Loved, Taught, & Chosen for Christ-Exalting Fruit
Passage: John 15:12–15:17
Sermon from John 15:12-17 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on November 16, 2014
12This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15No 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. 16You 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 that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
For several weeks now, we’ve returned to the image Jesus uses to describe what a disciple’s relationship to him is like. It’s like a branch depending on a vine to bear fruit (15:1-6). As a branch depends on the vine, it bears much fruit (15:4, 8). The same with Jesus’ disciples: when we live in dependence on Jesus, we bear much fruit.
Today, Jesus continues building on this image, and we’ll boil it down to three things in particular: Jesus’ love, Jesus’ revelation, Jesus’ election. Each of these have some significant implications for our lives, for our fruit-bearing. So, let’s look at them more carefully.
1. Jesus’ Sacrificial Love Characterizes the Church’s Love
Number one, Jesus’ sacrificial love characterizes the church’s love. This is fairly straightforward from verses 12-13, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” And how is it that Jesus has loved them? Verse 13 tells us: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Now I imagine a number of folks—including other religious leaders—would find this kind of love rather noble. Giving your life for another is quite the heroic thing to do. The majority of cultures look favorably upon such love. But when we consider the person issuing this command to love as he loved—to give our lives for each other as he gave his for us—the love Jesus speaks of stands out among all others.
Jesus’ Love Spans Heaven & Earth
Jesus isn’t just another noble teacher and prophet highlighting what’s seemingly present in all other cultures. He speaks these words as God himself, who came down in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). What makes his love greater and much different is that he stood outside all cultures before entering humanity. His love for humans wasn’t something that started from below; his love came down as a gift from above. It was a kind of love that spanned heaven and earth—not a love between mere mortals, but a love of the only immortal God for those he created and held together by his powerful word.
Jesus’ Love Is Directed toward Sinners
More than that, his love wasn’t a love for righteous people—people who seemingly have it all together. Jesus didn’t enter the world, because it was so lovely—as if all he needed to do was go around, gather up all the loving people, and call it the church. Not at all. He loved a world that was unlovely and outright rebellious to the core. He loved enemies, chose them to be his friends, and then gave his life for them when they didn’t deserve it. As Paul puts it in Rom 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Jesus’ Love Is Substitutionary
But there’s even more to this picture of his love that we must not miss and makes it the greatest of all loves. When Jesus talks of laying his life down for his friends, we must realize that he doesn’t mean simply taking a bullet for them. He doesn’t even mean simply enduring the physical tortures of Roman crucifixion, so that they wouldn’t have to suffer such brutality. He means laying down his life in place of his friends, so that never would they have to endure the punishment of all punishments under the wrath of God. The cross isn’t just about Jesus’ bleeding; it’s about how Jesus’ bleeding averts the wrath of God against his friends (Rom 3:23-26). All the wrath we deserved for an eternity because of sin, Jesus absorbed for us when God nailed him to the cross (Gal 3:13; 1 Thess 1:10). His love is a substitutionary love. This is the love above all loves.
Jesus’ Love Is Unsurpassably Great
And shall I go on with how his love for his friends didn’t flinch when he hung for three hours under God’s wrath (Matt 27:46)? Shall I go on with how his love took on his back whatever weight was necessary to free us from the crushing guilt of sin (1 Pet 2:24)? Shall I go on with how his love never weakened when he saw his friends leave him alone before enduring his darkest night (John 16:32)? Shall I go on with how his love stayed true to the Father’s will, so that all his friends might no longer settle for the Serpent’s venomous lies (John 12:31)? Shall I go on about how his love chose to enter a cursed, non-heroic place of shame to see his friends lifted up to the heights of glory (Eph 2:1-10)? For that is the love we gaze upon here in verse 14, and it is unsurpassably astounding.
