Date: Sunday May 4, 1997
NT Text: John 15:9-17
Sermon Title: Commanded to Love
Commanded to Love
If we were to ask almost any contemporary Christian, “What is the greatest commandment in the Bible?” the answer would go something like this:
“To love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Or they would recite the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31) As parents we sometimes use the reversed (or negative) form with our children to discourage inappropriate behavior, when we say, "If you don’t want others to do this to you, then do not do this to them."
Christ’s greatest command, according to the Gospel of John, is that we love one another as Christ has loved us. When we think about the implications of such a love we may quietly admit to ourselves, “I could never love others to the full extent that Jesus loves me.” Can anyone actually fulfill this commandment?
In the passage that precedes Jesus’ command to “Love each other, as I have loved you” Jesus speaks about the foundation of that love. In John 15:1ff He says, “I am the true vine; you are the branches… Abide in me… and bear much fruit…”
There’s something fundamentally important about the concept of a vine or a vineyard in Israelite thought. The vine has become a symbol of Israel as the people of God. Israel is pictured in the Old Testament writings as the vineyard or the vine of God.
It is interesting however, that the OT prophets never used this concept apart from the degeneration of Israel. For example, Isaiah pictures a vineyard that has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation of Israel has turned into a “degenerate plant of a strange vine.” Hosea decries the fact that Israel is an “empty vine”.
When Jesus made the statement, “I am the true vine”, we can just see all of their defenses go up.
Jesus was actually saying to them, “Listen my friend, you think that you are a branch and a vine just because you belong to the people of Israel. You think that you are the real thing just because you are a part of a special nation… because of your birth and nationality.”
The prophets saw a vine that was in desperate need of pruning. And they were right. Again and again the people of Israel strayed from their intended purpose as God’s chosen people. Jesus, however, has a legitimate claim to the title of “true vine”, because his fruits were rooted in the power of God. Israel had lost it’s rootedness in God their Savior.
But Jesus was firmly rooted in the love of God. Jesus was firmly established in an intimate living fellowship with God and faith in God. His actions and teachings had their life-source in God’s love. The secret of the life of Jesus was his connectedness with God. He withdrew regularly into a solitary place to meet and have fellowship with God. Jesus was always abiding in God.
In our day we find it hard to withdraw from our busy schedules to be with God. We are hard pressed for time to listen to His voice of love and grace. When we take the time to speak to God, we are often not patient enough to wait on Him and listen to His voice.
“Remain in my Love”, we hear the invitation of Jesus coming to us. Don’t just do a hit-and-run kinda deal. But, remain! Abide! Stay for while! And listen…
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you…”, says Jesus in verse 9. That begs the question, “How, exactly, did Jesus experience His Father’s love?” What did he get from God in exchange for his obedience?
Well, we know for a fact that God never gave his son a Mercedes to drive around town, or even a horse and chariot - which would have been more appropriate in his time.
But, we know also that the heavenly Father gave his son Jesus an infinite sense of belonging and being rooted in his love. “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”, we hear the blessing spoken at the time of his baptism. God gave Jesus a firm foundation… the conviction of His Presence, his counsel and his faithfulness in times of trial and temptation. Jesus received from His heavenly Father a peace that far transcends the restlessness of this world. The Father’s love assured him of a sense of security and safety (Geborgenheit) in a harsh world.
That is the affirmation that we too can experience through the love of Jesus. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you…” As we experience the love of Jesus, we are the recipients of a love that goes far beyond material things. It is a love that transcends human comprehension. It is a love that cannot be earned… a love that knows no boundaries… A love that we couldn’t get if we chose it…
That’s right! We did not chose Jesus. Rather, he chose us for his divine purposes.
a) we are chosen for Joy. “I have told you this that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (11). The love of Jesus toward us is motivated by joy. Happiness is a human quality. We are happy when we get our way, or, a young child is happy when he sees a clown, or when she’s invited to a birthday party. But joy is a quality of happiness that transcends the purely mundane motivations. Joy springs from an inner peace that we have only in the conviction of our salvation in God. A grief-stricken person, for example, can experience a tremendous joy in knowing that there will be an eternal reunion with the loved one. A joyful person is one who knows that he or she is a redeemed sinner (emphasis on redeemed).
