Sunday, December 6, 2015

"The Greatest Love" (John 15:12-17)


How would you describe love???

·        Love is patient and kind; love is not envious nor boastful nor arrogant nor rude. Love does not insist on its own way, and is not irritable nor resentful.
·        Love rejoices in the truth, bears all things and hopes all things; love never ends (from 1 Cor. 13:4-8).

·        Love is generosity.
·        “Love doesn’t have to; but love does” (Mark Greene, Fruitfulness on the Frontline, p.100).
·        Love is about, “taking the focus off ourselves and proactively thinking about how we might help someone else” (M Greene p. 108-9).
·        Love means giving forgiveness.
·        “Love is about wanting and seeking the best for someone else – and that can be expressed in a variety of ways” (MG p.109).

Love starts with God!!!
·        God is compassionate, patient and kind.
·        God offers us ultimate truth, purpose and relationship.
·        God does not insist in any forceful way, but rather gives us space (freewill) to decide for ourselves.
·        God’s love outpours freely, and doesn’t play favourites.
·        God bears with us continually; God hopes and acts for the best outcomes.
·        God’s love never ends.
·        God is love, and love is God.

Prime Example

Our greatest example of love is, of course, Jesus. Not just God’s commitment in sending him, but also how Jesus carried through his mission. This is why I selected this particular passage (John 15:12-17), which provides both a description of love in action, and the command to Jesus’ disciples to share in that sort of love. For the deepest description of love we look at verse 13: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

We often hear this verse 13 quoted in connection with soldiers – service men and women – who have made the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ in military conflict. Especially in Australia we see this in terms of ultimate mateship – sacrificing for the team, protecting those we are united with in service. Then there is the even bigger concept of sacrificing life for the freedom of others – the wider society of the future. We see the sacrifice of soldiers 100 years ago, even though they didn’t know us (or us them), as an act of ‘mateship’ toward us. So it is, that Jesus sacrificed his life for everyone … all 7 billion people alive now, the countless billions previously alive, and who knows how many more into the future. And this sacrifice of Jesus was costly … in his own pain, sweat and blood.

It is in this context, that Jesus commands us to “love one another” … “as I have loved you” (v.12). Wow ... very sobering! And Jesus is pretty serious about this, because in verse 14 he ties our continuing friendship with him to his call to love others. This was the one command that all other good attitudes and behaviours would flow out of. Only one commandment would really be necessary for the sincere follower of Jesus, because if this one was taken seriously, everything else would fall into place. It would be impossible to hurt another person if this ‘love’ dynamic was truly operating.

Love Who?

These words were originally addressed directly to Jesus’ disciples. Jesus had opened a pathway for them to friendship with God, but true friendship would be consummated, not just by love for God (in heaven), but also love for all their fellow disciples. Yet, I think we can easily deduce that through instructing his disciples about their attitude to each other, that this attitude of love was also to cross over into all their relationships on earth. The way in which these disciples related to each other was a training ground for how they would relate to everyone else.

John chapter 1 leaves us in no doubt that Jesus’ incarnation i.e. Jesus taking up residence on earth with a mission of grace to all people, was to be emulated by his followers. And we know well that God’s love is for everyone (John 3:16):

                For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Credible Witness

This was also a matter of providing a credible witness to Jesus. Jesus had said to his disciples earlier (13:34-5),

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

If one says that they have encountered and received the love of God, then there should be a tangible expression of the difference this has made. As we experience and embrace God, part of this relationship would best demonstrated in love toward others. Again we say, loving God and loving neighbour go hand in hand. Love for God does NOT stand up as real or credible without love for other people. And such love is not just a concept or sentiment, but has practical and active implications.

Why is this called a “new” commandment (in 13:34)?? Those of us who know that “loving your neighbour’ goes right back to the earliest Jewish law, might be surprised that a call to love one another is referred to as “new”!! This may indicate that people weren’t going too well with this “love” thing! Also, if people were trying to love others purely as a response to the ‘law’, and it had become a real effort to do so, then one could see how they would have failed. Various Old Testament incidents show behaviour quite the opposite to love (which seek to be excused on the basis of justice).

So, necessarily, there was something fresh about this commandment. This “love” commandment was now to be based out of one’s relationship with Jesus … out of the discipleship or discipline of a relationship with Jesus. Love has to become the essence of who we are (in Jesus); not a struggle to obey a rule, but rather something that comes naturally – that becomes a normal part of our character. Loving one another is now not ‘law’ centred, but rather Jesus-centred. We love out of a connection with Jesus … whose love for others knew no bounds. Love is the mark of a Jesus community. This is a love like Jesus’ love … others’ needs above ours.

