No Greater Love
It is a common thing to hear in church that "God is love" and that "Jesus loves you", but seldom do we ever stop to think about what that exactly means. Where do we even get our ideas about what love is in the first place?
We likely get many of our ideas about love from watching television--from watching characters on TV who claim to have "fallen in love". It is also likely that contemporary music has impacted and shaped our views about love.
Anyone who listens to a lot of music can attest to how much of today's music deals with the concept of love. Yet, it does not take a theologian to point out that the music and media largely present love in a superficial manner. To point out an example, I think of the popular Beatles' song that contains the lyrics, "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah".
The love we hear about in popular songs, and the love we witness on TV is almost always portrayed as a feeling. Love, as it is portrayed in the Scriptures, however, is NOT portrayed as a feeling. Love may indeed produce feelings, but it is not in itself a feeling. Love, as it is revealed in Scripture--in particular, John chapter 15--is always portrayed as a decision.
We begin our examination of what love means in John, chapter 15, verse 9: "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love".
The word "abide" is what theologians would call the "key word" in chapter 15. It occurs 9 times in the first 11 verses. What does it mean to "abide in (Christ)" or to "abide in (His) love"? The Greek word, translated to "abide", literally means "to stay" or "to remain".
The meaning here is crucial because it places the onus for "abiding" on us. That is to say, that if we are not walking with God, it is not God who has abandoned us, but it is us who has abandoned God. Jesus, in John chapter 15, is urging us to not flee from God.
How do we do this? How do we keep from fleeing God's presence? How do we "abide in (Christ's) love"? The answer is spelled out for us in verse 10: "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love".
Do you see how "love" is equated here with a decision? There is no sense that the "love" Jesus is talking about requires certain feelings--the "love" Jesus is talking about requires a decision to "keep (His) commandments". Jesus scrutinizes "love" by its actions.
On one level, this criteria for "love" should impact many of our human relationships. No doubt, we will say that we love our children, that we love our parents, and that we love our spouse--the question is: do our actions support that claim?
Perhaps we believe our actions do support our claim to love another individual. I know I was tempted to think that my love for my wife is supported by my actions--that is, until I read the second half of verse 10: "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; JUST AS I HAVE KEPT MY FATHER'S COMMANDMENTS, you will abide in My love"(emphasis mine).
How well did Jesus keep His Father's commandments? He kept them perfectly. The actions of Jesus perfectly supported His claim to love the Father. One could safely say that no human has loved the way Jesus loves the Father, but that does not mean that we do not try. Jesus could not be more clear. He wants us to do the will of the Father as perfectly as He does.
We may examine our love for others, our love for God, and conclude that "we are not doing too badly". Jesus, however, refuses to allow us to settle for mediocrity. Jesus wants us to aim for His level of love--He wants us to aim for perfect love.
Notice that the "commandment" of Jesus in verse 12 doesn't simply read, "love one another", but it reads, "love one another, JUST AS I have loved you"(emphasis mine).
Many of us are eager to love and to be loved, but we often want to love on our terms. Keep in mind that if God's love for us depended on us living up to His expectations no one in the world would be loved by God. The type of love that Jesus has for His disciples is unmerited love. If we are to love others as Jesus loves us, we must not make our love for others conditional on their behaviour.
Yet while we insist that our love should not be conditional on the behaviour of others, that is not to say that behaviour doesn't matter. God, most certainly, does expect us to behave in a particular way--that is why He tells us to "keep the commandments". However, when we say that God's love towards us is not conditional on our behaviour, we are confessing that even though we may stop obeying God, He does not stop loving us.
If we are failing to follow the commandments of God, what we are doing is rejecting God's love--it is not Him rejecting us. This is the point of verse 11, where Jesus explains why it is so important to "abide in (His) love" and why it is so important to "love one another" as He loves us. Jesus says that this is important because when we do these things "(His) joy will be in (us), and (our) joy will be made full".
What Jesus is saying is that IT IS FOR OUR OWN GOOD that we "abide in (His) love" and "love one another". We are the ones who benefit here. When we reject the commandments of God, we are rejecting God's love. And when we reject God's love, we only do harm to ourselves.
Conversely, when we choose to "remain" in God's love, His "joy" will permeate our lives. When we decide to treat with love those who don't deserve our love, we are the ones who are most helped.
Notice that Jesus doesn't simply say that we will experience joy, but He says that we will experience HIS JOY when we love others(v.11). Who here wouldn't want the joy of Christ in their life? Jesus tells us that His joy is available to us. All we must do is "abide in (His) love", "keep His commandments", and "love one another" the same way Christ loves us.
Yes, these exhortations are demanding. And yes, these exhortations require a great commitment from us, but remember, we are the ones who ultimately benefit most from "keep(ing) the commandments" of Christ. That is why we rightly say that "keep(ing) the commandments" do not earn us God's favour, rather, they are the benefits of God's favour. The "commandments" of God are not intended to burden us--they are meant to be a blessing to us--they are a means of experiencing the Divine "joy" that Jesus speaks of(v.11).
While we recognize the need to love others the way Christ did, we soon recognize how infinite His love is and how limited our own ability to love is. While Jesus calls us to love as He loved, it soon becomes apparent that this cannot be fully realized until we dwell eternally with Him.
For in verse 13, Jesus foreshadows the single greatest act of love in the history of the world. After admonishing us to "love one another", Jesus describes the greatest act of love: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for His friends".
This verse is encouraging. This verse confirms that we are capable of "great love". Many, if not all, of us--when we contemplate the pending death of a loved one--would gladly die in their place if we could. We read John 15:13 and we answer affirmatively--we would lay down our life to save someone we loved.
On Remembrance Day in Canada, we remember those who put their lives at risk for us. Many soldiers died so that we could remain free. These people died, for the most part, for strangers--for people they would never meet.
As great a love as it is, when one individual dies for another--as great a love as it is, when one dies for the sake of an entire country--there is still one greater love: When Jesus Christ died for us on the cross.
Jesus did not die for merely one person, or for one country. Jesus died to make salvation available for every person of every age--past, present, and future--for all those who would believe in Him.
The apostle Paul points out that while "perhaps for the good man someone would dare to die", God "demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us"(Rom. 5:6-8).
We could make a persuasive argument that, as a Canadian, we are entitled to freedom. We could not, however, make an argument to say that we are entitled to eternal life. We were entitled to freedom and thankfully individuals fought to win that freedom for us. Conversely, we were entitled to nothing from God, yet Christ died to give us every eternal blessing.
God not only gave us what we didn't deserve, but He died in order to give us what we didn't deserve. Surely there is no greater love in the universe than that which was demonstrated by Jesus Christ on the cross.
If it would be considered ungrateful for us to not remember those who died to give us a better life in Canada, would it not be the height of ingratitude to not recognize the One who died to give us eternal life?
The Good News is, not only that Christ died to give us eternal life, but that He lives again as our risen Lord.
Jesus Christ proved His love by dying for us, and now His Word beckons us to love Him back: "You are My friends", He says, "if you do what I command you"(v.14). Amen.