John 15:13

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”-John 15:13

Jesus expanded upon the meaning of true love. His love was one of service to others and seeking the best for them, which is the life he has called each of us to live. He said that the greatest love comes from a willingness to lay down one’s life for others. He was less than 24 hours from the cross where he would willingly offer this ultimate sacrifice for his friends. Greater love indeed.

Loving others may involve real sacrifice, not merely mild discomfort. Through the last two millennia, many Christians have died for their faith, which has served to extend the kingdom of God. Tertullian, the early church father, said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Even if we are not called to die for our faith, we are asked to daily lay down our lives.

Jesus, help me to never lose sight of the beauty of your crucifixion, the ultimate act of self-denial. You died so that I might live. Teach me to live in such a way that I lay my self-centeredness at the foot of the cross and live to love others fully. Amen.

John 15:12

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”-John 15:12

Once again, Jesus returns to his commandment. His wording mirrors what he said in John 13:34. Remember, repetition helps remembrance and there is nothing more important for us to remember that Jesus loves us, and in turn we are called to love like him. Our love is not some formless, squishy emotion, but service, self-denial, and other-centeredness. Jesus’s love took him to the cross.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by this commandment? Jesus was perfect in every way. Though he was human, he never sinned. He always loved perfectly. How can we achieve his standard of love and service? I think Jesus asked us to live in the manner of Jesus even though we are far from perfect, seeking opportunities to serve, uplift, and bless others. He wants our lives to reflect his kindness and goodness. He wants us to love others in the ways we need to be loved, but we cannot do this if we fail to understand how rooted and grounded we are in Christ’s love.

Jesus, lover of my soul, heart, mind, and body, help me to become love as you are love. Help me to offer extravagant grace and sacrificial love to a lost and hurting world. Amen.

John 15:11

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”-John 15:11

Don’t disconnect Jesus’s words in this verse from his relationship with his friends as if he were delivering a sermon. He wasn’t going through a message outline; I suspect he was responding to their reactions. Did he see something in their faces that suggested that they were fearful and downcast?

He did not want his words to make them feel fearful or condemned, but “so their joy may be full.” What did he say that would lead to joy? He told them that he was with them and would never leave them alone. He said that he would give them his peace and love, indeed his very Spirit. When we begin to grasp the fullness of his promises, they fill us with a sense of joy and contentedness, completeness, fulfillment, and often happiness. Will we choose today to live into the fullness of joy Jesus provides?

Jesus, you promise joy, but I confess that I rarely feel its fullness. Fan the flame of your joy in my soul so that I might radiate your beauty to all who see me. Amen.

John 15:10

“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.”-John 15:10

Once again, Jesus returned to “commandments.” When we drift toward legalism, we think, “Phew! Just give me something to do,” but when we recall our freedom, we think “Wait, I thought that in Christ, I am free to do whatever I please.” For many of us, talk of commands stirs up all sorts of feelings, expectations, and emotions.

Perhaps you didn’t realize that Jesus gave any commandments, but in reality he gave dozens. You might be thinking, “I can’t even remember the 10 commandments, much less keep them. What am I supposed to do with dozens?” However, remember that Jesus boiled the commands down into something much easier to remember, though implementation remains challenging: love one another. A couple of times in the upper room, he told the disciples to love. Earlier, he had told them that they were to love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves (Mk. 12:30).

What commandments should we keep? We are to love. I have been thinking of this recently in terms of a 360 degree love—up, down, in, and out. In fact, I made up an acronym to help me remember: LUDIO. Our operating system as Christians is to love. When we love, we uphold Christ’s commandments.

Jesus, you commanded me to love God and love others. Although simple in principle, in reality, loving is one of the hardest things. I cannot love apart from your Spirit’s work in me. Thank you that you have promised he would always be working. Amen.

John 15:9

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.”-John 15:9

What a breathtaking truth! The love between the Father and Son is ever flowing perfection. The Trinity has eternally delighted in one another. Their divine dance is eternally full of joy and complete commitment to one another, so much so that they are truly one. There is a constant, interpenetrating flow between them.

Jesus not only reflected upon the love that exists between him and the Father, but said to the disciples, “As much as the Father has loved me, which is infinite and perfect, that is how much I love you.” The Father delights in the Son and the Son delights in his disciples. The Father is pleased with the Son and the Son is pleased with the disciples. The Father lives in perfect union with the Son and the Son lives in perfect union with us. These are astounding truths.  

Then Jesus said to them, “Abide in my unending love for you. Don’t wander away from it. Stay put. Your completeness is found right here in me.”

Jesus, it is a miraculous thing that you love me as the Father’s loves you. My finite mind cannot grasp this infinite truth. Help me to live in the reality of what I can understand today as you stretch the borders of my mind even further to live in your love for all eternity. Amen.

