By Tim Frank
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Carthage
The subject of most conversations during the past weeks has been COVID-19 and the social distancing requirements that have been established to attempt to curb its escalation. Prayerfully, in the coming weeks, we will begin to move back into closer social gatherings and reacquaint ourselves with friends, neighbors and our church families.
In anticipation of this reintegration, we should devote this time of isolation to the preparation of our hearts for the upcoming opportunities and responsibilities we will no doubt be given to live out our Christian faith in our actions toward others. During the next six lessons, we will focus on learning to build and strengthen our relationships with others. This lesson begins with the underlying virtue of the Christian faith and the most basic building block of relationships, to love one another.
God is love (I John 4:8), and in His great love for mankind He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, as the perfect sacrifice for sin (John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-10). Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love, and He calls His followers to be known for their love for one another (John 13:34-35).
The passage for this lesson, John 15:9-14, is given in the context of one of Jesus’ “I AM” statements, I am the Vine and you are the branches. Just as a branch must stay connected to the vine, must abide in the vine, so must believers stay connected to Jesus. As we abide in Him, His love abides in us. The nourishing love of Jesus Christ flows to us and through us to others. Love is the willful action that flows from the one connected to Jesus to others around him. The key is that the believer stays connected to Jesus.
In John 15:9-12, Jesus gives the command to His followers to love as they have been loved. The same self-giving, sacrificial love that Jesus gave in His death on the cross is to be the example of how His disciples are to love others. This type of love is often counterintuitive in our culture which tends to focus on “What’s in it for me?” We too often view love as the means to receive what we want when Jesus says the way to receive is through giving love to others. The promise of the full and complete joy in John 15:11 comes as we fulfill the commandment Jesus gives in John 15:12, to love one another as He has loved us.
The greatest love is described in John 15:13 in laying down one’s life for his friends. Jesus is the perfect example of this self-giving love. In the Greek language, it is the word “agape,” God’s kind of love. Jesus’ call to follow Him is the call to follow His example and love others with that sacrificial and giving type of love.
In I Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul lays out the characteristics of agape love. Love is long suffering and kind (v. 4). In other words, be patient and forgiving to people when they offend you, and be kind in your words, attitude, and actions. Love does not focus on self but on others (vv. 5-6). Love endures through all trials (vv. 7-8).
The social distancing of these past several weeks can move one’s focus to one’s self and lead to a self-protective attitude. Instead, Jesus calls on us as believers to follow His example and think of others before we think of ourselves. To lay down one’s life not only refers to death, but also involves laying down hurt feelings, offenses, prejudice, and other types of ill will toward others. Love is expressed through kind words and kind actions that are for the benefit of others.
As Paul writes in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Love one another.