Jesus’ Love Turns Haters into Lovers
In fact, we must say that Jesus’ love does one other thing for his friends that other people’s love cannot do: his love actually makes lovers out of haters. His love actually gathers people from all over who once were self-absorbed in sin and makes them other-oriented in his love, so that they love God and one another. That people he calls the church—you and me, if we’re trusting Jesus. We love, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
How Jesus’ Love Characterizes the Church
Everything about the church, then, must reflect a personal encounter with Jesus’ sacrificial love on the cross. This love of Christ—demonstrated in the laying down of his life for the undeserving—should be at the very core of our love for others. Consider why the rest of the New Testament is so replete with exhortations like, “Pursue love” (1 Cor 14:1), “Put on love” (Col 3:14), “Do everything in love” (1 Cor 16:14), “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph 5:2). Walk in it! Let the love you have experienced in Christ-crucified characterize your every step.
Sacrificial love is right at the heart of Christianity, because at the heart of Jesus’ work stands a bloody cross of love—a love that spends itself sacrificially to see others thrilled with God and built up in the truth and prospering in Jesus’ glory.
Now, a while back, I mentioned two areas in particular that this church needed to grow in its love for one another. I mentioned that we needed to grow in initiative and investment. We see both in Jesus’ love for us. He took the initiative in loving us; in the same way, we need to take initiative in loving others—meaning, we don’t wait around just assuming love is going to happen. We enter each other’s lives and ask the hard questions and give up our time and make the phone calls and fill the needs—without a hundred self-calculations before we do it.
Jesus also invested in us. He didn’t pursue us up to a point, and then check out. He didn’t care until things got messy, and then check out. He didn’t love on the condition that we first met all his expectations. He identified with us, made our case his own, and suffered everything necessary to give us God.
So we talked about those two areas a while back. How would you say you’re doing in these two areas? How would your brothers and sisters say you’re doing in these two areas—taking the initiative with them; making the investments to give them more of Christ? How long did repentance last following that Sunday?
I think I’ve seen some growth. Craig and Kristen met some huge financial burdens the other day—medical expenses. And I watched a church identify with their suffering, take initiative in giving, and leave them standing in awe of God’s kindness. Their needs were met; you invested. I know some of you gave sacrificially to help some of the sisters attend the women’s retreat. Dan called for some help a while back to serve one of our visitors in moving; and ten folks gave up a Saturday morning to display the love of Jesus. I’ve listened to you interact in members meetings with humility and concern for each other’s well-being. I’ve watched Care Groups pursue new avenues of fellowship, and older women giving up their evenings to disciple the younger women who long for your counsel and friendship. Yes! This is what the church ought to look like, and I’m glad to see how God is stirring our souls.
Jesus’ Love Sets Degree & Manner of Our Love
For those of you who haven’t made the sacrificial adjustments, consider again the work of Jesus for you. Jesus isn’t just telling us to love one another to the degree he loved us; he’s telling us to love one another in the manner he loved us.
Do you get that distinction? In other words, our love for one another—it’s not just a, “Hey, I love you enough that I’d die for you—if that ever came up.” It’s, “I’m dying for you! Every day I’m looking for how I can die to self to see you happy in Christ. That’s the way I’ve chosen to live for my brothers and sisters in Christ, because that’s the way my King loved me—his substitution compels my imitation; his death motivates my sacrifice; his passion sets my priorities!”
If there’s no sacrifice included, how can we even say our love is genuinely Christ-like. What makes it any different from what the world calls “love”? There should be such a fervent, persuasive, tangible, sacrificial pursuit of each other’s well-being in the church, that makes the world go, “What is that? Why do you treat each other that way? How can you just go on loving him so much when he offended you? What makes you drive across town to pick her up every week? Why’d you sell your car for that guy? That guy’s not like you at all; why do you spend so much time with him? Why do you keep exhausting yourselves on one another? Why do you find these messy relationships so worthy of your investment?”
When our love for one another gets the world asking those kinds of questions—questions where we can just waltz them right into the gospel of Jesus laying his life down for us, then we’ll know we’re on the right track. Our lives together should give us an excuse to talk about Jesus. That’s how we should love each other. It should be hard to get away from the love of Christ in this church—whether in word or deed.
And to that end, the elders thought it would be a good idea—in light of what we’re covering here—to set before you again our Church Covenant. That’s why the blue insert is in your worship guide. Our Church Covenant is a great articulation of what the sort of love we’re talking about looks like. And we want you to take it home, read and pray through these biblical truths, and then come to Care Group—either this week or next week—ready to encourage one another deeper into this Christ-like love. Wherever you find some of these things particularly challenging, point each other once again to the cross. Feed each other’s soul with a fresh look at the love of Christ in the gospel. And where you might need help working them out, ask your brothers and sisters for insight and then commit them to prayer.
