Sunday, August 9, 2020


If I were to say to you, “I’ll be your friend if you do whatever I tell you to do,” I’m pretty sure that you wouldn’t be so eager to hang out with me. However, that is just what we hear from Jesus in the book of John.

Jesus says there, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

At first blush, these words from Jesus sound downright presumptuous. It sounds as though his friendship is based only upon our obedience to him. Were this another person speaking to us, we would even say that attitude was more than just a little immature. No friendship should be based upon doing whatever the other person wants.

However, if we back up in the Bible passage and read more of what Jesus was saying, we can see that the main point of his message was not actually keeping his commandments. That is secondary. His main topic is love.

Jesus begins this conversation by saying, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

He actually speaks more of love in this passage than he does of obedience.

What God Sees When He Looks at Us

People of the world commonly have a distorted view of God’s opinion of us. People frequently view God as being motivated in his relationship to us mostly by a judgmental attitude. They think that he is simply waiting to punish us for doing something wrong. He is often viewed by the people of the world as someone sitting high in heaven, looking down on us to see if we are doing anything improper and ready to slap us if we disobey—something like a powerful and overbearing schoolmaster.

But that is not God’s motivation at all. Despite all his talk of obedience, this is not the driving force of God’s relationship with us. The real driving force of all that God does is love. Jesus intends to show us that this love will lead us to joy in living. Listen to what he says:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you….These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:9-14, 17 ESV)

What is Love?

The concept of love is something that nearly no one truly understands. In fact, I can safely say that there is none of us who fully appreciates the depths of God’s love. To us, love is often disregarded in daily living as a rather meaningless emotional sentimentality. We think that love is fine for romance or in close relationships, but there is little place for it in the business of daily commerce, or in government and international relationships.

However, if we were to truly understand the concept of love, we would come to see that it is actually the driving force of the universe. Love was what first motivated God to create, and what continues to motivate him in his relationship to us. In fact, if we were to comprehend love in its fullness, we would see that love is even more than a motivational factor of God: It is the very essence of God.

No one teaches us more about the concept of love than does the Apostle John. Here is what he wrote in one of his letters: 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 ESV)

Falling into Love

A teenage girl, who has just started dating, asks her mother, or a son his father, “How do you know if you love someone?”

The mom or the dad, with all the wisdom in the world, gives some sort of answer that is really just quite silly. They might say, “Well, if you have a dizzy feeling when you are around someone, or if you feel a kind of sickness in your stomach, it means that you are falling in love.”

Perhaps their answer may not be quite as nonsensical as that, but the point that I want to make is that according to the Apostle John, without the revelation of God, the world alone simply cannot know what love is. Despite all of the studies about love and despite many people making millions of dollars teaching us about finding true love, what John is saying that all true love actually emanates from God, for God is love.

We often hear that love is something that one falls into, but John says that it is instead something that we receive. “Love is from God,” he says.

Love and Emotion

Why is it that we have come to have such a misunderstanding of love, and have mostly come to equate it with a feeling that is felt between two individuals? If all love is from God, then what is this dizzying sensation that we feel for another person?

I would be wrong to tell you that love does not involve emotion, because it certainly does. We see many times in the Scripture that God expresses emotion at the deepest level, and if true love is the very essence of God, then his love must involve his emotion. We are made in the image of God, so it follows then that even in us, love involves our emotion.

But emotion is not the totality of love. Love also involves other parts of our being and our personality.

Love and Infatuation

Nevertheless, even knowing this, we often do not look deeper into our understanding than this. Just as in other aspects of our knowledge of God, with love, we often try to be content in our knowledge by only looking at the most beginning levels of a love relationship, even with our relationship to God.

For example, as I write this we are in the height of summer. It is the time of the year when many people go camping or travel to national parks to enjoy the out-of-doors. Every year we hear people say, “When I am out in nature, I can worship God more than I can in any other place.”

I understand what they mean, for I am also someone who loves the out-of-doors. But by saying this, these people demonstrate that they do not have a complete understanding of what it means to worship God. They are in the beginning stages of knowing who God is, and they think they have reached the pinnacle of knowledge. They are like a thirteen year old girl who has just had her first crush on a boy and who says, “Now I know what it means to love someone!”

This girl does not really know love yet. True, it might be that she is in the very beginning stages of learning about true love, but what she is experiencing is not yet love. It is infatuation.

In much the same way, people who say that they can know the love of God simply by being outside in nature may be in the beginning stages of knowing who God is, but they do not really know God yet. They are simply infatuated by God.

How is Our Will Involved with Love?

It is true that emotions are a part of love. Feelings do come into play, but true love involves more than infatuation. If we were to base our commitment to someone else simply on the emotions that we feel at the moment, we know that the relationship will never last. Emotions rise and fall. Physical attraction rises and falls.

In any loving relationship that stands the test of time, we know that our will is involved as well as our emotions. There are times when we may not feel like loving the person with whom we committed ourselves, but we choose to do so anyway. It is that act of choosing to continue in a commitment that will carry us through the test of time, even when our emotions do not help us.

When we love in this manner, even when we do not feel like it, we are loving for the benefit of the other person. It is important that we realize this truth. True love is looking out for the interests of the other person rather than for ourselves. We are loving them so that the other person will know that we are committed to them, despite our feelings that may sometimes go against this commitment.

