AUDIO VERSION: Reflections on John 15:9-17
Whoever said love was easy?
Sure, romantic love can feel easy.
It can be wonderful!
When the first flutters of attraction happen…
When you’re in the early days of the relationship.
There’s nothing like it.
But we all know that real love; love that lasts…
Takes time. Energy. Investment. Determination. Sacrifice.
And love takes many forms. Not just romantic love of course.
I remember when I fell pregnant with my son, Jon.
I felt a connection with him from the time I knew I’d conceived.
It was the bond of mother and baby.
I loved him.
I prayed for him.
I cared for my body as best I could so he would be healthy.
I wrote letters to my unborn son.
I wanted to be the best possible parent.
I couldn’t wait to meet him.
And giving birth to him required all of me.
It was a grueling labour, and I’d never known such pain.
But the result was this adorable little boy who relied completely on us.
Who required a huge amount of sacrifice just to keep him alive.
I’m sure all parents can relate.
We sacrifice because we love.
We love because we sacrifice.
Love equals sacrifice.
And we come into the world not just expecting sacrifice but demanding it. From our first breath we cry out for love. We literally can’t survive without it.
We are desperate to stay close to our mums, and our dads.
We need unconditional love.
Without unconditional, sacrificial love from a parent or caregiver from our first breath, we have no chance of survival.
Of course, as we get older, we become more self-sufficient.
We learn the skills to do more and more things for ourselves.
Eventually, we might take on caring roles ourselves.
We start to look outwards to the needs of others.
Not just our own needs.
That’s what growing up is about.
The goal is to become mature enough to think not just of ourselves but others.
We can all think of adults who have remained self-absorbed.
Who live for themselves.
Who don’t think much of others.
And there are so many reasons why they might be like this.
But in the passage we’re looking at today, Jesus is talking directly to his disciples about the importance of not staying self-absorbed.
The benefits of following his law of love.
He is telling his followers to give better.
And live better.
To solve any disunity among them.
At this point in the story, Jesus has spent a lot of time with his disciples.
Teaching them, guiding them.
Preparing them for the time when he won’t be with them anymore.
He knows they have already made sacrifices to follow him.
And they’re struggling to love one another in the hardship of everyday life.
Can you relate to the struggle?
The struggle to love people when the going gets tough?
Friendship can be wonderful when you first meet. You realise you have lots in common. You think the same way. You see eye to eye. You like the same music. The same movies. You make each other laugh.
But maybe then you try planning a trip together or living in the same share house.
That’s when the hard times hit.
And we don’t know, but it could have been like this for Jesus’ disciples.
They were in close quarters.
In each other’s pockets.
They’d seen a lot of miracles together in their time with Jesus.
Formed some close bonds.
But their friendship was tested at times.
And Jesus sees their need for a refresher course on love.
And what is love?
Most of us know the biblical definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.”
Love is all about serving other people. Putting them before ourselves.
We know the saying that love is a decision.
Love is an act of the will.
We know that when romantic feelings fade, or when friendships grow stale, we need to tap into the reserves of sacrificial love.
If our partner or friend becomes chronically ill, or suffers from depression, or loses their job, love becomes so important.
Love requires sacrifice.
Because we live in a broken world where things go wrong.
Relationships break down.
People get sick.
Our survival depends on other people sacrificing for us.
We need each other.
And the desire for others to give up stuff for us?
That was built into us by God.
From the moment we were born we needed sacrifice.
We needed someone to give their lives for us.
Maybe you had a parent who didn’t sacrifice much for you.
They didn’t give up their life up for you in any sense of the word.
It hurts, doesn’t it?
Maybe you know about marriages which are missing that element of sacrificial love.
I had a friend whose husband was actually addicted to study.
He was so consumed by it.
He loved the boost he got when he got top marks.
And there’s nothing wrong with enjoying study!
But for him it was an obsession.
Todd (not his real name) began lying about it and couldn’t hold down his day job because he was obsessed with getting the best possible marks in his third uni degree.
He forgot about the needs of his wife and two young girls because of it.
He refused to talk with her about the impact of his choices.
He’d become angry. He’d yell. He’d swear at her and the kids.
And in the end, their marriage broke down.
Todd was making sacrifices, sure.
But not the kind of sacrifices God would want.
They were self-centred sacrifices.
Not loving sacrifices.
Parents who make sacrifices for their partner and kids leave a legacy of love.
They offer security.
And friends who make sacrifices build intimacy.
Turning up to a friend’s amateur musical theatre show (fun!)
when you’d rather be at home binging Netflix… that’s a sacrifice.