Also, let me just insert a word here to those who profess to be believers and have been attending our gatherings for a very long time without pursuing this sacrificial love for the church. I just want to ask with all sincerity whether you have truly seen the love of Jesus for yourself, whether you are truly trusting in his laying his life down for you. Because if you are, Jesus’ love will not allow you to keep your brothers and sisters at arms distance. The Bridegrooms love will not permit you to be stand-offish toward his bride. Being Christian is not just about staying away from the wrong things; it’s about pouring yourself out in the right things, like loving one another. Fulfilling all the commands of the new covenant that necessitate close relationships with Jesus’ people. I know that some of you are trying to work through issues in your home before you commit to this or that, but you need to know that change in your home is a community project, not an individual one. You and your family were meant to receive Jesus’ love through his people as much as you are to share Jesus’ love with them.
Let’s not rob Jesus of glory by withholding investment in his people. Jesus said, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (cf. John 17:20-21). How will all people know you are Jesus’ disciples, if there’s never a persuasive expression of love for his people?
2. Jesus’ Divine Revelation Shapes the Church’s Obedience
Number two: Jesus’ divine revelation shapes the church’s obedience. We’ve just seen how Jesus lays down his life for his friends. Now he’s going to explain what it means to be his friend. Verse 14, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Now, be careful. He’s not saying obedience is what makes you his friend. He’s saying obedience is what characterizes his friends. Love makes us his friends. Grace makes us his friends. Obedience proves we are his friends.
Obedience is the mark of Jesus’ friends. It’s how you pick them out in the world. James 4:4 says, “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Jesus is giving us the flipside of that truth: Jesus’ friends obey Jesus.
Now, our culture immediately objects to this, doesn’t it? Because to our minds, obedience isn’t an option for a slave, while it’s fairly open-ended for a friend. So we could read “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” and think, “Well, that doesn’t sound very friend-like; it sounds like slavery.” But we would do well not to read our cultural baggage in on the text, and miss a most remarkable thing Jesus is saying.
Even when such endearing language comes from Jesus’ lips, it’s never to the exclusion of his authority. Jesus isn’t saying he relates to us as best buds on the soccer field. He’s showing what sets his friends apart from others. And the difference between the slave and the friend in this analogy is not a matter of obedience; it’s a matter of revelation. It’s a matter of whose obedience stems from the privileged place of knowing God truly as he is in the person of Jesus. The friend knows God truly, because he has seen God truly in the person of Jesus.
Look at it again, “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 [and this is key], for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” This hits on one of the biggest themes in John’s Gospel. As divine Son, Jesus has been with his Father for all eternity. He alone knows him and knows his plans and knows his glory. And if anybody else is to know the Father, then Jesus must reveal him to them. He comes and speaks all that the Father gives him to his friends.
Jesus’ friends obey from this privileged place of God’s self-revelation in Christ—meaning, when come to Jesus, we not only see God as he truly is, we understand all that God is for us and all that God is up to in redeeming the world.
Disciples don’t just hear the command of love; they experience that love fully in their relationship with Jesus. They haven’t just heard of divine love; they’ve witnessed divine love in Christ. Everything we need to know about God, Jesus explains it; and this makes all the difference in our obedience. We obey as Jesus’ friends, who benefit from his revelation.
Revelation Stimulates Obedience
Let me see if I can illustrate. The analogy is a bit different than the one we find here, but I hope it gives you some insight into how the privileged place of revelation in Christ effects our obedience. Let’s pretend there’s an orphaned boy who ends up working for a wealthy landowner. His parents died when he was young, and the only way he’s able to make it in life is to work for this wealthy landowner. And let’s say that all the boy is used to is doing whatever the landowner says. He doesn’t ask questions about the landowner’s motives or plans; he just does his work for the landowner day after day, building houses, feeding the cattle, surveying the property, harvesting the crops—without any knowledge of what’s going to become of him. As far as he knows, he’ll be obeying this landowner the rest of his life—the mundane tasks grow old, sometimes depressing.