b) We are chosen for love. There's that wonderful and disturbing phrase, "No one has greater love than this to lay down one's life for one's friends" (v.13). One could not but be moved by the story of the soldier who asked his officer if he might go out into the "No Man's Land" between the trenches in World War I to bring in one of his comrades who lay grievously wounded. "You can go," said the officer, "but it's not worth it. Your friend is probably killed, and you will throw your own life away." But the man went. Somehow he managed to get to his friend, hoist him on to his shoulder, and bring him back to the trenches. The two of them tumbled together and lay in the trench-bottom. The officer looked very tenderly on the would-be rescuer, and then he said, "I told you it wouldn't be worth it. Your friend is dead and you are mortally wounded." " It was worth it, though, sir," he said. "How do you mean, 'worth it?' I tell you your friend is dead." "Yes, sir," the boy answered, "but it was worth it, because when I got to him he was still alive, and he said to me, 'Jim, I knew you'd come.'”
c) Jesus chose us to be his friends. Jesus says, “I no longer call you slaves or servants… I call you my friends.” The title doulos, the slave, the servant of God was no mean title. Moses, Joshua, David, the apostle Paul, James and many others carried the title of “God’s Servant” or “God’s slave” with dignity and pride. And Jesus tells us, “I have something greater yet. You are no longer slaves, you are friends.”
It was a special honor in the time of Jesus to be called “a friend of the king”, or “a friend of Caesar”. The one upon whom this title was bestowed had unlimited access to the king. The king talked to these people first thing in the morning, before even listening to the counsel of his generals and statesmen. They even had access to his private chambers at any time of the day or night.
Jesus calls us to be his friends. We can come to him at any time. We are full partners with him in the redemption of the world, because He has made His business known to us. We are full fledged partners with Him in the cause of reconciling the world to God. We are his partners… his ambassadors.
d) Jesus chose us to be His advertisements. He has appointed us to Go and Bear fruit. There are many ways in which our friendship with Jesus can find expression. The fruits of love that we bear for Christ are limited only by our imagination and by the depth of our rootedness in Christ.
This past week, our Youth group went to Kildonan Place, and they literally freaked some people out with their Random Acts of Kindness. Trust me, when you go shopping in the mall, and you see a bunch of teens coming at you, and they want to buy you a cup of coffee or give you a flower, you freak out - no question about it. People are not used to getting something for nothing from a perfect stranger - especially not if the stranger happens to be a teenager.
Of course, this was a lot of fun… a bit dramatic, maybe - but a lot of fun. This exercise drives home the point that we are commanded by Christ to spread some sunshine. You see, there is nothing mundane, nothing boring about bearing the fruits of love.
And kindness is the sweetest of these fruits. In fact, if kindness was a stock market item - you couldn’t pay for it with money - that is how high the “demand” (the need) for kindness is in our society. Kindness is that quality of love which is as much concerned with the feelings of others as it is with its own feelings. It is as concerned with the sorrow, the struggles, the problems of other people, as it is with its own. Kindness has learned the secret of looking outward at all times, and not inward.
What this really boils down to is that we have no choice in the matter. Jesus says, “This is my command: Love each other as I have loved you.” The way I read this, if we want to be His friends… if we want to remain in His love… if we want to obey Him as He has obeyed the heavenly Father… then we have no choice but to oblige.
The secret of Christ’s claim that he is the true vine lies in his connectedness with God. We too are a part of this wonderful vine as we remain/abide in Christ. In Jesus God has chosen us to for his divine purpose, namely for Joy, for expressing act of love, to be his friends, and to be his advertisements.
May we, as friends and partners, rooted in Christ bear much fruit as we obey the command to love. Let us abide in Christ and bring forth the richest fruits of his blessing.