Mopping the floors for your ageing parents when you’d rather be sipping a latte near the beach… that’s a sacrifice.
Love equals sacrifice.
That’s our key point today.
Love equals sacrifice.
And Jesus lived a life of sacrifice.
In this passage, Jesus is talking to his friends. His closest peeps. His inner circle. His top 12.
They were part of Team Jesus.
And Team Jesus was not about self-promotion
Or an ego boost
Or serving your own interests.
The disciples needed reminding they were on Team Jesus to serve him.
Jesus. The one they believed was the Messiah.
Their King. Their friend. Their Saviour.
The one who would soon show them what sacrifice really looks like.
And serving Jesus also meant serving one another.
These disciples often argued over who was the greatest.
They didn’t always love each other well.
They didn’t always love Jesus with their whole heart.
They didn’t always put each other’s needs before their own.
So Jesus starts a conversation with them about what he wants from them.
Many of the disciples are so keen to do “the father’s will” that they forget the most important thing.
And what is the most important thing do you think?
But some of them, in their desire to please Jesus.
End up making love a box-ticking exercise.
Read the bible – tick!
Pray – tick!
Give to the poor – tick!
They seem to think that if they can just tick the boxes.
Do enough good things.
Get it right.
Be good enough.
Be Jesus’ favourite.
Be as good as Jesus.
They’ll win the competition – hit the home run.
They are competing, in a sense.
They each want to be the best. The one “most loved”. The favourite.
And I think we can relate to this, can’t we?
Our inner child is always competing. We might not be racing to see who can win the egg and spoon race
(or maybe we are!)
But we’re competing to see how high up the corporate ladder we can climb.
Or how many invitations we get.
Or how many games we win.
Or how many “good works” we do in the community.
Whatever it is we’re trying to do…
The reason is simple.
We’re trying to prove our worth.
To earn our value.
To prove to ourselves and others that we’re OK.
That we’re worth something.
That we’re good enough.
That we have enough gold stars to our name.
And we yearn so deeply to be seen.
Like the little kid hollering “Mum, look at me!”
We’re yelling to the world: “Look at me! Aren’t I kind?
Aren’t I brave?
Aren’t I strong?
Aren’t I smart?
Aren’t I generous?
Won’t you give me a gold star?
Won’t you SEE me and know me and praise me.
Won’t you just LOVE me…?
And you know what we do for love, don’t you?
Like my friend’s ex-husband Todd.
He longed to be seen.
He longed for praise.
He studied, not simply because he enjoyed it.
But because he wanted something from it.
So he’d hide away in his study at night. Saying to his wife he had work to do for his job.
But instead, like an addict, he’d consume book after book and push himself until he achieved the best possible mark.
But was it enough?
Was it ever enough?
Of course not.
His idol failed him in the end.
It demanded so much of him.
Yet gave him back so little.
In fact, it robbed him of everything, including his job and his marriage.
It’s a sad story.
Our longings for validation run deep.
Especially if we weren’t nurtured as children.
If we had absent caregivers.
If we felt we weren’t interesting enough for our mum or dad to spend time with us… we become very broken.
For example, boys without active, dedicated fathers in their lives are more likely to:
- suffer from low self-esteem and depression
- Have problems with maintaining friendships and long term relationships
- Struggle with academic study
- And make poor choices.
And the cycle often continues through to our own kids unless something really changes.
In an ideal world we grow up with two parents who sacrifice for us.
Because again, love equals sacrifice.
And I’m not saying we don’t have boundaries.
That you put your life completely on hold for your kids, or your friends, or your spouse.
But without sacrifice of any kind in our relationships, we don’t grow.
If we live completely for ourselves, people don’t often stick around.
So here, Jesus has something to say to his rule-focused followers.
He speaks in language his disciples will understand.
He issues a command to them.
Here, they might be expecting him to tell them some new rule or law that they’ve never heard before.
Their ears are pricked up, ready to receive what Jesus has to say. And this is what he says.
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.”
His command is to LOVE one another?
Not to eat a different type of food.
Or learn a new skill.
Or pray differently.
But to love one another.
As Jesus has loved THEM.
Jesus, in his sacrifice on the cross, is the perfect example of love.
THIS is how we know what love is.
That he laid down his life.
He surrendered any desires he might’ve had for self-glory.
And chose the path of love.
Jesus gave his life for not just his friends, but his enemies!
And if we do what he commands he treats us as friends.
As we love others, he walks beside us.
As we live lives of sacrifice, he lets us in on what he’s doing in the world.
