John’s Gospel: Chapter 15:8-17 (“Greater love has no one than this”)

(John 15:8 ESV)  8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

What brings glory to God? Jesus’ disciples’ bearing fruit. Why?

Well, because the fruit is from God, via the Spirit. Bearing fruit gives God the opportunity to show his goodness. And, of course, because true fruit — fruit given by the Spirit — only comes from God; true fruit proves discipleship, because only disciples have the Spirit.

(John 15:9-10 ESV)  9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.  10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

Jesus is now setting up a point he wants to reemphasize. It’s essential that his disciples honor his commands.

(John 15:11 ESV)  11 “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

The purpose of his commands is to give joy to his disciples — joy that is a gift from God. How does that work?

(John 15:12-13 ESV)  12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Jesus now explains the essence of Christian ethics, that is, how Christians are to live. Christian living is all about love, a love that’s all about laying down your life for others. It’s about service, submission, and sacrifice. It’s about surrendering self.

Nothing else is truly love. Nothing else is obedient.

(John 15:14-15 ESV) 14 “You are my friends if you do what I command you.  15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

But imagine this! If we practice sacrificial, submissive love, we become “friends” of Jesus, rather than mere servants. I have trouble saying that this makes us peers of Jesus, but that’s essentially what he’s saying.

This language likely comes from —

(Isa 41:8-10 ESV)  8 But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend;  9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”;  10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

(Jam 2:22-23 ESV)  22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;  23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”– and he was called a friend of God.

To be a friend of Jesus is the same as having the relationship with God that Abraham had. It’s not just a covenant relationship. It’s not just grace.

Rather, as Jesus explains, as friends, his disciples are allowed a full revelation — not everything that God knows but everything God has chosen to reveal to Jesus.

Notice the parallel. God’s covenant with Abraham was not merely one of promise. God told Abraham about his plans. His promises were predictive of the future. God shared his purposes and mission and vision with Abraham — his friend.

Just so, Christians who abide in Jesus, who love sacrificially, are given insight into God’s purposes, mission, and vision. You see, the deepest knowledge is often experiential. We can’t truly understand the heart of God unless we live a submissive life.

Indeed, at times, we see that the unsubmissive have no clue as to God’s desires because their hearts are not attuned to God’s heart. But when we abide in Jesus — loving as he loves — our hearts are re-tuned to God’s.

Maybe it’s a little corny, but I really do see this in terms of resonance. A string tuned to middle-C will reverberate when a middle-C is played. The more closely our hearts are tuned to God’s heart, the more we understand, the more we share in God’s feelings, the more God reveals about himself and his will to us.

(John 15:16 ESV)  16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

“I chose you.” This is, of course, literally true as to the apostles. Indeed, as applied to Jesus’ immediate audience, this statement says nothing about Unconditional Election or other Calvinist doctrines at all. And that may be all there is to it.

On the other hand, even in a free-will universe, God’s sovereignty remains important. After all, for some reason, the gospel has gone to some people and not to others. Christianity is widespread in some parts of the world and not others. And — to a substantial degree — this is by God’s choice.

God sent Jesus to Palestine in the Roman Empire. Paul was sent to Asia Minor and Greece. Countless choices determined which peoples heard the gospel and which did not. God chose.

The point has nothing to do with free will and everything to do with God’s election. God did not send Jesus to the Americas. Or Australia. Or Saharan Africa.

God chooses. Yes, we also choose, but in historical terms, people have far fewer choices than they’d like to imagine. Few people born in Libya or Afghanistan have a choice to believe in Jesus. That’s just the way it is.

Of course, our choices matter, too. We choose whether to support a missionary, whether to train missionaries, whether to do mission work thoughtfully or carelessly, whether to speak to our neighbors. And to the extent we take offense at God’s choices, we live at a time when human choices have overwhelmed God’s. After all, by now there’s been plenty of time for the gospel to reach the entire world, and we just haven’t done it. And that’s a choice for which we must answer.

(John 15:17 ESV)  17 “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

What are “these things”? Bear fruit. Pray. Love sacrificially.

We want to be commanded along the lines of: Take communion once a week, on Sunday, and only on Sunday. Why? Because it’s easy. It’s painless. And we can do it perfectly. Better yet, we look down on those who didn’t figure the semi-secret commands as well as we did.

But, of course, the things Jesus demands first and foremost don’t meet any of those criteria. We don’t really feel superior because of our prayer lives, love, or fruit bearing — which is, of course, a very good and necessary thing.

After all, you can’t really be all about service, submission, and sacrifice all the while feeling better than other people.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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