The Greatest Love

John chapter 15 is rooted in the midst of a very long section of our Lord’s teaching. It takes place in the upper room on the night in which Jesus was betrayed. He knows what this night will bring. He has already washed the disciples’ feet and made the announcement that one of them will betray Him. His words then seem full of urgency and compassion as He prepares them for the coming upheaval and terror. He has just told them He is the true vine and His followers, His disciples, are the branches. To abide in Jesus is to bear fruit. So, the image of abiding in the True Vine carries on as we are encouraged by our Lord to remain or abide in His love. Things are about to change though.  Opposition to His teachings and promises will not be theoretical or academic but real and powerful and life threatening. He will be arrested and crucified and His disciples will be scattered. For us to endure through it, for us to not bet cut off and cast away, we must remain in Christ. That is the goal. This is the point of what we do as disciples: We remain in our Lord. We remain in His teachings, remain in His Word, remain in His promises.

As Jesus speaks it becomes clear He is working as an intercessor, as the great High Priest who stands between all the children of God and the Father Almighty. This He describes as His joy. His desire is for you to participate in it because your joy is made full by abiding in Him. He says, “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:9-11). Jesus has kept the Father’s commands. Jesus abides in the Father’s love and so by abiding in Him, you abide in the love of the Father. Jesus is the key to it all. He alone is the focal point of the gift of love and the promise of eternal life. Without Him we are all like dried-up worthless non-fruit bearing branches which will only be cut off and cast into the fire. But by being connected to Christ, then there is life and hope and salvation for you all.

So, what does it look like to abide in Christ? What are we to do to keep His commands and remain in Him? He says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Is that not something? The task of remaining in Christ turns us towards one another. We are not called to look within ourselves or to clean up our lives or to abstain from certain distractions. No, you are called to love one another. Your love of each other is what it looks like to remain in Christ. That is the keeping of His commands. Love is a powerful and hopeful and life changing thing.

Usually when we speak about love it is in the context of romantic love. It is the sort of love that makes for great music and dramatic movie plots. It is the love of raw emotion, the love that is difficult to accurately describe. This is the sort of love often celebrated at a wedding. It is what drives a man and women to look into each other’s eyes and exchange vows of fidelity and commitment. Of course, today being Mother’s Day, we might speak of the love of a mother, the love which immediately binds a parent to a child. Before any personality, before any words can even be spoken there is this profound and life altering love. It is a love that comes with tears and pian and heartache, but it is a love that knows great joy and pride as well. Yet, neither of these loves is exactly what Jesus is getting at when He says abide in Him. They are close, to be sure, but where He directs His command is on the love we know as friendship.

In our text Jesus calls His disciples, those who abide in Him, He calls them friends. They are not servants, not slaves, not outsiders looking for a free handout, not cogs in a machine of progress and production to make the world a better place. No, Jesus calls His disciples, He calls you, His friends. Now, friendship is something so much more than romantic love. It is more than motherly love. It is a binding of people together which is far greater than emotions or feelings or genetics or history. One of the many things my kids get sick of me talking about is our modern day use of the term “friend.” I know I am fighting a losing battle, but it drives me nuts how these days almost anyone you might talk to, from a colleague at work, to an acquaintance at school, to the lady who comments on your social media posts, they are all given the title of “friend.” But they are anything but friends. For a friend willingly binds themselves to you, walks beside you, and even engages in the battle with you if the need arises. One of my Jiu Jitsu heroes, Renzo Gracie famously said, “A good friend doesn’t try to break up a fight. A good friend comes in with a flying kick.”

Jesus calls you, “His friends.” It is much more than a feeling or emotion. It is a choice. It is a willingness to be united with you. He says this, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He calls for you to abide in Him. He commands you to love another. He sets the pinnacle of that love, the greatest practice of such love, as one who sacrifices themselves for their friends. To lay down your life, to let go of what is rightly yours, to move away from your own desires and wants and give it all for a friend, that is the height of love, that is the practice we are to aim for if we are to abide in Him. This is what it means to be a fruitful branch of the True Vine.

To abide in the True Vine is to remain in His love. His love is this perfect, sacrificial, life-giving sort of love. Your Lord is the one who looked out at a whole world of sinners in active and open rebellion of God, a whole world of those who would willingly betray Him and hand Him over to be crucified, and everyone who heard His voice, He called His friends. Not social media “friends” or acquaintances He chatted with one day, but real friends, those He willingly dies for. He lays down His life for you. Jesus dies to give you life. He did that work not to make you a better person and not to give you a better chance to redeem yourself. No, He did it so you would abide in Him, so you would be the fruit bearing branches, so your joy may be full.

As branches of the True Vine, as those who now abide in Christ, those who remain in His promises, you will find you are able to produce the fruit He seeks. You are able to live as the friends of Jesus. What does that life look like? Where does the guidebook direct you as you seek to bear your fruit? It directs you to one another. It calls you to love. Jesus says He chose you for this very thing, so you would love one another. Your love does not make you the faithful branch. Your love does not gain His friendship. No, He already loved you. He already died for you. Now, you get to live out this love in the lives of each other.

It might look like simple acts of kindness and care. It might be the support you give to the Church through your time and gifts. It could be tender words spoken to those who are grieving or afraid. It could be telling your mother how much she means to you. It could be the prayers you speak on behalf of those who are alone or confused. The options for your love are boundless. For as you look away from yourself and into the lives of those around you, what you find are countless wounds and defects that need the healing attention of love. But one thing you can be sure of, one thing we all need over and over again throughout all our days is forgiveness. This is the fruit of the greatest of all love, the product given by the One who laid down His life for you. We love because we have been loved. So, we forgive because we have been forgiven. What a glorious thing it is to be friends with Jesus.