John 15:8

“By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”-John 15:8

What did Jesus mean by fruit bearing? One common evangelical understanding is that to bear fruit means to win converts for Christ, but if that were true, would the converts then be fruit or branches? It seems more accurate that bearing fruit has to do with developing the character of Jesus. When we look at the context surrounding verse 15:8, love is primary. First and foremost, Jesus called us to grow in love by pouring into others and seeking to be his hands, feet, and heart. Fruitful people grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (see Gal 5:22-23).

Jesus, I want to bring glory to the Father by how I live, but every day, I fall short. Help me to become more like you, day by day. Amen.

What does it mean to be a person of peace?

What are the characteristics of peace-filled people? How do they show up with others? Assuredly, there are many traits that could be entertained, but let me suggest five that not coincidentally use “peace” for their acronym.

Presence
Equanimity
Amicability
Calmness
Empathy

Presence. A person of peace is not continually distracted, but rather stays in the moment. In conversation, others feel attended to and important. In a world where all of us have ten thousand internal and external distractions, those who can set those aside and become present are a gift.

Equanimity. A principal construct in Buddhism, equanimity has to do with mental evenness, even in the midst of turmoil. It must not be thought of as disinterest or aloofness, but rather I tend to think of it as unflappability.

Amicable. Amicability is characterized by friendliness and a desire for goodwill. Even in the midst of conflict or disagreement, it is evident that amicable people desire the best for others, whatever that may be.

Calmness. A person of peace possesses calmness, which is similar, but not identical to equanimity. In a calm person’s presence, people perceive a sense of settledness and tranquility and the freedom to catch their breath.

Empathy. An empathetic person is able to communicate emotional withness to others by attuning to their emotions, thoughts, and actions. Empathy is not demeaning or simply feeling sorry for another, but a desire to join with another.

Do you desire to be a person of peace? Be present to others. Seek to be calm, kind, and even tempered with a desire to love and understand.

John 15:7

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”-John 15:7

Like John 14:14, I wonder if this verse has confused a lot of Christians. We wonder what Jesus meant when he told his disciples “whatever you wish, it will be done.” As children, we would ask God for big things, like “Let me fly.” As grown-ups, we still ask for big things, but our requests reflect our maturing. “Please let my daughter stay clean and find her way back to you, God.” Sometimes, it is hard to know which of these requests seems more improbable.

As sincere believers, how are we to make sense of what appear to be unanswered prayers? We could choose to believe that our faith was not strong enough to grant our requests and that if we were “better” Christians, God would answer. We might even question if we are true believers, but what if we are missing the big idea by focusing on only one part of that verse?

Jesus was still talking about abiding and about how we are connected to him and he gives us life. When we begin to see and understand that Christ’s life in us is essential to who we are, it changes us. When we truly see that we are imbued with Christ, our prayers begin to reflect his heart and those prayers he will always grant.

Jesus, I sometimes find it hard to pray, because I am focused on my fleshly desires rather than your heart. Let my life be in harmony with yours, fully aware of my union with you. Let your purposes become my purposes. Amen.

John 15:6

“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”-John 15:6

At face value, this is a scary verse. It is hard to read it and not come away with questions about what Jesus meant. Was he talking about non-believers being sent to hell? Or maybe, he was talking about believers who were not doing enough for the kingdom. Regardless, considering this verse by itself can move us back to fear-based faith. We live in fear of disappointing God, the vinedresser, so that no matter how well we are living, we remain aware of persistent sinfulness, and wonder “who then can be saved?”

But we must avoid the unfortunate habit of plucking a verse out of context. In verse 3, Jesus had said, “already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” We must lose not sight of the hope in verse 3. If it is true that we already clean, what was Jesus saying in verse 6? Was he telling the disciples that they needed to perform or be cast out of the kingdom? I don’t think so. I think we remain connected to the vine simply by knowing we belong to God. God will ultimately burn up our fruitless works. Like silver, exposed to fire, the silver remains while the impurities are burned up and removed.

God sees your value. You are precious to him. You are valuable because of how he made you, yet because of his love, he will not be afraid to burn away the impurities that taint your life.

Jesus, I am fully aware that I do not meet your perfect standard. My indwelling sin is toxic to my soul. In your mercy, you continue to prune the diseased parts and bring me to a place of wholeness and health. Amen.

John 15:5

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing.”-John 15:5

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself wandering aimlessly like a sheep, seeking after my own way. I mindlessly pursue temptations and interests, arguments and distractions. When I finally look up, I wonder how I have ended up so far from God. As the old hymn says, we believers are “prone to wander” (Robinson, 1757).

When we think about sheep, this makes sense, but how does a branch wander off? It can’t.  A branch stays connected to the vine unless a gardener comes and removes it or it dies; it cannot simply choose to leave.

We haven’t broken free from the vine, rather, we have forgotten that we are connected to it and that we receive our nourishment from it. I think Jesus is reminding us that we are already in him. God’s life is currently flowing into us by his Spirit through the vine, Jesus. What we must do is pay attention and remember our connection.

Jesus, when I lose focus, it is so easy for me to worry and to chase after unholy pursuits. Help me to remember, moment by moment, that I am in you and you are in me and that my life flows from you. Amen.