Sep 25, 2016
Part 65 - John 15:12
Love each other
In our last ‘Gem’ we looked at the pruning of the branches of the vine – that is us – if we do not bear as much ‘fruit’ as we should. The really big question is ‘what is the fruit?’ of which Jesus was speaking. The answer is quite surprising – it is ‘love’. That is what Jesus goes on to talk about in the immediately following passage. He says, “remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love,” and “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”, and “I appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last” and “This is my command: Love each other.”
Now ‘Love’ is a very tricky word! Very obviously ‘love’ in this passage and in the New Testament generally is not quite the same thing as ‘love’ as it is in everyday life. Famously, the Greeks had several words for ‘love’ where we have only one. A great many sermons have been preached on the different words for ‘love’ Jesus used in the discussion he had with Peter in the last chapter of this gospel but it is now widely thought that there is no real difference in the meaning between those words.
How then are we to understand the word ‘love’ and how are we to distinguish between everyday common ‘love’ and the sort we have here? (I exclude the use of the word in phrase like ‘I love my car’ or ‘I love the view from here’ keeping to the interpersonal use of the word.) My thinking on this goes like this:
There are 3 phases to a love between two people; there may be some overlap between them. The first phase is almost always emotional. It may be ‘love at first sight’ between 2 people or the love of a mother for her new-born baby. The second phase is hard to describe with a single word – we will make do with developmental. These are the days or months or years after the initial surge of love feeling in which the relationship develops as the two parts of it slowly get to know each other and grow together. Unfortunately much modern Western thinking discourages people from allowing this phase to develop, wrongly thinking that people can continue to live and love on the sole basis of the emotional phase. The third phase is one of action when on the basis of the thinking of the development stage the potential lovers: man and woman, two of a kind, parent and child grow steadily closer, working out who does what in supporting the relationship. This alone will lead to the true deep and lasting love that we all crave.
So in our human relationships to which we attach the label ‘love’ we have emotional, developmental and action phases. What happens when we try to describe Biblical love in these terms, as we must, knowing no others? Biblical love is about either the love of God for a human being or beings or the love of a human for God.
Consider the first of those – we know that God loves humans because he tells us so in John 3: 16, “ for God so loved the world” where the context clearly indicates he is talking about not only the totality of humans but the individual human so that the one who believes in Jesus is saved and the one who does not is condemned. But there is absolutely no equivalent to the first phase of the human love sequence. God even tells us he does not love for any emotional reason in Deuteronomy 7: 7, 8 where he says, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” There was nothing remotely like emotion involved. The love came first, purely out of the hidden purposes of Almighty God. From then on the other two phases, of development and action, are interwoven. God taught his ancient people through his actions. He, so to speak, developed himself step by step. It was never his fault that his people proved to be very slow and poor scholars.
Then we come to the second type of Biblical love in which we are to love God. That is tough to do and cannot start with the emotions. Some people: hermits, recluses, monks, spiritual guides; try to make it do so by their adoration of Jesus. Whether they are very successful very often is extremely doubtful. We, ordinary mortals, need to take the longer, harder but surer route, working steadily at the development of our understanding of Jesus and his work and then using that understanding to give us the potential for action on his behalf. Paul explained what he was doing when he said, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3: 7 – 11).
The two roads that we should be on, the human-to-human road of love and the human to God road of love are neither of then easy.
I can only end by saying I hope those thoughts may be helpful to someone. They are by no means absolute. Think about them, perhaps even argue them out with a friend or friends. These are in many ways the greatest challenges that face us in life. Paul says the results are of ‘surpassing worth’. Sure thing. Go to it.<
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