Many years ago now there was a fad over a particularly popular bracelet among Christians. The WWJD bracelets, standing for WHAT WOULD JESUS DO, were all about boiling down our faith to one simple principle: knowing what to do in any situation by thinking of what Jesus would do in that situation and then doing that. While this has some promising things about it, it does have some serious pitfalls. The biggest being that Jesus is utterly unique in what He did. He alone, being the God-Man, could bear the full weight of our sins on the cross and atone for them. Thus, the very heart of our faith is never to be about what we can do, but should always be about what Jesus did for us because we could never do it for ourselves.Also, the Bible never tells to do what Jesus did, it commands us to do as He did. Do you see the tension held in such a bracelet? Why it can be helpful but also why they can be misleading? We are to love others as He did, but we’re to do so not to get in good with God but because of His unique and unrepeatable sacrificial love for us on the cross.
All of this and more is included in our passage before us this morning.
As we continue on in Jesus’ famous metaphor in John 15 I’d like you to notice the three sections within it. While v1-11 concerns the relationship between the vine and the branches, and while v18-25 concerns the relationship between the branches and the world, the passage in the middle, v12-17, concerns the relationship between the branches and other branches. This passage answers a question: how do the branches of the vine relate to one another? Or, how are the branches of the vine to thrive together as branches mutually connected to the vine? Or more pointedly, how we are as Christ’s followers to do life together within the Church? Here’s the answer the text shows us: having been sovereignly loved by God we’re to sacrificially love one another. We see this brought out to us in four ways:
The Command of Sacrificial Love (v12-13)
The Privilege of Sacrificial Love (v14-15)
The Foundation of Sovereign Love (v16)
The Command of Sacrificial Love (v17)
The Command of Sacrificial Love (v12-13)
When most of us think about love, we think about it as a choice. A choice to love or not to love others. And while we think God would prefer us to love others, we also think God must know how truly difficult it is to do so in some cases, that He might understand our choice not to love certain moments. But thinking about love like this is very worldly. Love isn’t present to us in this light in v12, as if it were a choice left up to us to do or not do. No, it’s presented as a command to obey or disobey. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” In v10 we heard Jesus speak of His commandments and there He said if we obeyed His commandments we would abide in His love, just as He obeyed His Father’s commandments and abides in His love. Taking v12 into account we now see more. The way we abide in Christ’s love is by obeying His commandments. Commandments that are not left undefined but summarized for in v12 as loving one another as He loved us. So by seeing love as a command and by obeying this command to love to one another, we find not only obedience to Christ in view but a continual abiding in Christ in view as well. To put it negatively, those who refuse to love do are not abiding in Christ. To put it positively, “Jesus defines the life of abiding in Him as a life of love.”
But more is in view in v12. It does speak of love as a command but goes further to define the kind of love we’re to give one another, “…love one another as I have loved you.” To take this in, recall v9 where Jesus said, “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you…” In these soul settling words Jesus doesn’t merely state that He has loved us, but that He has loved us in the exact same way the Father loved Him. How does the Father love the Son? With an everlasting and eternal exuberant delight. We saw this at Jesus’ baptism as the Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove and we heard this as the voice of the Father came out of the heavens saying Jesus is not just His ‘Son’ but His ‘beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased.’ Indeed no one can plumb the depths of the love of the Father for the Son for all eternity past, present, and future. It is a well without bottom, an ocean without shore, and a feast without end. v9 is then, as Jesus applies this to us, a great reminder of how high, how wide, and how deep the Son’s love is for us. He loves us with the same everlasting and eternal exuberant delight. See the threefold cord here: first the love between Father and Son leads to, second the love between Jesus and the disciples, which third is now to be reflected in our love for one another.
