John 15:20

“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” -John 15:20

In The Cost of Discipleship (1937/1995), German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” Sometimes, as Western Christians, we imagine following Christ will mean a life full of material blessings like a warm house, hot food, and plenty of amenities. We expect our relationships will be conflict free and always rewarding, but that was never the message of Jesus. Indeed, this is the basic theology of the prosperity gospel.

In John 15:20, Jesus told his disciples that they could expect persecution, essentially saying, “I’ve been persecuted and you will be too. I am entrusting you with the message of life! You are privileged to carry my beautiful message of love, grace, and welcome, and still, people will mock you, persecute you, and maybe even kill you,” and we think, “Great! Sign me up!”

But Jesus also said, “If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” A life sown in the soil of suffering often produces gospel fruit. Where there are thorns, there are often magnificent blooms.

Jesus, I confess that when you say that persecution will come, I feel afraid and resistant, but I place my life in your hand. Use me to proclaim your true gospel, and may I be a conduit of your grace. Amen.

John 15:19

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world. Therefore, the world hates you.”-John 15:19

Have you ever felt hated for something that you believed or been rejected because you shared one of your viewpoints? Rejection, it seems, is a part of the universal condition after the fall. We hate those who think differently than we do.

What world was Jesus speaking of here? I think it is commonly assumed that Jesus was referring to the self-centered and hedonistic Roman Empire. If we imagine that Jesus was warning the disciples about Rome, our understanding is that he was saying they would be hated for confronting immorality.

Yet the disciples were also a part of the Jewish world, which was strongly influenced by the Pharisees. In truth, the hatred would come not only from the secular culture, but also from their own religious leaders. Indeed, hatred often seems more intense from religious than non-religious people. Christ-followers who tell of the truth about the extravagance of Jesus’s grace may find themselves squarely in the crosshairs of both legalists and hedonists.

Jesus, following you and seeking to live out your message of love is counter-cultural. You have called me to be a rebel, standing against hatred by loving with reckless abandon. Amen.

John 15:18

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”-John 15:18

Many people—Christians and non-Christians alike—think highly of Jesus, but often the Jesus they are attracted to is not the real Jesus. For example, some think of him as a spiritual guru or moral teacher, but not as Savior. Christians can also have wrong ideas about Jesus. Too often, we envision a Jesus that loves the same things we love and hates the same people we hate.

Jesus told his disciples that if they were following him and obeying his command to love, they would be hated. Doesn’t that seem ridiculous? Yet history bears it out. When Christians love certain classes of “sinners” without judgment, religious people get piping mad. They want believers to follow a carefully scripted life that recognizes who is in and who is out. Whether we love gays, Muslims, liberals, Republicans, ethnic minorities, white men, or atheists, there will always be religious grumblers. And yet, to follow Jesus is to love as he loved.

Jesus, you tell me that I will be hated for loving like you loved. I know you were hated too, but I confess that I do not want to suffer for your sake. Frequently, my motivation is to please others. Turn my heart to understand that it is your opinion that matters. Amen.

John 15:17

“These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”-John 15:17

Sometimes the commandments of God feel like impossible burdens. When we think about the Ten Commandments or about Jesus’s commands for how to live, we may have several different reactions. We may feel a sense of shame or powerlessness over our inability to meet his expectations. For example, we know that God said not to burn with desire for the things other people have, yet we covet every day and then we feel ashamed because we do not measure up and we fear God’s judgment. Maybe we see God’s commandments as arbitrary tests of faith. Perhaps they seem utterly irrelevant to our lives.

But here is the truth: the purpose of God’s commands is to instruct us on how to live a life of love. God is love. Everything…everything…he does flows from love. He wants us to love like he does, but he does not expect us to figure it out on our own.

Do you want to love well? Here’s a start. Don’t kill people. In fact, don’t even speak poorly about them. Don’t lie about other people. Instead, tell the truth. Build others up. Don’t demand service from others, rather serve them, and especially those who don’t have a lot. Let all that you do be done in love.

Jesus, your commands are not meant to be a burden, but to show me how to live a loving life. Help me to see that the commandments are not indictments of your judgment against me, but instead are maps for the journey to becoming love. Amen.

John 15:16

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so whatever you ask in my Father’s name, he may give it to you.”-John 15:16

It is common to hear people say that they “have made a decision for Christ,” implying that they have decided to follow him. Though “deciding for Christ” is true on one level, the deeper truth is that Jesus made a decision for us, calling us his friends. He invites us to join him on his mission, living the kingdom life. He wants us to practice life and peace, spreading the message of shalom to a world mired in conflict and unrest. I think of the animals that the white witch turned to stone in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Lewis, 1950/1973). They became lifeless shells of who they once were, but once King Aslan arrived, he breathed life into them and then brought them along on his redemptive mission.

We too have received the breath of life from our friend, King Jesus. He beckons us to join him on his fruit bearing mission by becoming love as his ambassadors.

Jesus, thank you for choosing me and keeping me. Forgive my rebellious departures and keep me plugged into you, the only true vine. May my life bear fruit in every season, always and forever in your name. Amen.

John 15:14-15

“You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you.”-John 15:14-15

At first blush, we might read verse 14 and think that Jesus really doesn’t understand friendship at all. Pulled out of context, we might think that he sees friendship as conditional, like the 4-year-old who tells her playmate, “You cannot be my friend if you don’t play dolls with me,” but Jesus forces us to think deeper. When he told his followers that they were his friends if they did what he told them to, what did he mean?

I believe that Jesus was talking about heart change, essentially telling them, “In the past, you did things I told you to do even when you didn’t agree. Now you are becoming the type of people who do what I command without the need to be prodded. In becoming my friends, you will more naturally do the things that are consistent with my character.”

Dallas Willard often wrote and spoke about the dispositional change that happens as we grow in Christlikeness. In other words, we increasingly become the type of people who naturally do the things that Jesus would do. That is friendship with Jesus.

Jesus, I can become so messed up in my own thinking, burdening myself with shoulds and should-nots, but you call me friend. As your friend, shape me into the kind of person who will more naturally love the way you love. Amen.

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.