Loving as Jesus Loves. A Reflection on John 19:12-15

4623404191_05f29a6d86_n“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 NRSV

When you listen to the Beatles’ song “She Loves You” and then listen to “All You Need is Love,” you will probably be correct in thinking that the word “love” is used to refer to two different things. In our English language the word ‘love’ can have very different shades of meaning and one must sometimes be careful when using it. So when Jesus tells us to “love one another,” what is meant? I can remember a deeply theological discussion in grade five where a friend, with a recent Sunday school lesson in mind, declared that he loved a particular girl in a Christian sort of way. The more he talked though, the more it seemed that not hating her passed muster as a Christian kind of love. So when Jesus tells us to love one another, what precisely does that mean?

Thankfully, Jesus narrows it down for us by saying “love one another as I have loved you.” As we look at the rest of the passage, we will learn what it means to love as Jesus loves.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14 NRSV

First, Jesus loves by laying down his life to serve the needs of others. Jesus is pointing forward to the day that he will literally lay his life down to bring salvation to his people. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” Mark 10:45 NRSV. His death and resurrection brings us reconciliation with God, life with God, indeed, eternal life with God. If we are to love one another as Jesus loves we are to learn to lay down our lives for others, to serve what is in the best interests of others.

And if laying down one’s life for one’s friends is an example of love, how much more should we be ready to lay down our lives for our most significant and covenantal relationships. We might say:

  • No husband has greater love than this, than to lay down his life for his wife.
  • No wife has greater love than this, than to lay down her life for her husband.
  • No mother has greater love than this, than to lay down her life for her child.
  • No father has greater love than this, than to lay down his life for his child.
  • No child has greater love than this, than to lay down his or her life for his or her mother/father.
  • No pastor has greater love than this, than to lay down his or her life for Christ’s Church.
  • No church family has greater love than this, than to lay down their lives for the community.

But does laying down one’s life in service fully express what it means to love as Jesus loves? After all, we can serve others while harboring an inner hatred, resentment, or apathy toward them. Is that really love? Let’s look again to our passage:

13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer . . . John 15:13-15a

Laying down his life is not the only expression of Jesus’ love, he also loves by extending friendship. Only two people in the Old Testament were known as being “friends with God,” these being Abraham and Moses. While God spoke to many people in the Old Testament these two seemed to enjoy a special intimacy with God. Jesus gives intimacy as evidence of His friendship:

15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. John 15:15 NRSV

How thrilling a thing it is to be extended a friendship and intimacy with God! So exciting we ought to remind ourselves that God is also due a proper reverence and respect. In teaching us to pray, Jesus points towards both the intimacy we can enjoy with God, but also the reverence we are to bring. We are to pray “Our Father,” the word in the Greek New Testament being a more familiar and intimate term like “Dad.” But we are also to pray “Our Father in heaven.” Lest we get too chummy this is a reminder of the transcendence of God. He is in heaven. We are not. He is righteous. We are not. He is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We are not. He is God. We are not. We enjoy an intimacy with God, he extends friendship, yet “the fear of the Lord” is still appropriate.

Having seen what it means to love as Jesus loves, through laying down our lives in serving the needs of others and extending friendship, we can think of the difference it makes to love as Jesus loves.

Think back to New Testament times and imagine that you are a slave owner. And now you are to love your slaves as Jesus has loved you, laying down your life in service to the slave and extending friendship. What a transformation to the master/slave relationship. We have a beautiful example of this in the Bible where Paul encourages Philemon to take back his runaway and thieving slave, Onesimus:

15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother– especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. Philemon 1:15-16 NRSV

And think also of the marriage relationship. One’s wife would no longer be thought of as property, but as a friend whom the husband will delight in serving. In fact Jesus’ teaching on love can transform marriages today. In pre-marital guidance courses I point out three different kinds of love, which correspond to three different Greek words. A friendship kind of love, philein, a romantic kind of love, eros, and a committed kind of love, agape. I used to say that marriage can survive on agape love, a commitment to the marriage vows, but will thrive on all three. Now I say that a spouse who has agape love for his or her spouse will actively pursue all three. When I love my wife as Jesus loves, I want her to know that she is my best friend. I also want my wife to know that, though I am not very romantic, all the romance I can muster up is for her and her alone. When a man loves a woman the way that Jesus loves, fidelity to marriage vows is not enough. Serving is important. Nurturing a deep friendship is important. You can forgive me for keeping to a male perspective here, but I must ask: How many marriages across our nation would be transformed if all men became avid followers of Jesus? And how many relationships would be transformed if all people learned to love as Jesus loves, laying down their lives in service, and extending genuine friendship?

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 NRSV

photo credit: Heart with metal loop for hanging via photopin (license)

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One thought on “Loving as Jesus Loves. A Reflection on John 19:12-15

  1. No Greater Love | Christianity 201

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