Love that Surpasses Ourselves

One could just imagine the disputes and arguments that took place between such a disperse band of disciples! Often passionate people from a broad range of backgrounds clash when brought together to work on a particular project. We might either detect in the Gospel narratives, or otherwise easily imagine, that James and John maybe (initially) had tickets on themselves, that Peter was a bit reactive and unpredictable, that Matthew carried issues from having been a hated tax official, and that Judas might have been acting suspiciously at times. Jesus said to them, if you want to be considered a friend of mine … love each other. Jesus, despite his disappointments with his disciples, got up every morning and went to bed every night, loving them entirely. Jesus loved them without reservation and without limit, simply expecting them to do the same (M C Tenney).

Many would have experienced behaviour amongst ‘believers’, or in the church, which could hardly be referred to as love … the stuff of rivalry, suspicion and secrecy. Yet a sincere determination to love one another in Jesus’ name … can only foster new levels of acceptance, trust and care.

Friendship with Jesus

The nature of our relationship with Jesus is explained a little in our text as well – NOT master/servant, but friends. The fact that friendship brings obligation was mentioned earlier, but there is also the real up side of this. It is difficult to consider the relationship between a “master” and a “servant” being described in terms of love. There is also some distance between “master” and “servant” in terms of status, because the servant’s role is to do whatever the master determines without necessarily knowing why. Friends are different! There is mutual esteem and affection. There is a sense of partnership. We may not know the details of what God is doing around us on a day-by-day basis, but we do know what the main game is.

Jesus has shown us that God’s main game is … loving people into His Kingdom (v.15b). God is NOT a slave-driver, and NOT like a boss. Our obedience is NOT to an ogre, but to a LOVING parent; and that obedience is defined in terms of loving others. In this way our obedience can be both swift and joyous (M Greene p.88). As we join in with Jesus’ love mission, he doesn’t consider us as servants, but as friends. It is as we are friends with God, that we go about loving and serving people.

Even though it is our decision whether or not we will positively respond to this invitation to friendship, Jesus has always had in mind a plan and a purpose for our lives. God has always been seeking us out. Imagine this, Jesus has a plan and purpose for each of us to fulfil as his follower (amongst other followers). So we have to ask … what helps us engage with this plan, and what hinders us engaging with this plan. Where do we need to be, and what do we need to be doing, to best connect with Jesus’ plan for us?

Who, specifically, are the ones that Jesus wants us to love?? Is it a refugee from Burma? Is it a deserted child in Zambia? Is it a bible student in PNG? Is it a Muslim in Kazakhstan? Is it a poor indigenous family in Arnhem Land? Is it an atheist living next door? Is it the staff at Blackbird café? Is it our gardener? Is it a footballer or netballer struggling with life issues? Is it a young student struggling with their identity? Is it someone living alone? Jesus says, “go and bear fruit that will last”.

What is the Greatest Love?

What is the greatest love?? Is it ... God’s love for us? Our love for God? Jesus’ sacrificial act on a cross for all humankind? Maybe this … our participation with Jesus in loving others … or shall we say, loving as Jesus loved! This love was unreserved and limitless. The greatest love is marked by sacrifice (v.13) – a humble service to others. John never relented on pushing this barrow. Later in his first letter, John wrote (in 1 John 3:16):

                We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

What might be some of the marks of a love like this??
·        It is not defined by convenience; often love in action will be inconvenient.
·        Love actively looks for opportunities; love is alert to possibilities; love is open to the promptings of God.

We might say that this is all pretty tough, and we lack this or that to carry it out. But then, what more could we really need to love someone. Some situations may seem beyond us, but these are not beyond God. If this is truly God’s calling, and spreading love and friendship always is, then God will give us everything we need to succeed in this (v.16b). For this is all about Jesus, and making him known. God will do the reforming and refashioning so that we might truly love, at the same as we reflect on and deal with those areas which interrupt our availability to love.


This was the initiation of a new dynamic, which would need to start with Jesus’ first disciples and then spread. Ultimately this is the love that has always existed within the Divine Community (the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit) and is busting to get out! The world will come to know about Jesus through the credibility of his disciples’ love.

This call to love, is not so much a call to individual believers, but to the whole band of Jesus’ disciples. Once they learned to love each other, they were ready to love the world. We can act on this together, as today’s Jesus-followers. As well as having God’s assurances of help with our character, we have each other’s faith, experiences and encouragement to draw upon in any times of fear, weakness or failure. Love will make God known, but love with a united front (with a ‘oneness’) will shine even brighter. As we set an example of sacrificial love, our fruitfulness is assured!

Each new day, each fresh interaction, is a new chance to love another person. Mother Teresa said, “Spread love everywhere you go; let no one ever come to you without leaving happier”.

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