Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
There is much wonder in this verse. There is wonder here because Jesus goes on to say, "You are my friends if you do what I command you." That is the sort of thing that ought to make the Christian stop and think. The long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God and Co-Creator of the Universe calls those who love him "friend." Jesus is, indeed, my friend. And he is your friend as well if you do as he commands.
Paul points out the sort of friendship that Jesus displayed towards us in another familiar verse, "For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that m while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:7-8). Isn't this the train of thought that we normally take as we think of John 15:13? That Jesus is the great friend of sinners? This is, obviously, a profound truth, a wonderful truth, a truth worth meditating on. I believe it to be so profound that, if we are not careful, it will divert us from the point that Jesus is making.
Jesus wants us to know about friendship, not only with himself, but our friendships with one another. A closer look at John 15:12-17 will reveal that it is precisely our friendships with one another as believers that Jesus is emphasizing.
We are so sin-sick that we do not know how to love properly, or serve properly, or even be the type of friend that we ought to be. So here, in John 15:12-17, Jesus is saying, "I want you to love each other. I want you to be friends. And this is how I'm going to show you what it means to be a true friend: I'm going to lay down my life for you. I'm going to die for you. Now, you do the same."
In this passage, Jesus is not simply telling us how much he loves us, though he is certainly saying that. Follow Jesus' words carefully. He says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." See that? That is the command. Love one another as I loved you! And how did he love us? He died for his friends. So let's connect the dots: Jesus commands us to love one another as he loved us. Then, he illustrates how he loves us by saying he laid down his life for us. Finally, he says that if we want to be his friend, we must do as he commands. And what is the immediate command in this context? Love each other to the point of death.
This is Christian friendship. We are to love each other fiercely, even to the point of death for each other. It is no wonder, then, that Jesus could say, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Christian love is a death-defying love, sin-defying love.
By sin-defying I mean this: Christian friendship does not keep a record of wrongs. In other words, we love on as friends in the face of sin. We defy sin to separate us from the ones we love. I do not mean that sin can never be a fellowship breaker. What I mean is that a brother or sister who sins against us does not immediately become a castaway. I mean that it is sin-defying in the way Paul meant it when he said, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). It means that our friendship towards others is greatest when they deserve our friendship the least. A Christian friend turns the other cheek. A Christian friend overlooks slights. A Christian friend is never petty. A Christian friend does not abandon. A Christian friend forgives seventy times seven. A Christian friend is the first to apologize. A Christian friend is slow to anger and quick to reconcile.
Have petty troubles separated you from a Christian brother or sister? Are you always ready to reconcile? Do you believe the best of your friends intentions instead of assuming the worst? Christian friendship is not optional; it is commanded. Our first impulse when reading John 15:13 is correct if we meditate on the unfathomable, gracious friendship Christ Jesus has shown us. But our meditation fails if it does not lead us to action in loving others.
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).
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