But perhaps you already feel a problem within you. Perhaps you see v12 as daunting as v9 was beautiful.Why would v12 be daunting? Because in it we’re not merely commanded to love one another, we’re commanded to love one another “…as Jesus has loved us.” So our love toward one another isn’t to be merely sentimental, merely pleasant, or merely made up of good manners as if the Church were a religious version of Downtown Abbey. The love we’re commanded to goes beyond all pleasantries because it is a Christ-like love. And a Christ-like love is a love that demands all of us. It is costly. It is sacrificial.
v13 expands on this giving us the greatest example of this kind of love saying, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” In just a few more hours Jesus will display this very thing as He lays down His very life on the cross, absorbing in His flesh the full penalty of sin, making a full atonement for sinners who come needy, weak, and desperate for Him. Every other sacrifice made among men and women is a sacrifice of a life that would’ve died one day.Jesus’ sacrifice isn’t in that category. He had, was, and would’ve existed forever along side His Father but He came. For who? For His enemies, those who were hostile to Him, and at odds with Him, and in full knowledge of this He still laid His life down. There is no greater love than this. John will use this later in 1 John 3:16 to teach us how we ought to do the same saying this is how we know what love is, because He laid down His life for us we ought to lay down our lives for one another. One commentator put it like this, “…we must be prepared for a possible future in which we surrender our lives, as many martyrs have done throughout Church history.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid that if we don’t give this reality serious thought we might just be deceiving ourselves with a show of religion. Other believers in other nations do not have our comforts and luxury, and we’d do well to be reminded of their plight to be reminded of what we must do if the time comes for it. As you look around at one another’s faces, ask yourself this: would you give lay down your life for them? None of us are worth it, and there is nothing in us that deserves this kind of devotion, but aren’t we glad that Jesus didn’t look at or in us to see if we were worth it when He died for us? Indeed we are. Therefore, just as it Christ’s willingness to come and die wasn’t motivated by what was in us but what was in Him, so too, our willingness to love one another as Christ loved us isn’t to be motivated by what’s in any of us but what’s in Christ as well. His greater love must be our great love as well. This is the command of sacrificial love.
The Privilege of Sacrificial Love (v14-15)
As Jesus moves on He says some words the disciples are not likely to forget, “You are My friends if you do what I command you. 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.”
Once again we see that it’s obedience that marks a true disciple of Christ. Jesus’ friends are only those who obey Jesus’ commands, and those who obey His commands are the only ones who can truly claim to be friends with Him. There isn’t a works based salvation in view here, that we are saved and become His friends by our obedience to His commands, no. Rather it is obedience to His commands that is to be the chief characteristic of those who are truly His friends.This is the great privilege of being so loved by Jesus, that He would call us His friends. There is something new here to notice. In the Old Testament it was only Abraham who was called a friend of God and was given insight and access into the deep things of God. He was the exception not the rule. The norm was that the people of God did not know the ins and outs of God’s redemptive plan and purposes in the world. But now, it is no longer that way. Now, in the New Covenant, all Christians are no longer servants but friends, who know the Master’s business. True there is much the disciples then and we today do not know and have yet to learn, but Jesus didn’t treat the disciples then and doesn’t treat us today as mere slaves who know nothing, but as friends who know all that the Father revealed to Him. This ought to befuddle us. Many times, friendship is rare for people in high positions. Rather than being known and loved, they are often just looked at from afar and admired. How much higher is Christ than everyone else? And yet, here, He calls His own His friends!
An intimacy is present here between Jesus and His own that reminds me of the movie Meet The Parents. Remember it? The daughter brings home her new boyfriend and throughout the whole movie he labors to be get access into or be brought into the father’s famous ‘circle of trust.’ But try and try as he may, he fails time and time again. I wonder if some of you view the Christian life like this. Like you’re always trying to get into God’s circle of trust by what you do and feel like He not only won’t allow you in but is always mildly disappointed with your efforts. If that’s you, be corrected today. Any and all who turn their back on sin and come to Christ by faith are welcomed by Christ as friends, no longer orphans, aliens, strangers, or servants. Do not see a contradiction here between what Jesus says and what Paul says. Jesus does calls His followers friends and Paul continually calls himself a slave of Christ. Well, which is it, slave or friend? Happily, we answer, both. Jesus is truly our Sovereign King and Master and upon our conversion we who were once slaves of sin become slaves of righteousness, that also experience in our relationship with Christ an intimacy thoroughly enjoyed, an inheritance freely given, and a charge to courageously obey. Charles Spurgeon spoke to this reality saying, “Happy are His people, glad to be His servants, gladder still to be His friends.”Or as Chris Tomlin once sang, “The One who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine!”
