Our love for one another
‘This is My commandment, that you love another as I have loved you’ (John 15:12). I wonder whether you’ve ever asked yourselves, ‘Why did our Lord call this commandment His commandment?’ This was His commandment in the sense that it was peculiarly His. No-one else had given this commandment before; no-one else could have given this commandment before. And that was why He introduced it as a new commandment (John 13:34). But we would be doing our Lord an injustice, if we believed that was the only reason. No sooner had He mentioned all His commandments, and indicated the importance of keeping them, than He singled out this one commandment; that’s the measure of its importance in the eyes of our Lord.
It is inconceivable that a man should be in the light, and maintain that he knows God and at the same time hate his brother (1 John 1:5-6). Is that the way you conceive of the Christian life? Now I know that you’d expect every child of God to be living a good life, a clean life, to be obeying the commandments in the general sense, to be living a righteous life. Tell me, do you also expect them to be loving the brethren? Do you couple this alongside your concern to see that they’re living righteously? That’s exactly what happened in the upper room (John 15:10).
The remarkable thing about John 15:12 is that there is no reason given as to why we should love one another. Our Lord doesn’t defend it, justify it or present some kind of a rationale why He insists that Christians should love each other. And that fact speaks volumes. You don’t need an explanation, my friend: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’.
Love one another
But why did our Lord place such an emphasis on this commandment? Our Lord gave a very substantial reason: ‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples’ (John 13:35). And we have evidence that that statement was vindicated. Men did recognise the disciples as Christians even after our Lord’s departure.
Nothing shows us the importance that our Lord attaches to our loving one another more than when He said, ‘These things I command you in order that you love one another’ (John 15:17). Many things were to flow from the disciples being in the vine. They would bring forth fruit, they would be purged, they could ask for what they wished and it would be granted them, the Father would be glorified through them, they would become His disciples, but here our Lord singles out this one consequence again: that you love one another.
No-one has seen God at any time (1 John 4:12) but if we love one another two things have happened: God abides in us and His love has had its way in our lives. His love has reached its intended end; instead of being frustrated it has been perfected. His love is not satisfied until by His Spirit He has produced in us this attitude of loving care for one another. Is this what you look for among evangelicals? Are they living good righteous lives? Does holiness matter? Yes, but do they love the brethren? Do they love each other? You should receive love from all the others, but you should be giving love to all the others.
‘As I have loved you’
His love will not be perfected in you or me unless we are talking about the right love. What kind of love was it?
- An electing love. He chose to love us. He didn’t examine us and see whether we were worthy, promising material. He elected to love us as an act of will.
- A persevering love. It happened in eternity but it’s had to wait until this century, and I mean this literally, before that love could be expressed towards you and me. Having loved His own which were in the world He loved them to the end: love that’s always there, love in which you can rest, in which you are secure.
- Sacrificial love. Our Lord was forsaken of God on our behalf: incarnate, subjecting Himself to the law of God, being buffeted, the grief which He bore, then stripped of everything but clothed with our sins (John 15:13).
- Confiding love. The Son of God calls us friends and confides in us all things that He heard from the Father (John 15:15). A love that involved co-operation and fellowship in work.
- A love that clearly was intent upon encouraging fellowship and worship of Almighty God.
Is that the way we love each other? There’s a lot of counterfeit love in evangelical circles today. My friends, it’s not a question of shaking hands. Love is something robust, virile, demanding and proved, deep and long-lasting.
- Do you elect every day to love the brethren? It is a command, addressed to your will. It doesn’t hinge on the way you feel or the way they behave. Every child of God has a claim on your love, the real thing.
- Is your love persevering? He loved unto the end. At no point did He stop and withdraw and feel that He was justified; this is the kind of thing that happens with us.
- Is your love self-sacrificial? Is it costly? Do you know anything of sacrificing for the brethren? Is your love an open love? A confiding love? A generous love? A sharing love? Do others reckon on you as being a friend or do you hold back?
- Is yours a love that loves to co-operate? This is how He wishes it – not a few dominating all, to each His place and through each the whole body being built up. Do you love to think of the church in those terms? Take your place alongside others; you belong to a team.
- Do you endeavour in all you do to encourage the brethren of God?
My friends, you might feel, as I do, what miserable failures we’ve been and we are. But I have to tell you two things:
- There is no discharge. ‘This is my commandment…’ I can’t let you or myself off the hook.
- If we obey the commandment in John15:17 we will love the brethren as He has loved them. If we abide in Him daily, if we place ourselves and keep ourselves in the love of God daily, if we remind ourselves of that love and live in it and realise He loves others equally, we’ll make it. If I didn’t do that every day, I couldn’t love the brethren, but there’s hope for me when I do.
I say to you, I’m not unaware of what is happening in our circles. I say in His name, and I don’t say that lightly, this is His commandment, that you and I love one another ‘as I have loved you’.
- Elwyn Davies (1925-2007) was one of the chief founders of the EMW, serving as its General Secretary for over thirty years.
This article is an edited version of the sermon he preached at the EMW Aber conference in 1986, which you can listen to online at www.emw.org.uk/sermons