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The Apostle John, along with Paul, has given us some incredibly deep teachings and insights about love in the Scriptures. John particularly seemed to have a special sensitivity to the subject. He even referred to himself in his writings as, “the one whom Jesus loves.” No other apostle or disciple referred to himself in any way similar to that.
What a sensitive spirit and heart John must have had. Some of the teachings and principals Jesus taught the disciples about love are found only in John’s writings. Why is that? Granted, all the writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and they scribed only what they were told. Yet, the personality of each author was allowed to come through and interject his own style of writing, and John’s interest in the subject of “love” comes through his writings loud and clear.
The most significant writings of John, not recorded by anyone else, are the words and prayer Jesus shared with the disciples in the upper room in chapters 13-17 of the Gospel of John. The focus of this commentary is on just a few verses from those chapters. While I realize that these words were spoken to the disciples, it makes sense that the same message and principles would apply to us today.
Twice in the 15th chapter of John, Jesus commands us to love one another:
This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.
These things I command you, that ye love one another.
In the 9th verse, we’re told to continue in His love, as He has loved us, and as His Father has loved Him.
Do you think His message was clear enough? Jesus didn’t “suggest” that we love one another. He didn’t say it would be “nice” if we loved one another. He didn’t even say to love one another if we “felt like it.” He gave us an outright, unconditional command to love. No maybes. No buts. No debate. No argument. “Love.” It’s an imperative statement. He commands it.
Okay, let’s say we get that part. Exactly what does loving one another entail? Going to Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 13 would be a good start. Consider the actions we will show toward others when love is being applied:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. (vs. 4)
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (vs. 5)
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (vs. 6)
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (vs. 7)
Love never fails. (vs. 8)
The list above is pretty hefty; yet when we truly love someone, it’s achievable. But what about someone we don’t like very much? What about the person who doesn’t speak to us at church? What about the person at work who has been undermining our abilities to the boss, or spreading rumors? What about the spouse, or significant other, who has been unfaithful? Loving them is an entirely different issue. It’s much, much harder to be patient or kind to someone who treats us unkindly. It’s difficult to trust in someone who has betrayed us. The hardest part of putting the above behavior into action is that it is required 24/7. It’s not just required when we’re face to face with one of our less than favorite people, and we put on a smile that is less than sincere. Jesus commanded us to love -- agapaō love. Nothing less than a Godly, perfect love toward others is acceptable.
If you think that’s tough, hold on because there’s even more to come:
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
“If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings…”
“If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father’s
commandments, and abide in His love.”
No matter in which order you put the words, it’s clear that if we love the Lord, we will keep His commandments. And, if we keep His commandments, we will love others. Obeying Jesus’ command to love others cannot be ignored or downplayed, because if you look closely, our keeping Jesus’ commandments, of which one of them is loving others, has a direct bearing on how we are loved by the Father and the Son.
Let’s go back, however, to the verse “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” If I combine the message of all the verses we’ve read so far, I have to come to the conclusion that if I don’t love others, because that’s what Jesus commanded me to do, then I don’t love Jesus. Many of us are quick to expound our love for our Lord and Savior, but it’s our actions that will reveal the truth within our heart.
John continued this theme in his epistle of 1 John. Consider these verses:
“But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.”
1 John 2:5
“This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
1 John 3:11
“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another
as he commanded. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.”
1 John 3:23-24b
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
1 John 4:8
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
1 John 4:11
“And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
1 John 4:21
“This is how we know that we love the children of God; by loving God and carrying out
his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands.”
1 John 5:2-3
I suggest you read 1 John for yourself to really grasp the emphasis John placed on love. We know without a doubt that his letters were written to the believers and Church of that day, so we can’t make any excuses that the message was just for the disciples. It was meant for us.
Merge that with this thought. Back in John 13, Jesus left the disciples a new commandment in verses 34 & 35. He said, “…love ye one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
This new commandment was given literally weeks before He ascended from this earth. This was a new commandment that was given to the disciples that was to be in force from that time forward. Guess what? Those words are still in force, and they are still applicable to us.
The message implies that the primary means by which others will know that we are a disciple of Jesus Christ is by the love we have toward them. Allow me to take a side trip here. Too often we apply these “love” principals primarily to unbelievers, with the motive of loving the lost to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But for some reason, we often drop the ball when it comes to loving other believers. I have worked in several churches and ministries, and I have also worked in the corporate, Fortune 200 environment. Though it doesn’t make sense, at times it was more difficult working with believers than with unbelievers. Even so-called “Christian” environments can have employees or members who are dishonest, unethical, petty, gossips, and unforgiving. If an unbeliever happened to slip in unawares, they would forsake Christianity forever from what they observed.
Perhaps we would be more conscious of loving each other if we took to heart that when we don’t, we will not be known as a disciple of Christ. While it’s not the angry, loud, verbal denial that Peter committed, when we don’t love as we’ve been commanded to love, it’s a way of denying Christ.
If you thought this has been a difficult commentary so far, the hardest part is coming up. The 14th verse of John 15 reads:
“These are my friends, if ye do whatever I command you.”
And, what did He command us to do? He commanded us to love one another. Are you reading between the lines? He’s put a condition on our friendship with Him. Basically what He’s saying is, “I’m commanding you to love one another; therefore, if you don’t, you are not my friend.” Are you getting this? Our friendship with Jesus Christ is on the line when we don’t heed his commandment to love others. He’s not saying that He’ll love us less, but He is saying that our unloving actions will affect our relationship with Him.
We’re quite often flippant about not liking certain people. We sometimes even find ourselves bragging about how we mistreated someone else, or we justify being ugly toward someone because they were rude to us first. When we disrespect those in authority over us, we have not displayed God’s love. When we are spiteful, gossipy and speak badly of someone, we are not demonstrating the love of which we were commanded.
I don’t know about you, but I can think of no one on this planet earth for whom it is worth jeopardizing my friendship with my Lord Jesus. If I am not His friend when I don’t follow through with loving others, then I would be a fool not to make loving others one of my top priorities in this life. It means that when I’m sarcastic, and the tone in my voice is demeaning or cutting, or if I even call another driver an idiot for his lack of driving skills, my friendship with Jesus is on the line. If I talk about someone behind their back, or I disrespect my boss, I have not loved as Jesus commanded. When I don’t forgive as Christ has forgiven me, I am not showing the love of Christ. I have no room to say, “I can’t stand that person.” That’s not obeying Christ’s command.
You know what I’ve decided? I’ve decided that love needs to be on my radar screen 24/7. It needs to be in the forefront of my mind every time I open my mouth or begin to think an unkind thought towards someone. I can make no excuse, nor can I justify doing anything less than Jesus commanded. There is no greater goal to achieve than being Jesus’ friend. I want that more than life itself. For me, love is not optional. How about for you?