Now let’s say the landowner comes to him and says, “You haven’t known this, but before I hired you from the orphanage, I had a plan in place to give you all my land as an inheritance. In fact, very soon, everything I own will be yours, because I’ve filed with the courts to make you my son. You don’t need to do anything more yourself. I’ve taken care of it all. And don’t worry about how you’ll manage all these things. I’ve written down exactly what you need in a journal, and I’ll walk with you in it all.”
Now, how do you think that information, that revelation, might effect the boy’s obedience? Wouldn’t there be a joyful skip in his step the next time the landowner asks him to do anything? He still must obey the landowner; it’s just that now he knows the landowner’s plan for him. He’s even going to have a daddy soon!
Revelation in Christ for Obedience
That’s how the divine revelation in Christ shapes our obedience—we obey from the place of privilege, the privilege of seeing all that God is for us through Christ. He hasn’t held anything back. All his love and grace toward us is not shrouded in mystery, it’s revealed through Jesus’ coming and death and resurrection. He tells his friends the whole story of what his Father’s up to in their salvation! And we go out to obey him with a joy in our hearts as friends: “Why wouldn’t I give my life to this gracious and loving Lord, Jesus.”
So if that’s the place of Jesus’ disciples, how about your obedience to him? Everything you need to know about God is yours when you trust in Christ. How does that revelation shape your obedience? This is actually picking up on a much larger theme throughout Scripture, that any time God reveals himself to his people, he does it to win their obedience, their allegiance. This is covenant language. God initiates a loving relationship with man, he then reveals himself to him—such as we see with Abraham and then Israel. And the whole point is that the people he revealed himself to, follow him.
The difference comes when we see that God’s revelation in Christ is complete and full. We have access to divine revelation that Abraham and Israel never had; and that’s because all prior revelation anticipated God’s fuller and supreme revelation in Christ. It’s like what Jesus says in Luke 10:23-24, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
What does this look like?
So, if we have more revelation of what God’s love in Christ looks like? If we have an incarnate picture of what it looks like to love God with all our heart and to love his people with sacrificial, neighbor love, then are we walking in him? Everything you need to obey God is available to you through his revelation in Christ. Think about it for a minute.
Husbands, you can love your wives from the privileged place of seeing how Christ gave himself up for you. Wives, you can bear with your husband’s imperfect leadership, not just because this is what you’re supposed to do but because the ultimate Bridegroom has already met your greatest needs through his sacrificial love.
Singles, you don’t have to let loneliness overwhelm your soul and paralyze your love for others. In Jesus we find an ever-present Help and Companion—he’s willing to call us friends. And more than that, he has revealed in 1 Cor 7:31 that the present form of this world is passing away; his kingdom is coming. And that frees us to show undivided devotion to the Lord where we are, trusting his wise plan for our lives.
We don’t have to guess how we should treat each other in the church. We see how Jesus treats the church in the Bible—he gives himself for them. And we should do likewise.
Do you get discouraged with work, wondering how God is using you and whether he cares? Jesus’ revelation says that none of our labors are in vain. Because of our privileged place as friends, we know from his resurrection glory and power, that we will be rewarded on the last day for our faithfulness. And this moves us to press on.
Do you feel like the darkness is winning? What does his revelation teach us? Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12). He shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). And, more than that, it will never overcome him. The Father’s will has been revealed to us in full. We know how the story ends in a kingdom of light covering the earth, all because of what we see in Jesus.
This is what Jesus shows his friends. All that he is has been revealed for us, that we might follow him closely.
3. Jesus’ Gracious Choice Determines the Church’s Mission
Lastly, Jesus’ gracious choice determines the church’s mission. Look at verse 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 that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
Election Is for Humility
If there was any question in the disciple’s mind that this love they’ve been shown, that this revelation they’ve been given, is owing to anything in them, Jesus undermines such a thought. They don’t share in these amazing blessings because they’re better than the rest of the Jews in Israel. They share in these blessings because of God’s gracious initiative in choosing them.
Discipleship, then, is not ultimately about what we do for God, but what God has done for us. And when viewed from this divine perspective, discipleship is not driven by mere will power and self-determination, but by a heart set aflame with worship for a God who has graciously chosen us to be his own. Discipleship also doesn’t mean that we follow Jesus with our chests puffed out because we are better than the world, but with our face bowed low because our God has shown us mercy undeserved.