Indeed, to be called a friend of Christ is a high privilege of being sacrificially loved by Christ.
The Foundation of Sovereign Love (v16)
Lest the high privilege of being made friends with Jesus goes to the disciples heads and puffs them up making them think they’re all that, Jesus reminds them and reminds us that our friendship with Him did not start with us, but with Him. Or to say it another way, the sacrificial love of Christ is founded on the sovereign love of Christ. We see this in v16, “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.”
We naturally kick against this truth. We tend to believe that we are the men and women we are because of us, because of our good choices and because of our good behavior. In the disciples day Rabbi’s didn’t choose their pupils but were chosen by their pupils. Jesus reminds us here that this isn’t the case. That the disciples and we ourselves are who we are, not because of us but because of Him. It was not the disciples or ourselves that chose Him, the choice belongs to Him. Indeed given our sinful nature that all too easily hates everything holy and sacred, we’d would never choose Him unless He first chose us and changed our heart giving us a new nature that desires the very holy and sacred things once alien to our natural tastes. Jesus has mentioned this before in John’s gospel. In 1:12-13 we read, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Later in 6:44 we read, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” And here in 15:16 we read the same thing. Being drawn and chosen by is a privilege, but God didn’t chose to puff up but to humble the ones chosen.
But why were they and why were we chosen? Answer: to bear fruit, fruit that is more than just momentary, fruit that will last. The same fruit of the Spirit produced in us through the Father’s pruning. This has been in view since v2 of this chapter, and here in v16 we find that this fruit is one of the reasons God chose us long ago, that He would produce His fruit in us. So sovereign electing love is for salvation but it’s for salvation to a specific mission, “…that you should goand bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” This same pruning and resulting fruit is described in Hebrews 12:11 which says, “For the moment all discipline (read here a John 15 kind of ‘pruning’) seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 13:15 speaks of the ‘fruit of the lips’ that continually offers praise to God. Paul prays for this fruit in Philippians 1:9-11 saying, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” And in Romans 1:13 Paul speaks of his missionary efforts saying he desires to reap a harvest of gospel fruit in Rome. The fruit being spoken of in John 15 is all of these things combined.God chose us to bear this fruit, God is glorified by this fruit, God prunes us to bear this fruit, and God promises that this fruit will last ‘as we go’ throughout this life because His sovereign work started it, sustains it, and sees it to through to the end.
But that’s not all He says about this fruit. How are we to go about fanning this fruit into flame as we go throughout life? Through prayer. See the end of v16, “…so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.” God intends prayer to be one of the means we continually give ourselves to in order to bear lasting fruit. Just as motor oil is the lubrication used to help an engine run smoothly, so too, “…prayer is the lubricating fluid for the engine of fruit-bearing, we need it to run smoothly.”
Conclusion: The Command of Sacrificial Love (v17)
We now end where we began. How do branches on the vine relate to other branches on the vine? Having been sovereignly and sacrificially loved by Christ, we’re to sacrificially love one another. v17, “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
Why repeat the command to love again? Well, God must know need to be reminded of this very thing. Being twice reminded of this command, means we must remember this command. When another Christian wrongs you, when another Christian offends you, when another Christian hurts you…what will you do? How will you respond? Remember this is commanded here in our text, but back in John 13:34 Jesus told us it was this love that is one the greatest witnesses to gospel grace the lost world could ever see. Perhaps then, I think we can gauge the sincerity of our faith by our willingness to love one another as Christ loved us.
Come back with me to the idea of the WWJD bracelets. I propose a change. Rather than saying WWJD (what would Jesus do?) I say it ought to be WDJD (what didJesus do?) so that we’d have a useful reminder of what He did for me and what He also commands me to be willing to do for my brothers and sisters.
May God’s sovereign electing love ever produce in us a Christ saturated sacrificial love!
Richard Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2014) page 301-302.
Gospel Transformation Study Bible, notes on 15:12-17, page 1436.
Grant Osborne, John – Verse by Verse (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2018) page 361.
R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2009) page 291-292.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 522.
Charles Spurgeon Study Bible, notes on 15:15, page 1451.
John MacArthur Study Bible, notes on 15:16, page 1616.