John 15:9 says “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” This is a comforting verse. Many people memorize this verse in order to comfort themselves by thinking about it when life is painful. This verse makes people feel they can let go of chaos and fear and simply rest in the Lord. That is fine as far as it goes, but this verse is part of a larger story. Paul would have said that the message of comfort is the milk of this text. In order to get the meat, you need to read more.Jesus was talking to his disciples at a time when they needed comfort. To be more precise, Jesus knew they would soon need comfort. It had been almost a week since Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem to the adulation of huge crowds. Even his confrontations with Pharisees and priests could hardly have erased the memory of that triumphant image – well, sort of triumphant. A man riding a colt doesn’t really look imperial, but all those shouting people counted for something. Jesus knew, however, that the shouts of the Jerusalem crowd were about to become something very different from the shouts of the people waving palm branches and throwing cloaks into his path. The continuation of this text addresses needs the disciples could not have comprehended at the time.
We can. We know, 2000 years later, what happened before the night was over, and what happened the very next day. We know about the terror. We know about the tomb. We know what the disciples could not have known as they listened to Jesus and asked him where he was going, and why they could not go along. In fact, after 2000 years of waiting for the second coming, we know what it is to ask if Jesus is really present. It is a great treasure for us that John cherished the memory of this night so deeply that he shared it with those who were not there. We need it as much as they did.
In this speech to his disciples, Jesus told them how they could have joy, even as they contemplated the crucifixion. His message was intended to build up joy that transcended circumstance. It is the kind of joy that remains even in a prison cell, as Correy Ten Boom could testify. This joy carries us through sickrooms and death of loved ones and unemployment and foreclosure. This joy is the result of abiding in the love of Christ in the same way that he abides in the love of the Father. He showed us this love and this joy when he went to the cross and prayed forgiveness for his tormentors.
Jesus reinforced his strength-building message by calling the disciples friends. This renaming of his relationship with the men who had traveled with him for three years did not change his teaching about living a servant life at all. It did change the attitude of the servant. A friend does not serve simply out of obedience; a friend serves out of love. Jesus asked for obedience to the law of love, not to the law of doing good works.
As for the outcome of all our good works lovingly performed, he reminds us, and his disciples, that we don’t earn points for reserved seating in heaven or even the adulation of the people around us when we perform loving service. After all, none of us sought him first. He sought us. All those disciples were going about their daily business when Jesus called them away, and that is how it is for us as well. We can’t run up to Jesus and demand to be his friend. He seeks us out when we don’t even know to look for him, he loves us when we are still busy about things that satisfy our egos, and he loves us anyway. He calls the unworthy and makes them his friends. All the glory for anything good that comes out of it belongs to Christ.
The overarching image in Jesus’ words that night was that the Father loved the Son so richly that the Son was immersed in that love and filled to overflowing with it. Jesus the Son had the same kind of love for the disciples. The image of that fountain of love is that as we live in the center of the love of Christ, that love overflows into all our other relationships: our relationships with fellow believers and our relationships with all the other people we meet. This kind of love is not touchy-feely; it is active. We know that this love exists, because of the actions that ensue. Jesus modeled the ultimate loving behavior when he died for us and for all sinners while we were still enemies, not friends. This is the kind of love we learn from him. Love Christ, because he loves us. Love one another, as Christ loves us. Our love for one another is like a training center for loving everyone else.
Ultimately, the point is that our relationship with Christ, our friendship with him, should bear fruit. What fruit? Well, obviously love is the first fruit. Jesus also mentioned joy, another fruit. Paul would later write to the Ephesians about the fruits of our relationship with Christ. Those fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. A person who loves Christ and loves other people will produce the other fruits as he grows and matures.
Later that same night, Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit. This indwelling presence would be the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus’ other name: Emmanuel, God with us. The Holy Spirit’s presence is rich and strengthening when we live in the love of Christ.
It is hard to love people the way Christ did. I think a lifetime is not long enough to learn. It is discouraging to realize that we who are called the friends of Christ are not able to do the first thing he wants us to do – love people the way he does. Yet because the presence of the Holy Spirit constantly nudges us toward love and gently nudges us again when we fail, we can go ahead and keep trying. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” His love is our strength.