesh in me?” Friends, that is a prayer that Jesus Christ has promised to answer for you. In fact, He gave you this otherwise impossible mission to make you see your need for daily dying to yourself, that He might live and love through you.

Friends, all around us are hurting Christians. Some of their hurts, you know full well. Others are secret wounds of the heart known only to the Lord. In this room today are people whose hearts are broken and who wish for nothing more than to feel the embrace of Jesus Christ surrounding them. My friends, Jesus Christ wills to embrace them with your arms. He has called you to be His ambassador, to love others who are hurting and in need with His love. Will you ask Him to do it in and through you? Will you emulate His example? Will you obey His command? He has called you His friends. We will prove that friendship is real as we love one another.

[1] Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages (Chicago: Northfield, 1995), 19.
[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentaries; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 521.
[3] Robert Mounce, “John” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (rev. ed., Vol. 10; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 578.

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