Sermon preached on John 15:9-17 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/28/2014 in Novato, CA.
“Abide In My Love”
As we approach the new year, I wanted to take one more week off from our series through Samuel. Whenever a new year rolls around, it seems a fitting time to be renewed in who we are, and what we are to be doing. This passage certainly fits the bill. First, in today’s passage we are renewed in the gospel, as we see that at the heart is Christ’s love for us. And it’s in this love that we see God’s initiative that he has taken to save us, and even befriend us. Second, we are renewed in an important aspect of Christ’s vision for his church; that we are to love one another. In other words, one of the components of Christ’s church is where love for one another is foundational for our church community. And you might recall that during our congregational meeting, I said in my pastor’s report that one goal I have for us for this coming year is for us to grow in our friendship and community with one another. And so Christ’s call to love one another in a way modeled after Christ’s own love for us, is the Scriptural rationale and mandate for the friendship and community that we are to seek to continue to develop now, and into the year ahead. Of course, please don’t misunderstand me. Friendship and community is only one part of what the church is to be about. But it is an important part. So then, in today’s sermon we will examine this passage in two points. First, we will reflect on Christ’s love for us. Second, we’ll consider Christ’s command to love one another.
So then, let’s begin with Christ’s love. That’s always the place to start, isn’t it? We see Christ’s love in many ways in this passage. I want us to look at six of them. The first way that we see Christ’s love for us is that he directly states it. Verse 9, “As the Father loved me, I also have loved you.” So, our passage begins with a direct affirmation of the love that Christ has for his people. Here it’s directed to his disciples, but we know this applies to all his disciples. For example in two chapters, in John 17, Jesus makes the connection that we who have become followers through the ministry of these original disciples, have a share in these things. And so Jesus has loved us his disciples. And I love how that love is described in verse 9; it’s described in how God the Father has loved God the Son. There is an intratrinitarian love that the three persons of the Godhead have for one another! That is amazing, in and of itself. But for us it’s especially amazing that Jesus says that this is the kind of love he has for us! The love that the Father has for Jesus, is the kind of love Jesus has for us!
The second way we see Christ’s love in this passage is through Christ’s command for us to abide in his love. In other words, he not only affirms that he loves us, but he then immediately in verse 9 turns around and tells us to remain or continue in his love. His love is something wonderful that it is something to hold on to and never let go! There’s an interesting circle of love here. We know from a passage like 1 John 4:19 that we love him because he first loved us. We certainly see his initiating love in our passage for today too. And yet having first known his love, we are commanded to continue in that love. And in verse 10 he tells us how to abide in his love: by keeping his commands. And what commands does he want us to keep? Well, he tells us in verse 12: to love one another. So, we know his love, and are told to stay in his love, by loving others. But the only way we can truly love others is if we’ve know Christ’s love. So, there’s a bit of a circle of love here. But that’s a typical way that the apostle John likes to write of our relationship with God, particularly when it comes to God’s love for us. The idea is that we should see how we need God’s love throughout, in all things; before, during, and after, any love we show others! But my point for now here is to mainly recognize that the command to abide in Christ’s love tells us something important about his love. It’s something so wonderful that we should always want to remain in this love. We should never want to remove ourselves from it!
The third way we see his love in this passage is by his concern for us to know his joy. In verse 11, Jesus says that he has joy, a full and complete joy, and that’s what he wants to be in us. In context, this is another expression of his love. We know how this works. When you love someone, you want them to be happy and full of joy. When they are not, you are not. When you see a loved one full of some sorrow, you have sorrow with them. You want to cheer them up and make them happy. It’s love for them that connects you in that way. Well, Jesus loves us in the most wonderful way. And he therefore wants to share the joy he has with us. And not just a little joy, but joy in the full! So much could be said about the nature of this joy, but since we are talking mainly about love today, for now we’ll say that this joy includes the joy in being in a wonderful relationship with our God and creator. That relationship is characterized by the love that we read about today, and a ramification of this relationship is that it produces great joy within us.
A fourth way that we see Christ’s love here is by his teaching. In other words, Jesus spent time to teach his disciples. He continues to teach us through his Word and Spirit. This teaching of Jesus is an expression of his love for us. For example, look at the start of verse 11. It starts out by saying, “These things I have spoken to you.” It then goes on to make that point about Jesus wanting us to have joy. In other words, verse 11 is an example of his teaching, that what he spoke to us about, is for our good. That’s because he loves us and has these right desires for us, like we just said, in us knowing his joy. Or again we see this in verse 15. There in verse 15 he says that he has told us everything he himself had heard from the Father. That’s again referring to Jesus’ teachings to us. Jesus came from heaven revealing the will of the Father and the Word of God to us. Verse 15 tells us that he’s not held that back from us. He’s taught it to us. This is showing his love for us. He’s not kept us in the dark. He’s cares to see that we have the knowledge that we need. That we would know God, and God’s will for our lives, and that we would know how to be saved, and how God would then have us to live, etc. And so we see Jesus’ love for us in that he teaches us.