Our lives become richer. More meaningful. More purposeful.
When we sacrifice, we receive more joy.
When we get up early on a Sunday to mentor young people in the church band, it’s a sacrifice. But there’s joy because you’re doing God’s will. You’re making him happy!
When you offer to lead Bible Study, it’s a sacrifice of time. And energy. But you grow closer to God.
You become more like him as you explain his Word to others.
When you spend an hour helping someone apply for a job, there might be a million other things you could be doing.
But there’s joy because you’re making a difference to someone’s future. You’re making God smile.
And this is what Jesus was trying to get his disciples to see.
Love pays off.
Sacrifice pays off.
And not in the worldly sense necessarily.
But in the spiritual sense.
When we do God’s will.
When we’re on Team Jesus.
Living lives focused on others rather than our own ambitions…
There are blessings. There is joy!
Sure, sacrifice can be tough.
And sometimes we will want to throw in the towel.
But when you know the joy of being a Jesus follower.
Of seeking his will.
There’s no better place to be.
And yes, the Jesus brand of sacrifice might mean losing that friend, or that promotion, or that gold star we’re desperate for.
But the things we do for Jesus are what lasts.
The fruit we bear for him lasts into eternity!
Selfishness wounds everyone around us.
But true love leaves a lasting legacy.
In this passage, Jesus is on the path to carrying out the most loving act ever committed.
Dying on the cross for our sins.
Jesus makes the ultimate sacrifice for his friends as well as his enemies and asks us to do the same.
To give up what we most hold dear if it means obeying him fully.
To sacrifice our egos and our desperate grabs for praise and attention.
And live lives focused on the needs of others.
30My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This means that obedience frees us to become something better.
The world tells us that the “gold stars” we get from career or sexual partners or money are what frees us.
But in fact, what frees us is living in the will of God.
True joy and freedom comes when we follow Jesus’ way of love instead of the world’s idea of love.
He says as we remain in his love…
As we rely on his love to help us love others…
We will experience his joy!
It’s the joy of unity with others.
Isn’t it wonderful when there’s no conflict,
When our kids are getting on,
When there’s no fighting at work…
When there’s no politicians sparring with one another (that’ll be the day).
It is wonderful, and it can feel impossible.
But this is what Jesus wants from us.
He wants us to love like him.
To sacrifice for one another.
To do the hard stuff.
And to experience the joy that comes with that.
I mentioned earlier the grueling experience of bringing my son Jon into the world.
But what joy it was when the sacrifice I made paid off.
I was able to hold my firstborn in my arms and tell him I loved him.
And I knew, deep down, the only way I could be a half decent parent was to abide in Jesus. To model my life on his love.
And I knew I would never do it perfectly.
No one ever has!
But Jesus was with me all the way through the early years of parenting, where every day was mixed with both joy and sacrifice.
The ultimate proof of love is our willingness to give up something for the good of another.
And here on the cross, a short time after this conversation between him and his friends, Jesus makes the ultimate sacrifice.
A sacrifice that would change history.
That would change our lives.
Our past, our present, our future.
Love = sacrifice
And Jesus’ sacrifice = forgiveness for our sins.
Forgiveness for the many times we sought the approval of idols.
The countless times we lived for ourselves instead of others.
And the dozens of times we turned our back on God instead of what felt good at the time.
On the cross, Jesus invites us into his perfect love and forgiveness.
He invites us to look away from the things which seem to satisfy.
And look instead to him.
To fix our gaze on his eyes.
The gentle, ever-loving eyes of Jesus.
The one who IS LOVE.
The Father who didn’t abandon us. But gave the ultimate gift to us.
His very life.
So that we might be forgiven.
And have the grace to live for him
It’s Jesus who gives us the supernatural ability to love others as he loves us.
Lord, please help us to love like you do.
Lord, we often look to other idols to satisfy the longing in our hearts to be seen.
To be noticed.
To be thought of as worthy.
But they will never satisfy.
Career, money, fame, popularity, success…. It will let us down in the end.
But you will never let us down.
So right now, we choose to sacrifice these things to your perfect will.
Help us to abide in you.
To rest in you.
To love like you love.
To live like you lived.
And give like you gave.
Only in your strength can we love sacrificially and completely.
Today, we receive your gift of love and ask for your help to start again.
In Jesus’ name.
Note: Depictions of Jesus and his disciples are taken from The Chosen TV.
What a powerful piece of writing Ali! Thank you for your insight into this piece of Scripture and how we can apply it to our lives.
Thank you for reading and appreciating it, lovely Kez 💓💗💓