Summary: What is love? Only the bible can rightly answer this question.
No Greater Love
“Love” is the most abused word in the English language. Love has been given many definitions. One poet said: “Love is a rose, is a rose, is a rose.” Another has said: “Love is a many splendored thing.” The Beatles said: “All you need is love.” We say that we love a lot of things. We might love what we ate at the restaurant. We might love a sports team. We might think we love ourselves. And in the wisdom of this world, even theologians have their take. Duke Ellington made a mass which included a text which says: “God is a three-letter word for love, and love is a four-letter word for God. The Bible says “God is love” in 1 John, but is love, god? What does the bible say about love. Much can be learned by the study of today’s passage from John 15:9-17.
To set the context of this passage, Jesus is talking with his disciples in the upper room on the night before His crucifixion. The actions of the Last Supper which John only notes in passing, washing the disciples’ feet, and the farewell discourse of John 14-17 serve as a Last Will and Testament. The disciples were about to be faced with absolute devastation when Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified, and Jesus prepares them as well as He can. They would of course fail the test miserably, but this would not be the end of the story.
Today’s text is a commentary on what Jesus had just told the disciples that He was the True Vine. The themes of remaining in the vine are reiterated as well as the command to bear fruit. The testimony of the skill of the vinedresser is to be demonstrated by the abundance and beauty of the fruit. The fruit becomes the means of attracting those who are without to consider the Christian faith. Christian fruit can only be borne by the Christian being connected to the vine who is Jesus.
Love is first defined in this passage by Jesus by His stating that the Father loves the Son. We can only vaguely understand how rich and intimate the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit between themselves. Even the most functional of families is but a poor reflection of this love. But Jesus now makes a radical application by saying that His love for the disciples is on par with the Father’s love for the Son. The Son is perfect, but we are far from perfection. Why should the Son love us to the same degree as His Father loved Him? This is truly mind-blowing when we consider that we are loved to the nth degree in spite of our failures. Jesus knows that Peter is about to deny Him, and the other ten disciples forsake Him. John reflects on this in his first epistle when we behold the greatness of the Father’s love for us that we are called the Children of God with the additional affirmation that we certainly are (1 John 3:1-2). This is echoed in this passage that Jesus calls the disciples “friends.” Only Abraham was called a “friend of God,” but now Jesus’ disciples are raised to this new level of love.
The world has some problems with the idea that love makes demands of the beloved. Some would call this abusive. The myth of “autonomy” reigns. The world says that we should not let anyone tell us what to do or who we are, so long as we agree with their worldview. Parents are encouraged to let their children explore life for themselves and make their own choices. To them, this is love. Of course, while you are letting them explore the world, the world is busy brainwashing your children. They say your children should not leave their brain at your door. Instead, they tell the children to leave their brain at the world’s door. Think like they do, and you will be a “free-thinker.” Instead of being free, those who yield their brains to them become slaves of sin instead.
The love that the world offers is certainly not the love that Jesus offers. In fact, the love of the world is not love at all as it leads to utter destruction. Jesus’ love makes claims on the beloved. Love is reciprocal. Jesus expects love in return. As the supreme parent, the parent’s love is demonstrated in care for children. But for children, love is demonstrated by willing obedience. Jesus sets the example by His willing obedience to the will of the Father. He is not asking anything that He Himself does not practice Himself in relationship with the Father. He says that the Father is greater in authority to Himself, to whom He submits to His love. He demonstrates what obedient joyful, and free love really is. So HE tells the disciples to do as He Himself does. Jesus has kept the commandments of His Father, and He expects the disciples to be obedient to His commands. Obedience is proof of the disciple’s love.