When we understand that true love involves choices as well as emotion, and when we come to see that true love involves our will, then the words of Jesus seem less presumptuous to us. We are choosing to obey because we have seen the love that Jesus has for us.

To repeat part of what Jesus said: 

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Joy in Obedience

In this quote, I would like us to notice a couple of things. The first of these is the very last sentence of this portion. It is the reason that Jesus is saying these things about obedience to his commandments.

The reason that he tells us to keep his commandments is not because he wants to establish that he is in authority over us. This is sometimes the reason in human relationships. Sometimes, a boss or a teacher makes us follow rules simply so that we know that they are in charge. They feel insecure in their position and they need to confirm that authority to themselves as well as to us.

But Jesus has no reason to establish that. By virtue of his creating us, he simply is in charge. There is no disputing that fact.

Rather than this, the reason that Jesus is teaching us about obedience is that we will also know the joy that he has, and that our joy will be “full,” as he says. And it is not only the joy that we will know, but he is trying to teach us about love. If we skip down a few verses, Jesus says, “These things I command you so that you will love one another” (vs.17).

The Example of Jesus

There is something very fundamental that we must come to understand about God. Jesus is not telling us to make a commitment that he himself has not also made. When Jesus is telling us to love him and also to love one another instead of looking out for our own interests, he has shown us that this is how he also acts. The Apostle Paul explains a bit of this to us in the book of Philippians. He says: 

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8 ESV)

In the example of Jesus, his love caused him to choose obedience. It was a selfless act, but it is also important to see that these acts of obedience for the benefit of others are not the end to the matter. We see that by placing others above ourselves, the benefit also returns to us. Paul continues speaking of the obedience of Jesus to the Father… 

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)

The Comparison between Love and Competition

You see, the church stands in stark contrast with the world today. The fuel that powers the engine of the world is competition. In the world, we are competing at every turn. We compete in athletics, of course, but we also compete in our schools and in our work places. International businesses compete with one another for a greater share of sales, and even whole nations are in competition. Trade agreements and peace treaties are often only thinly veiled attempts to try to gain the upper hand economically and militarily. The world is a competitive place.

However, the church is not so; at least, it should not be. In the teachings of Jesus and of the apostles, we learn that there is an alternative to competition. We also learn how the church is to fit into that alternative pattern. In many aspects, the way of the church is diametrically opposed to the pattern of the world. The way of the church also differs from those relationships that are based upon competition.

The very nature of competition pits one person against the other. Of course, in the case of sports, we wish our opponent the best, but there is never a question that, despite what kind words we may say, he or she remains our opponent. If the one with whom we are competing makes a mistake or stumbles, we try to make the most of that mistake and take advantage of the opportunity to lift ourselves over our challenger. There is always a part of us that is looking for our opponent’s weakness.

In some ways, love is fundamentally opposed to competition. Love does not operate in the way of competition. With love, when another rejoices, we also rejoice. What is more, when another weeps, we weep with them (Romans 12:15).

There are also some ways in which love and competition seem to have the same result. Both love and competition can be said to result in the betterment of both oneself and the other. When I demonstrate love toward someone, I seek his betterment. In the act of seeking to improve the other person, I also become a better person.

However, it can be said that competition also often provides this mutually beneficial result. When I need to go against someone in a foot race, for instance, my competitor drives me to put forth my best effort. This results in the betterment of myself and also of my opponent. Through competition, we may reach our highest potential.

It can even be said that it is the same in business. Because of competition in business, industries are forced to produce better products at a lower price. We might see this as a positive aspect of competition, and in some ways, it is.

Differing Centers

Nevertheless, before we speak too glowingly of the results of competition, we must look at one fundamental difference. In competition, there is always the tendency toward self-betterment and self-glorification. Those in a competitive relationship may both benefit in some ways, but each individual is really centered upon himself—how he himself might improve.

I do not have anything against athletic competitions. I have been involved with many of them myself. However, I also think that it is important to realize that the natural tendency of competition is self-glorification. Sporting events are always accompanied with cries of “We’re number one! We’re number one!” That is why the awarding of trophies always occupies such a large role in competitive events. We honor the victor. We play the national anthems of those persons who won the event, not those who lost.

In love, the tendency is away from self. Instead, all good is directed toward the other. In a relationship of love, each individual is actually centered upon how he might improve the other person. In love, we sing the honors of the other person.

The End of Love

But that is not the end of love. The honors do not stay with the other person. Love, as it is directed toward the other person, actually establishes a directional chain, the end of which ultimately leads back to the Creator—back to God. Perfect love as demonstrated to us by Jesus Christ demonstrated will always eventually bring the glory to God.

When we ourselves experience our betterment of because of love, it is not our own greatness that is demonstrated as it is in an athletic completion (for example). It instead demonstrates the greatness of he who made us. In the end, we sing the praises of God.

Enough Benefits for All

However, as we saw in the example of Jesus, we see at the end of love that we ourselves actually benefit also. That is why he said to us, “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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

To be a friend of Jesus, we must learn to obey. In our obedience, we come to learn of the love of God, and we enter into a true and lasting joy. 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us… Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-11 ESV)

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