A fifth way that we see Christ’s love, is that he died for us. Verse 13 has this wonderful, memorable, verse, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” This verse in context is supposed to get us to think about Christ’s sacrifice for us. Now at this point, it’s a bit prophetic. It’s foreshadowing this most wonderful way we know Christ’s love. You see, at this time, Jesus hadn’t yet died on the cross. But he had been talking about it. His disciples were still trying to understand his predictions about the cross. But now after the fact, we see in abundant clarity that Jesus died on the cross as an expression of love for us his people. That forever changes how we read verse 13. We can’t think about this sacrificial love without thinking of how Jesus gave up his life for us. He laid down his life for you and me, and for all who are called by his name. There is no greater love than this.
A sixth way that we see Christ’s love in this passage is that he calls us his friends. Verse 14, he says, “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you.” As Christians, we are friends of Jesus. The word for friend in Greek is philos, the word for love is philia, and so the Greek word for friend, is basically, “loved one.” If it helps, that same root is used in the name of the city Philadelphia, which means “brotherly love.” So, to call us his friends, is to emphasize his love for us.
Jesus further explains this label of friends in verse 15. He says that by calling us friends he is saying that we are more than servants to him. A servant, he says, doesn’t get let in on the family plans. Servants get told what to do, and that’s it. But that’s not Jesus has treated us. It says in verse 15 that he’s revealed his Father’s will and plans to us. We mentioned that a few moments ago. But at this point, the point is to recognize how the label of friend implies a degree and application of his love that puts us in a higher position than that of a mere slave or servant.
Now to be clear, this friendship that we have with Jesus is not a friendship among equals. Jesus is greater than us. Jesus is different than us as the eternal Son of God who took on human flesh. As John the Baptist said, Jesus is greater than himself because he was before John, even though his earthly ministry started after John’s. And Jesus is also different than us in that he is the promised Messiah King, king over an kingdom of which there will be no end. And so the friendship is not among equals. And yet that only makes our friendship with Jesus all the more wonderful, and all the more a beautiful expression of his love for us. In that he who is so much greater, has made us his friends.
And realize, that’s the point he immediately makes next. The reason why we are ultimately friends with Jesus is not because we chose him, but because he chose us. That’s the very next verse, verse 16. In our human friendship we are probably used to them being reciprocal. We both choose to be friends with the other person. But in verse 16, Jesus says it was different with our relationship with him. We didn’t choose him; he chose us. Actually in our sin we had chosen to rebel against the Lord. But in his love, having chosen us, he pursued us, and broke our hard hearts and drew us to faith in himself. Praise the Lord! And so we as Christians have a relationship of friendship with God in Christ that the world does not have. We saw that even in the Old Testament in seed form. For example, 2 Chronicles 20:7 says that God drove out the inhabitants of the Promised Land in order to give it to Abraham and his descendants. There he calls Abraham his friend, literally, his loved one. Isaiah 41:8 uses similar language to refer to Israel, God’s chosen friend. And we now in faith, have been engrafted into that line of promise. Thus, Jesus calls us his friends; friends that out of love he chose to be his friends.
As we think about his love being shown in being chosen to be his friends, we notice that verse 16 also talks about two other benefits of this love shown in friendship. It says that he chose us to bear fruit, and that God would hear and answer our prayers. This is all a part of having been chosen by Jesus as his friends. And this is all an outworking of his great love for us as his people.
And so may we indeed be renewed as we head into the new year in the love of God that we have known in Christ. Let us look to bear fruit. Let us look to call out to God in prayer for our growth, using this great privilege of his love! Because we have been loved by Christ! Christ’s love is truly foundational! And what joy it is that we are called, commanded, to abide in this love! Well, then, that brings us to the other half of our sermon. We’ve talked about the love of Christ. We’ve seen the call to abide in that love. And we’ve seen that Jesus says that we abide in the love even as we look to love one another. Let’s focus now on that; on Jesus’ command to love one another.
Well, for starters, let me state that to love one another, is particularly referring to the love we are supposed to have for our fellow Christians. Yes, we should love everyone. The Bible says to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus even says we should love our enemies. But this language of “one another” is particularly language for the Christian that refers back to our fellow believers; the church. This is the repeated way this “one another” language gets used in the New Testament. We mentioned John 17 earlier. There you read that Jesus’ prayer for his church that Jesus’ love for us his people, the love from the Father, would be known by us, and that we’d be united thus together, and that in that, the world would recognize that we’ve all been sent by God.
How then are we to love our fellow Christians? What do we learn about such love from this passage? Well, everything that we just talked about should give application to us in loving one another. The love that we have known from Christ is the basis for how we should love each other. But besides just stating that fact, let me offer some specific applications then as examples for how Christ’s love for us informs how we love one another.
First, the fact that we are starting with that love the Father has for the Son, should tell us that our love for each other must not be minimal. It must be maximal! To say it another way: this amazing divine love the Father has shown to the Son, is what Jesus has shown to us. He in turn tells us to show it to others. How can we even begin to fathom how great of a love this is? And yet we have begun to know it, especially through the cross!
