There is No More Central New Testament Passage than John 15: 9-17
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Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”
We can see pretty clearly where John is going, but the central part, of course, is that commandment in John’s gospel which is the final commandment of Jesus, the commandment that’s going to endure into the whole apostolic age, which is, of course, to love one another as He has loved us.
John has really taken the time and given the space to just elucidate a few miracles, and, of course, he does take real painstaking efforts to build up the characters of all the people in his gospel, much more so than we see in the synoptic gospels. With the synoptics, of course, we really see the plenitude of miracles, plenitude of events, Jesus going from one place to the next. But John wants to get into the heart of all these characters, and so he spends time there.
And of course, what’s the reason he does this? Why does he do it? Because he wants us to see how the women followers of Jesus, women disciples, Martha and Mary and even the Samaritan woman, et cetera, how all of them respond to Jesus. What is it that makes them respond to him with real trust, with real love?
And John does go into what all the apostles themselves, and the male followers of Jesus, what they’re doing, too. We sort of know the character of John and of Peter and of Phillip and Nathaniel. We know these guys because John has taken the time to give us these little character profiles.
How Do We Respond to Jesus?
And again, the reason is the same: to see how they’re responding to Jesus.
There might be some really painful initial moments. There might be some really awkward moments. “You are a prophet, Sir, I perceive,” says the Samaritan woman. Or Nathaniel, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God,” et cetera, after of course, he’s been sort of roundly corrected.
But right after that awkward moment, what’s the response? The response is a resounding yes to Jesus. There’s something about Him that just elicits trust. Something about Him that just elicits that He has the Truth, the words of eternal life as Peter says to Him later.
And of course, as we look at this, we begin to see, “Oh, this all makes sense in terms of the final commandment,” love one another as I have loved you. Why so? Because that trust, that belief that Jesus is not only trustworthy, but has the words of eternal life, the Truth with a capital T.
That belief comes from His love. That’s what did it. If we see His love writ large in the hearts of these people who trust Him, believe in Him, see Him as having the Truth, this love is at the source of it. This affection, this gentleness, but this firmness and this instruction. And at the same time this compassion and this willingness we see in today’s gospel, to die for everybody. To die for the world. Universally, give Himself in self-sacrifice.
Love One Another As I Have Loved You
When we see that love and we look at His love, then He gives us the commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Be affectionate in the same way. Be compassionate in the same way. Be gentle in the same way. Be an imitator of the Beatitudes in the same way. That is His final commandment.
And then He reinforces. He says there is no greater love than a man can have than to give his life, parenthetically, in self-sacrifice for his friends. And so of course, He repeats that again. Sacrifice yourselves for the flock, for the faithful, for your family, your friends. You’ll never regret self-sacrifice.
He gives us the entire purpose of giving us this commandment which, at first, I look at it and go, “Yikes, giving myself in self-sacrifice for my friends. Can’t I just be my old impatient self?” And of course, the answer is no. You have to become compassionate in imitation of Jesus. But then He tells us why. He says, “I tell you all these things…” and here’s the whole purpose of the gospel… “that my joy may be yours. And that your joy may be complete,” fulfilled at the highest possible level.
It’s all about joy. That’s what it is. Self-sacrificial love will lead to joy and it’ll lead specifically to eternal joy. And at first glance, you don’t put the two things together. Self-sacrifice sounds like pain to me. Don’t know if I see the joy so much in it.
But then when you see the good that the love does, and then when you trust in the Father that He’s going to bring that love to its fruition in the Kingdom of Heaven, and that that love will be ours from the entire communion of saints in heaven throughout the rest of eternity. The rest of eternity is eternal. And of course, you look at that and you go, “Wow.” This is it.
There is a joy in this. There’s a joy in just knowing that somebody has prospered. There is a joy in knowing that we’ve elevated people to the Kingdom. There is a joy in making a contribution to others on the eternal level, and there’s a joy that comes when the Father redeems our suffering and turns it into eternal life, eternal love, and unconditional eternal joy in Him. Amen.