As the Father has loved me, so I have 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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
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. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John
15:9-17 – NRSV)
A. This text from John expands and deepens the teaching that Jesus has just given in the metaphor of the vine – see John 15:1-8. The Greek verb meno (μένω), meaning ‘remain’, ‘stay’, ‘abide’, ‘make your home’, ‘continue’ is used eight times in those verses where we hear the metaphor of the vine, and is used a further three times in our Gospel text. “The immediate link with the preceding verses is the ‘remain’ language. Remaining in the vine (v. 4) has already been tied to obedience to Jesus’ words (v. 7); now the same point is made a different way. The agricultural metaphor has its limitations; it does not depict the unfathomable love that sets the disciples in this new intimacy.” (D A Carson, The Gospel according to John, W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 520.)
B. The opening sentence is particularly rich: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”
a. Discipleship is a new way of being. It is a being in love. Jesus uses the relationship he has with the Father to explain this new way of being: “The relationship between the Father and the Son is frequently set forth in chs. 13–17 as the paradigm for the relationship between Jesus and his disciples.” (D A Carson, op cit, 520.)
b. This new way of being comes from being “born from above” – see for example the conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:3-8.
i. This is the essence of what Jesus calls “the kingdom” – see for example frequent references in Matthew, especially in Chapter 13. Paul speaks of “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
c. The initiative lies with God but this does not imply pure passivity on the part of the disciple. The disciple must respond and choose to “abide” in that love.
d. The disciple’s commitment and the daily living that give concrete expression to the abiding, are grounded in God, enlivened by God and given direction and purpose by God. John reminds us in his First Letter: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. …. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:7-8 & 10.) One scholar reminds us: “My love is best taken in the sense of ‘my love for you’, rather than ‘your love for me’ … In some languages it may not be easy to say ‘remain in my love for you’.
Perhaps for this reason some translators take the easy way out by rendering ‘continue to love me’. This, however, certainly does not seem to be the meaning, especially as indicated by verse 10. However, if one is to express the meaning of ‘my love for you’, it may be necessary to say ‘remain joined to me so that I may love you’.” (B M Newman, & E A Nida, A handbook on the Gospel of John, United Bible Societies, 1993, 484-485.)
i. The following injunction – “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” – must be read in the light of the foregoing. The love that we bring to the world is God’s love. We are able to be this source of love to the extent that we “abide in his love”. One of the songs in the finale to Les Miserables is beautifully suggestive of this: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
C. John immediately emphasizes the inseparable link between obedience and 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.”
D. The word “commandments” should be taken as a general reference to Jesus’ will. His will and the Father’s will are one: “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (8:29). “The obedience of Jesus is one of the central Christological realities articulated by this Gospel (e.g. 4:34; 5:19ff.; 6:38; 8:29, 55; 10:17–18; 12:27–28; 14:31). Elsewhere that obedience ensures that Jesus’
revelation is nothing less than divine (5:19ff.); here it serves as the supreme paradigm for the obedience we owe.” (D A Carson op cit, 520.) The same author continues: “….however much God’s love for us is gracious and undeserved, continued enjoyment of that love turns, at least in part, on our response to it. Lest we should fill the injunction to remain in Christ’s love with some insipid, pious jargon, v. 11 immediately makes the issue clear. If we are the recipients of Jesus’ love in a way analogous to his own reception of the Father’s love, we must remain in Jesus’ love by exactly the same means by which he has always remained in his Father’s love: obedience, that total obedience which finds Jesus testifying, ‘The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him’ (8:29).” (D A Carson, op cit, 520.)
E. The notion of ‘obedience’ should not be limited to merely doing as one is told. Jesus ‘obedience’ to the Father must be understood in the context of the communion into which we are invited when he says ‘abide in my love’ (John 15:9). This invitation is followed immediately by his statement: ‘I abide in his love’ (John 15:10). The obedience is an expression of the communion and in turn confirms that communion.
When you find yourself doing something good – being caring, generous, compassionate, forgiving etc – is your first instinct to be satisfied or is your first instinct to be grateful? Feeling satisfied is almost certainly a sign of egocentricity. At the very least it shows there is a lot more growing to be done.
For someone who is intent on living out their baptism – “I live now not I but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19) – any experience of goodness is an experience of God. We could say that care, compassion, generosity, forgiveness etc are other names for God. That is reason to be grateful – especially given that is happening through you. You are an extension of the incarnation, the enfleshing of God in and for the world.
Thomas Merton wrote in a letter of August 1967: “We exist solely for this, to be the place He has chosen for His presence, His manifestation in the world, His epiphany.” (“A Letter on the Contemplative Life” in Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master – The Essential Writings, edited by Lawrence S Cunningham, Paulist Press, 1992, 425.)
Excessive emphasis on right behaviour in the Christian tradition has severely undermined our experience of being in Christ. It also engendered an image of God as judge, someone who measures our behaviour and loves and judges accordingly. Once we begin thinking of God primarily as judge it is difficult for any other idea or image of God to take effect. More commonly, the next thing is the destructive line of thinking that, if we do the ‘right thing’ – whatever that might mean at a given time in history and in a given set of circumstances – then God will loves and we will go to heaven. However, if we do the ‘wrong thing’ – again, whatever that might
mean – then God will not love us and we will go to hell.
Hans Kung exposes a hard truth we too easily overlook:
“What is it really that stands … between God and man? Paradoxically, it is man’s own morality and piety: his ingeniously devised moralism and his selective technique of piety. It is not–as people at that time thought–the tax swindlers who find it most difficult to repent, not being able to remember all those whom they have cheated or how much they would have to restore. No: it is the devout who find it most difficult, being so sure of
themselves that they have no need of conversion. They became Jesus’ worst enemies. Most of the sayings on judgment in the Gospels apply to these, not to the great sinners. Those who finally sealed his fate were not murderers, cheats, swindlers and adulterers, but the highly moral people. They thought that in this way they were doing a service to God.” (Hans Kung, On Being a Christian, Doubleday, 197411976, 211.)
Through baptism we are a ‘new creation’, ‘born from above’. Being a disciple of Jesus is primarily about liberation – the liberation of the truth of who and what we are as people baptized into Christ.
Will this give rise to ‘good behaviour’? Is there a moral vision in the Gospels? The answer to both questions is a resounding ‘Yes!’ But the ‘good behaviour’ and the fulfilment of the moral vision come from God. Our task? Listen, hear and submit! Facilitate, enable and get out of the way and let God be God in you! (Meister Eckhart)