What was most on Jesus’ mind, the night before he died, was the quality of his followers’ love. Only by remaining deeply and intimately connected in Christ to God (and incidentally to each other) could they bear fruit. The evidence of that fruit would be seen in answered prayer, and in a life that glorifies God. Even more so, evidence of fruit in a believer’s life would be seen in a life that expresses God’s love.
The Apostle Paul would later write extensively on this subject, penning his now famous poem on agape in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
But in that hour, Jesus’ last with these closest of his followers, the mark of love would cut deeper than any of them had been willing to think about, until now.
No Greater Love
Jesus described what he meant by his own love for them.
Not even one has greater love [agape] than this, that who would lay down his life on behalf of his dear one.Jesus, John 15:13
A person cannot demonstrate a deeper love than that.
But Jesus was not just talking about literally dying, he was also talking about love as a lifestyle. A continual process of setting aside one’s own life in order to give to another.
How were the disciples going to work as a team? By laying their lives down for each other, knowing that each of them had each other’s backs.
Five Marks of a Team that Loves*
- Trust: They needed to be able to trust each other, that they would be loyal to each other, take risks for each other, ask for help and offer help, be forgiving of each other.
As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.The Apostles, Acts 5:41 (NRSV)
- Openness: All throughout the book of Acts, the disciples needed to be able to bring up problems and solve them together, not compete with each other.
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.
And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”
What they said pleased the whole community.Apostles to the Hellenist believers, Acts 6:1-5 (NRSV)
- Commitment: They were going to need each other’s faithfulness to stay together, and to stay with the mission. They all had to have a common passion to spread the gospel, be interested in each other’s efforts, believe in each other, be there for each other.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.Peter and John to Samaria, Acts 8:14 (NRSV)
News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion.Barnabas to Antioch, Acts 11:22-23 (NRSV)
- Accountability: There were going to be times when the disciples would have to say the hard things to each other, spur each other on, respect each other by holding each other up to the highest standard.
But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”Paul to Peter, when Peter and John came to Antioch, Galatians 2:11-14 (NRSV)
- Fruit: And they were going to have to be invested enough in each other and in the mission to insist that there be fruit, fruit that would last.
. . . that day about three thousand persons were added.
But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.
The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
. . . the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.Early converts, Acts 2:41, 4:4, 6:7, 10:45 (NRSV)
More Than Servants
Jesus told them they were closer to him than any servants—than typical talmidim to their rabbi—they were his beloved friends, his inner circle, having access to everything of Jesus, his thoughts and his heart. Jesus had shared with them everything the Father had given him, the secrets of the Father’s nature, of God’s plan for the world. He had shared his own pain, his feelings, his joy, the very humanness of himself with those in whom he had entrusted himself.
You all did not select me, but rather I myself selected you all and appointed you all in order that you yourselves would all love [agape] then bear fruit, and your fruit would endure.Jesus, John 15:16 (NRSV)
When Jesus chooses his followers, he positions them for strategic advantage so that you and I can bear fruit that will last. To this end, Jesus said to his disciples, and to us today,
In order that whatever you all would require of the Father in my name, it will be given to you.Jesus, John 15:16 (NRSV)
As you do this, Jesus said, you will receive whatever you ask as you identify with Jesus, his character, his desire, his will.
Remaining in Jesus’ love changes one’s focus from concern for self to love for others
In what practical ways are you and I expressing love to other believers? In what ways are we laying our lives down for them?
The Holy Spirit living within you and me and the sinful natures we were born with and grew up with are in conflict with each other. So, God has planted in every Christian an appetite for holiness and a desire to relate well.
God knows how hard it is to forbear with each other’s failings, God knows how much concentration and self-discipline it takes to build each other up. Think of the people in our lives, in our homes, our communities and our churches. You and I need to first of all believe in and look for the supernatural goodness in ourselves that God has put there by coming to live in our inner beings. It is there, and accessible to us.
Next, we need to believe in and look for the supernatural goodness that God has put in other believers by making his home in them, too. Appeal to God’s Spirit in that person, and call them to the highest standard. Let us encourage each other and spur each other on.
Now think of the people you and I work with, in our businesses, our ministries, our volunteer projects, our churches.
Be mindful of the necessity of being a team, of
- Having the same goals and aims.
- Desiring to help each other and support each other.
- Believing in and serving a common vision.
How much do we care for the people we live with and work together with? How much do we care for the people in our church? How much do we give of ourselves to those on the mission field? To the workers in our church and community? To the members of our family?
[Jesus with his disciples | The LUMA Project, http://www.freebibleimages.org
*Years ago I read a marvelous book by Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and modified what he said for this post. I do recommend it, it is well worth the read.