And so that is a second application from this passage in terms of how we are to love our fellow Christians. When Jesus tells us that there is no greater love than someone laying down his life for his friends, we must not only look to Jesus’ sacrifice. But we must then see the application this has for us in how we love others. Our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ must be sacrificial. Now that can come in many forms. It would obviously be a rare occurrence for you to show that by literally giving up your life for someone; it would be rare, because you could only do it one time. But if that is the greatest expression of love for someone, that you could sacrifice your life for them, then certainly there are many everyday sacrifices, and sometimes bigger ones, that would be quite appropriate for us to be doing for our fellow believers. Such sacrifices are obviously not easy. And of course, any sacrifices that we do for each other are not going to be an atonement for their sins like Jesus’ sacrifice was. And yet, when we sacrifice in love like this, it may involve something where you are paying for their mistakes in some sense. This can be emotionally hard. When you know that the other person has done you wrong, for example, and to truly love them and forgive them leaves you feeling like you are letting them “get away with it;” but isn’t that the greater love that Jesus is talking about? Sacrificial love that bears each other’s burdens, even the burdens they have put upon you? That’ beginning to think about sacrificial love, and it makes sense because of the initiative of Christ first giving you an even greater expression of that same love.
A third application of how Christ’s love helps us to understand what our love for one another should look like, is that there is an implied friendship we should have with each other. Jesus said he didn’t just treat us like servants, though we are, for sure, his servant. Instead he brought us into a deeper relationship. Well, it would be easy for us to identify our fellow church members as just our fellow church members, but not necessarily as friends. Now, yes, we are not God. We have limited time and energy to devote to building deep friendships. If we try to develop real deep friendships with everyone in our church, we’ll probably find that we don’t have deep friendships with anyone. And yet despite this limitation, there should be some sort of default friendship that we have with fellow believers, particularly those in your local church family. And it should be something that we pursue to deepen those relationship as we can. Part of this surely also means that you look for those in the church that maybe haven’t been making very many deeper friendships yet, and try to develop one with them. My point is that just because we have practical limitations on how well we can know a whole group of people, doesn’t change the fact that the kind of love Jesus has for us is a love that includes friendship. It is this love as a friend which he in turn calls us to show to other Christians. Love in friendship then is something we should pursue in our church community.
Certainly there is so much more we could say here in terms of applying Christ’s love to how we love others. What we’ve said so far is a start. What I love about this command to love others, is it is a positive command. What I mean is that unlike many commands that tell you what not to do, this tells you what to do. When we here a command like “Thou shall not lie,” or “Thou shall not murder,” it’s easy to check those commands off the list when you go through a day having not broken them. But when you think of the positive command to love one another, since it’s put as a positive duty of what you should be doing, we realize that there is no way to exhaust the implications of this command. This never ending duty of love can be expressed in countless ways, and should be expressed in countless ways. You pray for others, you stick close to them in times of trouble, you make sacrifices to help them, to spend time together, you be a confidant for them, etc, etc, etc. May today’s message indeed be a start to spur you on in love and good deeds for each other.
Brothers and sisters at Trinity OPC, let us truly seek to love each other. It’s an interesting emphasis that Jesus gives us here. We see here again the gospel of how much Christ has loved us; that he even died on the cross that our sins would be forgiven; that through faith in him we could be saved. It’s an interesting emphasis then that as he tells us about his love, he says that his great love for us puts a demand upon us in return. In return we are to love others. You know, that’s an interesting emphasis. I could imagine that he would put it in reciprocal terms, that Christ loved us, so we need to love Christ. Now true, we do need to love Christ. For sure! But here he emphasizes that we are to love one another in response. Christ loved us, so we should love one another. How wonderful! And frankly, that is yet a further expression of Christ’s love to his people, that he wants his people to be a further way that he shows love to us! Praise the Lord!
So then, as we head into 2015, be renewed in the gospel, especially in the love of God that we know in Christ. And be renewed then as a church, that a foundational thing for our ministry is the call to love one another. And I really wanted to emphasize the friendship component of that today as we head into the new year. In loving each other, let’s keep growing in our friendship with each other. I am so very thankful for how I see some really great examples of this in our church. I see some people that have developed some really great and meaningful friendships in our midst. Praise God! But let us keep seeking such.
And may the fact that God has taken the initiative with us, in showing us love, may we do the same with our church family. In other words, the Scripture highlights God’s initiative in his love for us; He loved us first. We see his initiative in his choosing of us. He chose us, not the other way around. We see his initiative in this command to abide in his love. He calls us to abide in his love. And we see his initiative in the command to love one another. God takes the initiative in terms of love. Let us also take the initiative with each other. Don’t wait for someone else to come to you and show you love in the church. Take the initiative and go and show it to them. Let’s pursue friendship and relationships in love. Because we have known God’s love in Christ, and what a wonderful way he calls us to express it. Praise be to God! Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.