In the first eight verses of chapter 15, the disciples learned that only by abiding in Jesus, connected deeply in Christ to God (and incidentally to each other) could they bear fruit. From verse 7, evidence of fruit in a believer’s life can be seen in answered prayer, and in verse 8, a life that glorifies God. Now, in verse 9, they would learn that evidence of fruit in a believer’s life is also seen in a life that expresses God’s love.
The Greatest Commandment
Even as the Father loved me, so also I loved you (agape), abide and remain in my agape.Jesus to the disciples, John 15:9
God offers the most complete love anyone could ever experience. It is called agape, unconditional love. You and I do not earn God’s love, we do not have to perform to keep it, and we do not have to be something extra, or special to receive God’s love.
God gives God’s love freely, generously, even when God’s love is not returned.
Jesus’ love for us is the Father’s love for him poured into our hearts, and this same love will be poured out for all others in our lives. You and I are to be an open story of the gospel. When your love, and my love, is like God’s love, then people really will see the Lord through us. People will know they are loved and accepted, they do not have to prove anything to be loved.
In a sense, the first eight verses of chapter fifteen are an expansion of what Jesus had identified as the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
That is abiding in the vine.
The Second Greatest Commandment
This ninth verse also represents the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Obeying these commandments is not just having the right doctrine down. That is loving with your mind, but there is still the heart and the soul.
We have to engage our hearts to truly understand Jesus, but also to become like him and to follow him over the long haul.
Emotional connection with God provides us with distinctive insights into God which cannot be gained any other way. But in order to anchor that truth into our real lives, we need to live it out. Something goes seriously wrong with our capacity to absorb or even understand Scripture if we do not live it, but just study it.
If you and I just study this, without doing anything with it, we stand the risk of becoming full of ourselves, no different from the Pharisees, worshiping our doctrine and our theological ideas more than valuing a genuine encounter with the Jesus.
Or, sometimes you and I might look only for the personal spiritual experience, but then we run the risk of becoming experience junkies, having no real impact in the world.
Then again, if you and I overbalance with doing, doing, doing on the outside, and do not tend to our inner spiritual life’s dependence on Jesus, we can burn ourselves and others out while relying on our own efforts to please God.
So how can your life and mine be the expression of Jesus’ kind of gospel love?
True Pathway to Joy
If you all guard, keep, and heed my commandments you will remain in my agape, even as I guard, keep, and heed the commandments of my Father and remain in his agape.Jesus, John 15:10
Spiritual discipline and spiritual dependence. This is actually the true pathway to joy.
These things I have said to you in order that my joy and delight would be in you, and your joy and delight would be made full and complete.Jesus, John 15:11
After these bracing words of encouragement, Jesus gave the disciples—and through them to every believer—a seemingly impossible commandment.
Commandment to Love!
This is my commandment, that you all would love one another even as I loved you all.Jesus, John 15:12
What do you make of that?
Since when can a person be commanded to love somebody?
Think of all the movies that would never get filmed, all the songs that would never be composed, all the books that would never get written if we could just command people to love.
No more love potions!
No more broken hearts!
No more pining after unrequited love!
But, in all seriousness, how can the Lord just command something like this? It just does not work, does it? People cannot be made love each other.
- What if we have been terribly hurt by someone and they are not one bit repentant? Maybe they are even glad that they hurt us, or feel justified.
- What of someone who is genuinely odious? Nobody loves them!
- What about trying to work up a good love for a particular person, and regardless of every concerted effort, it is just not coming?
Love is a Decision?
I have heard it said that love is a decision, not a feeling, and there is some truth to that, but you and I need to be careful that we do not let that become a cop-out.
This is not about being nice to someone on the outside, but gritting our teeth on the inside. That is not really the gospel. God is not gritting God’s teeth while God forces Godself to be nice to you and me.
Still, you and I are imperfect, and we are not going to feel the love for every person. Or even feel love all the time for someone we already love from the heart. Sometimes there is a long history of wrongdoing in a relationship that can act as a real barrier to that. Yet there is still hope for you and me that we CAN love that person with genuine agape.
It begins with the fruit Jesus was talking about that Apostle Paul would later expand on.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (NRSV)
Read back over those traits—do you recognize them?
To name a few.. Each aspect of love is part of the fruit of the Spirit. Each aspect grows in us as we abide in Jesus and proactively cooperate with him as he transforms us.