Rev. Doug Floyd
Acts 11:19-30, Psalm 33, 1 John 4:7-21, John15:9-17
In John 13 through 17, Jesus gathers the disciples to Himself for a final meal before His ascent to the cross. Over the course of the evening, Jesus speaks about the communion of love he shares with the Father. He also emphasizes the communion of love He shares with the disciples. He binds these loves. By the Spirit, the disciples share a familial communion with one another. At the same time, Jesus tells them they will share the fullness of love that He shares with the Father.
He calls the disciples to follow His pattern of love. Like the deep roots of a great tree, the shared love of these disciples, these friends of God will grow up into the fullness of God and cover the earth in glory.
Jesus 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.’” (John 15:9-12)
Here is a picture of the joy for which we were created. Here is a picture of the song that reverberates throughout all creation. It is the symphony of mutual love: the reciprocal sharing of life in all things. This picture of love seems out of touch, absurd, false to the way the world is. It seems unrealistic in a world of conflict, of political wrangling, of violent oppression, of self-serving leaders.
This reminds me of the odd juxtaposition of the Karamazov brothers. First, there is Dmitri Karamazov (a man of uncontrolled passions); then there is Ivan Karamazov (a man of cold rationality that leads to denial of God and morality). These two brothers stand in contrast with Alyosha who is a man of filled with love for God, love for his brothers, and love for all creation. Alyosha seems naive to the ways of the world, but eventually both Dmitri and Ivan will both come face to face with the reality of Alyosha’s love that continues to grow and flourish on the soil of a cold, hate-filled world. The love of God takes root in the wastelands of our world and our hearts.
Jesus calls the disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.” What is the pattern of Jesus’s love? We find images of God’s love all through the Old Testament.
Psalm 33:5 reminds us that the “earth is full of the steadfast love of God.” If I look up into the heavens, I am struck by the wonder of God’s love. If I look out into the seas, I see the faithful love of God. Though I often wander blind in a world lit with God’s glory, I cannot hide from His wonders in every patch of this blue planet. As Bob Dylan sings, “In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.”
The steadfast love of God surrounds the Psalmist when waking and sleeping, bringing satisfaction. The kindness of God provides him refuge, preserves him, follows him, holds him up, comforts him. This all-embracing love is better than life itself (Psalm 63:4).
Throughout the stories and songs and prayers of the Old Testament writers, we hear witnesses to the love of God. This love is hesed, a kindness, a love act, a mutual exchange of love. Thus humans respond to the outpouring of love with obedience, with praise, with joy. This love is reciprocal moving back and forth between giver and receiver. Of course, the stories tells us that humans often spurn this love, turn from it, disobey. In spite of failing to reciprocate, they continue to receive mercy and grace. The sun still rises, the earth still spins, life is still sustained by the generosity of God. The good and the evil men all enjoy the fruit of a creation that is pure gift.
When Jesus gathers His disciples for this meal in John 13, He tells them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:33–35). If the Old Testament is filled with images of God’s overwhelming love and humans are called to reciprocate and love one another, how can this be a new command?
Is there a way of loving that we see in Jesus that we may not see in the Old Testament? Jesus himself is gift. As the gift of the Father, His very life and death is a gift of love poured out for the world. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16). “He has come that we might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (Jn 1:16). “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (Jn 1:17–18).
Jesus comes to make known the Father. He comes to reveal the Father’s love. He comes reconcile with the enemies of God by entering into the breach, the sin that has broken the bond between God and humanity. As we turn to Him, we “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29).
He rescues His people from the grips of the evil one, from sin and death, from those habits and patterns of thought and action that so easily beset us. He comes with the gift of the Spirit. In His death, resurrection, and ascension, He prepares the way for the coming of the Spirit of God who will dwell with us and be in us, who leads us into all truth.
The Spirit of the Living God leads us into the way of the life, the way of every-increasing glory. The Spirit convicts us of righteousness, exposing the works of death and transforms us that we might bear His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Ga 5:22–23).
If Jesus has called us to love one another, as He has loved us, how can we do that? It appears that the work of His redeeming love is exclusive. We cannot overcome sin and death by dying on the cross. But by the grace of His Spirit we do in fact bear witness to His redeeming work of grace. “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 and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:9–10).
As we come to behold and rest and enjoy the redeeming work of Christ, we realize that He has come not simply bearing a one-time “get out of hell” card. Rather, He comes to deliver us from the power of sin and death. It is within the communion of love with one another, we see glimpses of His grace at work. As we spend time with one another, we come face to face with our own insufficiencies. Our own impatience. Our own frustrations with other humans.
In the rough edges of community, there are challenges. If we are honest with ourselves, we begin to realize our failure to love, our struggle with other people, our difficulty in forgiveness. We return to the grace of God in Christ. Jesus reveals to us that love is not inactive feeling but active obedience. Paul tells us in Galatians that the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Our faith in Christ takes shape in our love for one another.
It is in the communion of faith that we learn “not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.” (Romans 12:3). We come recognize that as God’s people, we are one family, one body. Within this family, we learn to pour out our gifts for one another by teaching, serving, exhorting, prophesying, giving, showing mercy. It is “loving one another with brotherly affection. It is seeking to “outdo one another in showing honor.” (Ro 12:10).
It is doing nothing out of selfish ambition but counting others more significant than ourselves. This is difficult. It can feel like a mini death because it is seeking to live out the mind of Christ “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.” (Php 2:6–8).
These patterns of love become our apologetic to a world that does not belief. These patterns of love are difficult and expose our weaknesses, our selfishness, and our limited willingness to love. As we face our own lack of fruit, our own tepid love, we confidently return to the throne of mercy and grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16).And this is the way love is.
We are being changed from faith to faith, from love to love, from glory to glory. As we live out the reality of this reciprocal love within the family of God, we turn out to a world in need as witnesses of grace and even agents of reconciliation. We begin to love one another as Jesus loved us. In Christ and by His Spirit, we reveal the love of the Father to the world and the help lead the world into the everlasting song of praise and thanksgiving to our God.