Imitators of God
We've been looking at the Last Supper event and Jesus' final instructions to His disciples before they enter into this very traumatic period of His ministry with them when He is to be arrested, tried, and crucified. He has been encouraging them how He wants them not only to respond in the next few days, but to respond throughout their ministry.
And the Holy Spirit records this portion of His instructions to them in the Gospel of John that we might learn how to respond to the traumas in life, to keep the main thing the main thing, in order to respond as Jesus would have us to respond. And over and over again, what Christ chooses to do is to use Himself as the model, to use Himself as the example. "I want you to act as I am acting. I want you to be as I am," He will tell them.
And so too when we come to this portion in John 15, verses 12 through 16 today, He gives us these instructions on how to be imitators of God. We all grow up imitating. We imitate our parents. We imitate a movie star. We imitate our friends. Imitation is a part of our development. It's part of how we learn to respond and to react. Sometimes we dismiss certain things we've imitated or we've tried.
When it comes to God's aspect, I fear that often we don't even try, that we see it as too lofty, too noble, and indeed it is, but over and again God tells us, "Be holy as I am holy. Be like Me." We have the mind of Christ Paul tells us. And so we look to the life of Christ not just as something far beyond our ability to duplicate, but as something that we are to imitate.
Jesus looks at His disciples there in John 15, and in verse 12, He says, "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." His command to them is subsumed in this one statement. All that He has told them to do, all of the different instructions, all of the modeling, all of the examples can be summed up right here! "Love each other as I have loved you."
Now this does not dismiss the Great Commandment, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, with all your soul, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, but the reality is if we love God with all of our soul, mind, with all of our strength, with all of our being, then we will obey God because we love Him so. And to obey God means that we will love one another because "This is My commandment," Jesus says, "that you love one another..." and notice He adds, "...as I have loved you."
He doesn't just want a kind of love that we might have for just normal things in life. He wants a great love. And in fact, He is telling the disciples that this is the greatest love. "The love that I want you to have is the love that I have had for you, and it is the greatest love you can have." And so in verse 13, He says, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends."
The love that Christ has is a love that exceeds any kind of human understanding of love. A love that is the greatest and its greatest manifestation is that He will lay down His life for those whom He loves.
The word friends that is used in this verse and the word that is used throughout this passage comes from the Greek word phileo. And phileo means love. It means beloved. And really, you could translate this, "No greater love has anyone than this than to lay down one's life for his beloved." Jesus is telling His disciples that they are beloved. They aren't just strangers.
Now Jesus dies for the world...John 3:16 tells us that...but in a very special way did He not die for you? In a very special way did He not die for these disciples? Is there a love that is any greater than a love that manifests itself in this way that He is even willing to do for them? Why is that the greatest love? Because it is for their benefit He is going to die.
Now when Jesus shares this, He is not saying, "If you love me the way that I love you...which is My command that you love one another as I have loved you...that you're going to die for one another necessarily." Indeed there are those who die for those whom they love, but what He is really showing us is, "There is no greater love than the love I have for you, and it is this love I am commanding that you have."
Make no mistake about it. The command of Christ is that we love one another with a great love. He wants us to love one another not with the love that is tethered by requirements...if you treat me right, if you love me back. No, there are no tethers to the love God has for us. "While we were yet sinners," Romans tells us, "Christ died for us." While we, in other words, were still His enemy, He died for us. That is how much He loves us.
And so when He says to His disciples to love one another, it is a love without bars on it. It is a love that is unexcelled. It is the greatest love where we're willing to die, not based on what the other person can do for us, not based on what we think of the other person, but based on obeying the command of Christ. So that is why in verse 12 He says, "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." And it's a love that is the greatest love I have for you. In fact, He says, "No greater love can anyone have than this than to lay down one's life for His friends."
And then He goes on in verse 14, and He says, Jesus is not saying, "This is how you become My friend." What He is saying here is, "This is the proof. This is the characteristic of the friends of God." This is what characterizes you as a believer, as one of the beloved, is that you do whatever He commands you to do, even if He commands you to love that unlovable person, even if He commands you to love one another. "You are My friends," He says, "if you do whatever I command you."
We are called the friends of God if we are obedient to Him. We are the friends of God if we love as Jesus loved, if there is no greater love than the love we can have for one another. It doesn't diminish our love for God. In fact, it enhances and proves our love for God when we're willing to love those who are around us whether they love us back or even, and especially if, they don't love us back. That is the love Jesus says He commands all of us to do. He says, "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you."
And then in the next verse, He says, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you." You see, a servant obeys his master, but he doesn't know why he is doing what his master commands him to do. He just does it because of that servant master relationship.
And did you know that in the days of Christ the students of the rabbi were called the servants of the rabbi? And now Jesus is saying, "I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know what his master is doing, but now you do, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you." The reason they can be called the friends of Jesus, the friends of God, Jesus says, "Because I'm making My purpose known to you. I'm making My will known to you. You're not just serving Me and not knowing why You're serving Me."
Now people serve gods today just out of rote service with no idea or no expectation of what the god they serve might or might not do. And that god might be a Christian god. There are people who go to churches, and who serve as a servant blindly, without any idea of the will or the purpose of God in their life. And they are religious servants and not the friends of God because God's desire is to make His will known, His purpose known.
Yes, He calls you to obey him in whatever He commands you to do, but He does so telling you His purpose in it. He calls you to love one another, but He does so revealing His purpose in that. It's not just to test you. It's not just to see if you're willing to jump over this higher bar and this higher bar. He does it because there is a purpose in it, and the purpose He is about to reveal yet again.
But His purpose is that others might know Him, that others might come to have a relationship with Him. The difference between being a servant of a god and a friend of God is the knowledge of that God...the knowledge of what that God wants to do. And our God has told us all He wants us to do. He has told us the purpose behind His will and His actions in our lives.
So we don't serve a God blindly. We don't just make sacrifices and offerings. We don't try to appease a God, and we don't know whether He likes it or not. We don't just come to church until our problems go away and then feel like, Well I've come to church enough. We don't just keep giving money until our problems are solved, and then say, "Well maybe I gave enough." We don't serve blindly! God has revealed His will to us. He has told us how to walk. He has told us the direction He wants us to go, how He wants us to live, and most of all, how He wants us to love.
So He says, "I no longer call you servants because a servant doesn't know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. There is nothing in My mission I have kept from you. There is nothing in My ministry that is hidden from you. So you are my friends if you do what I command you to do."
Now it's good to point out there are people in Scripture who are specifically called the friends of God. Abraham is called the friend of God. Moses was called a friend of God. Here the disciples are called the friends of Jesus. But what I do want you to notice...and you may have to think about this for a second...is that nowhere in Scripture does it ever say that God is their friend.
You see, God is a holy God, and while we may be the friends of God, we may never treat Him as our buddy. He is our Master. He is our sovereign Lord. And that relationship of friendship is one that He claims, but we can't claim. We can't just say, "Hey, God, I'm going to do this. I'm going to do that. And You're going just wink at it, and we're going to let it go because You're my buddy." No, He is your God! He is your Lord and Master. And so you do what He commands you.
You know, in a friendship in the human realm, we don't ever say, "You are my friend if you do whatever I command you." In fact, that doesn't sound like friendship at all. But in the relationship between man and God, that is exactly the relationship. We love Him. We are His friend because we do whatever He commands us. He is still sovereign, omnipotent King. And though you may be the friend of the King, don't ever forget that He is still King. Don't ever forget you're still His subject.
And that is exactly what Jesus is saying. "If you do whatever I command you, then you are My friend." This is not an option. These are the words of a potentate to His flock, to His subjects. "Obey Me. Do that which I have commanded you to do."
The problem becomes, as we looked in John, that when we think about being a friend of God, when we think about that close-knit relationship, we can get bigheaded...for lack of a better word...about that. We've chosen Christ. We've chosen the right church. We've chosen the right community, chosen the right family. We have everything doing just fine in our life because we're the friend of God.
But what Christ wants the disciples to understand, what He wants to remind us of, is that we didn't come to this friendship on our own choice. And so He says, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you." Jesus says, "This wasn't your choice. You're the friend of God not because you were so friendly that God couldn't help but pick you." He said, "No, you're the friends of God. I want you to be reminded of the fact that you didn't choose Me. I chose you."
My friend, everyone of you who are here this morning who are the friends of God, everyone of you who are here this morning who are the benefactors of the love of Christ, of His salvation, of His leadership in your life, know this: it's not because of your intelligence, not because of your wisdom. You did not choose Him. He died for you...remember...when you were still His enemy. But He chose you, and He chose you, and He appointed you to go...to go and bear fruit.
And not just to bear any kind of fruit. Jesus had been talking in the previous verses...if you've been with us...about abiding in the vine. And the word for abide is the word that is used here. He says, "That you go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide." In other words, "I chose you to go and bear lasting fruit." Lasting fruit.
Jesus isn't interested in just a revival week. He is not interested in just a surface-level rededication. He is not interested in you just saying on Sunday, "Oh, I love Jesus." He wants to see lasting fruit. He wants fruit that abides. And most specifically, in context, what He is talking about is another soul...another soul. The fruit of ministry, the fruit of evangelism, is fruit that abides! It's fruit that lasts. Salvation is forever.
And so Jesus says, "I want you to love one another. I want you to obey Me in loving one another. And know this: you may not want to witness to somebody. You may not want to live like Christ in front of your school friends. You may not want to do all of this Bible stuff. But remember this: you didn't choose Me. I chose you, and appointed you. And I appointed you to go, to go and bear fruit...fruit that remains, fruit that abides."
And when you do that, you're going to want to know how can I do this? Where is this power going to come from? What directions do I take? Where do I go to next? And what you're going to see is that the Bible says whatever you ask in the Father's name, He may give you. In other words, through prayer you ask, and God honors that request to bear fruit.
Really, these phrases are synonymous with each other...that you go and bear fruit, and that whatever you ask in My Father's name He may give you. These are synonyms. He is saying the same thing in two different ways. When you pray to the Father about bearing fruit, He is going to lead you in that. He is going to give that to you. You don't have to question that. You don't have to wonder about that.
You don't have to leave this door this morning, go out this door, and wonder, What does God want from me? He wants you to bear lasting fruit...is what He wants. He wants you to go. He wants you to be a witness. He wants you to introduce His love to people who are around you. And when you do, you pray, and God gives you the power to carry out His command to you...to love one another. To love those who are unlovable. To share the gospel with those who don't know Christ as Savior, with those who aren't in your family or in your church family...at least not yet. But to go and live in such a way that it will bear much fruit.
Listen to the words of Jesus: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you."
Then in 17, He says, "These things I command you, that you love one another." Jesus is trying to tell all of us something...something as simple and straightforward as love. He has spent really the last several chapters hovering over this subject.
I've said before that at the early stage of the disciples' lives, this is a very basic teaching that we have to first understand and learn before we can move on to the deeper theological truths. But without this elementary doctrine, we'll do no good in the rest of it. We must be a people who love one another...love one another.
Transcribed by Digital Sermon Transcription