I hope you can bring that together with last week’s message on the world hating those who belong to Christ. They shouldn’t hate us for our pride; the world should hate us for our humility. We go to them from the place of humility. The Lord has willed to have mercy on us in Jesus. Therefore, we should be a people of mercy to others.
Election Is for Missions
And that’s another thing we must catch about our election, here. Election isn’t with a goal of forming a holy huddle, a Christian ghetto so to speak. And we may very well risk doing that if we only focused on loving one another as an end in itself—without seeing what loving one another ultimately serves. Our election to belong to Christ and his people serves missions. We were chosen out of the world to bear fruit in the world. And the fruit he’s talking about here is new disciples, new converts, new branches who will abide in the Vine with the others.
That’s not to undermine what I said a couple weeks ago—that bearing fruit is all that we actively pursue by faith in Christ to bring God glory in the world. It’s just to show the specific focus in this verse. Bearing fruit isn’t just pursuing individual holiness—though it is that (Eph 5:9; Heb 12:11). It’s not just loving the saints—though it is that also (John 15:12, 17). Bearing fruit includes winning new converts to Jesus. Jesus’ words “go and bear fruit” are quite similar to his words elsewhere “go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19).
This is what we see Jesus teaching the disciples to do in John 4:36 among the Samaritans—gathering fruit for eternal life, and he means the people from all nations that we need our eyes opened to. This is what Jesus means in John 12:24—“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Spending our life for others unto death multiplies fruit, brings the nations in. Paul picks up the same language in Col 1:6, “[the gospel] has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing.”
So we must be careful, here. “Fruit that abides” is not just anything we want to label “fruitful” on our own. “Fruit that abides” is intently focused on, defined by, and a direct result of Jesus’ specific commission. Jesus determines what is fruitful. And in the context of John’s gospel, that looks like carrying out whatever glorifies the Father, brings honor to the Son, shows love toward the brethren, all with the purpose of winning new converts (John 4:38; 12:24-26; 15:8; 20:21-23). In other words, abiding fruit is linked with Jesus’ mission, not our own. Since he has chosen us wholly by grace, we owe him everything. Everything about our lives should serve his mission—a mission we don’t deserve to participate in, but do get to participate in because of his welcome in Christ.
Election Is for Prayer
And thus missions should also fill our prayers—for ourselves, and for our family, and for this church. Jesus said we were chosen for mission, but not so that we do that mission without him. But with him in prayer—“so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” God gives us a mission so that we depend on God in prayer to accomplish that mission. Prayer is the means God uses to bring forth fruit where fruit is non-existent.
So, let’s not just give thank for our food, let’s ask God to use the food to nourish our bodies for mission. Let’s not just give thanks to God for our money, let’s ask him to make us generous in giving it away for his name’s sake. Let’s not just ask God to grow us in loving one another, but that that love might fuel us day in and day out for the mission. Let’s not just ask God to heal broken marriages, but that those marriages would exemplify a beautiful portrait of Jesus’ love for his bride to our neighbors.
Also, ask the Lord to give you opportunities to share the love of Jesus with others. Pray daily that God would open your eyes to see the harvest, and then grant you the boldness to speak the gospel to others. Dustin Moore and I were meeting together last Wednesday up here at the church, and I remember praying with Rachel on Tuesday night for the Lord to give us the opportunity to share the gospel this week. Dustin then expressed in our meeting that he wanted to learn to share the gospel with other folks, and within minutes two people knock on the church door, one from White Settlement and the other from the Congo—like the Lord saying, “Alright, here you go!”
Pray also that as we grow in loving one another, that God would guard us from becoming so inwardly focused and insulated from the world, that we’re not inviting others into Christ’s love. How awesome would it be that as we grow in our Christ-like love for one another, as we obey the revelation we’ve been given in Christ, God would be pleased to add to our number new converts—that they may experience the love and grace and joy we’ve come to know in Christ, too.
May these things be so of us, Redeemer, as we look to Jesus’ love, Jesus’ revelation, and Jesus’ election.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus