“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:12-13
In Jesus’ farewell discourse, he lays out the expectations he has of his followers and the divine community they create. He has already told them that the community is to be rooted and bound to God just as branches are bound to a life-giving vine. His followers bear the good fruit of transformation, as long as they are united with the vine under the care of the vine dresser. As Jesus extends the discussion to his followers’ relationships with one another, he offers clear instruction, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
The Bible is famous for its commandments – the Ten Commandments, the Great Commandments, and Jesus’ final commandment. These commandments are not unrelated. The Great Commandment, which is recorded in Mark 12:29-31, draws from the Jewish Torah – Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” and Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This “Great Commandment” gives rise to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17), in which the first four commandments concern love for God (righteousness) and the final six commandments concern love for neighbor (justice). The final commandment, which Jesus offers in John 15, defines the love which makes every other commandment possible.
Jesus’ words are not just “that you love one another,” but rather “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus is calling his followers to a higher, purer, costlier love than mere affection. He is calling for sacrificial love, an others-oriented love, a love that is greater even than death, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This kind of pure, others-centered, sacrificial love is unknown in human nature, in which love is self-directed, often in toxic ways. It is only as his followers feed on his divine nature, just as a branch is fed from the nutrients of the vine, that they are capable of living out this final commandment and live as part of God’s mighty movement.
Christ Jesus, help me love as you love and live as you live. Amen
A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston.