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“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”
Our celebration of Easter picks up right where it left off last Sunday. Jesus is leading His disciples from the Upper Room in Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane where He will be handed over and led to His execution.
I. Love to the end.
John introduces that night that began in the Upper Room like this, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
“To the end.” The word here is “telos.” It’s the same word that Christ cried out from the cross, “It is finished.” “Ended.” It’s got nothing to do with the thought that all of the humiliation and suffering and pain are finally over, which it is.
“Telos” means, “it is totally complete, fully accomplished.” You can’t improve on it no matter what you do or how hard you try, and to try to improve on it means that you screw the whole thing up and lose it all.” “He loved them to the end.” “Totally complete, fully accomplished” love.
II. Love and Commandments
“Love” is the dominant word in our Gospel reading this morning. It’s the same sermon as last Sunday, where Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” But last week we didn’t hear the word “love” once from Jesus. The focus was on “abide in ME” and “abide in my WORD.” Today however, nine times in eight verses, it’s “love” and “abide in my LOVE.” Four more times in our Epistle reading from 1 John and we’ve heard “abide in my LOVE”13 times this morning.
And as long as we’re counting, we should also point out that the word “command” and “commandment” is repeated five times in the gospel reading plus three more times in the Epistle reading. “Abide in my love” and “keep my commandments” are closely connected.
If ever there were a pair of words in search of a biblical clarity in our day, “love” and “obedience” and how they relate to each other would certainly be right at the top of the list. I’m a child of the 60’s and the ‘age of Aquarius.” We were told that ‘love’ is ‘free.’ ‘Free,’ as in, ‘no rules,’ ‘no boundaries,’ especially God’s boundaries. Well, what was ‘free’ back then we paying for big time, now.
The Greeks avoided some of the confusion that we have with this ‘crazy thing called love’ by distinguishing four different kinds of ‘love’ with four separate words.
There is “storge.” “Storge” is a “needy love” or a “dependant love.” This is the instinctual love of a mother for her child and a child for his / her parents. Even when parents are cruel and abusive, children still have a special love for them. Parents love their children no matter what becomes of them just because they are their children. You don’t command this kind of love or teach it. It happens naturally. It’s instinctual.
Then there’s “eros.” “Eros” is erotic, passionate, sexual, romantic love, filled with feelings and emotions. This is the “love” that “fall into” when we “fall in love.” It’s the kind of ‘love’ that the TV and movies seem to think is the “telos” of ‘love.’ “Eros” is the kind of ‘love’ that has to have boundaries attached to it because its easily abused, something that TV and movies are always trying to ignore. You don’t have to ‘command’ people to engage in this kind of love. Just to keep it within its proper boundaries.
“Philos” is the love of friends for each other. It’s ‘brotherly love,’ as in Philadelphia where I’m from – ‘the city of brother love’ and the Philadelphia Phillies and soft pretzels and cheese steaks. But I digress. There’s lots of confusion about the meaning of ‘friendship’ these days too. We have lots of Facebook ‘friends,’ who ‘like’ us. But for all the Facebook “friends,” there’s still a lot of loneliness out there.
“Philos” goes much deeper than that. “Friend love” is real COMPANIONSHIP. David and Jonathan were ‘friends.’ They enjoyed each other’s companionship and had each other’s back. “Friend love” doesn’t happen automatically. You have to work at it. But you don’t have to ‘command’ this kind of love. Everyone wants it.
Then there’s the big one, “agape.” This is the ‘love’ that we’ve heard mentioned 13 times today. “Agape” is ‘sacrificial’ love. Two weeks ago, we heard Jesus say, “I am the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep.” That’s agape.
It’s different than “Philos” in that Philos is reciprocal love – friendship goes both ways. But “agape” love doesn’t expect anything in return. It’s UNCONDITIONAL. It’s love for another with no conditions attached; love for the loveless, unworthy, ungrateful, unfriendly, with no thought of reciprocation or appreciation.
That’s the “love that Jesus has for His own, with which He loved them to the end.” This is the ‘love’ that John points to when he writes, “God is love.” (1Jn.4). This is the ‘DIVINE LOVE’ that defines the essence of the Triune God. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. The Father so “loves” the world that He sends His Son to ‘LAY DOWN HIS LIFE’ – agape.
In God’s case, ‘agape’ comes naturally because it is who He is. And it should come naturally to us because God made man in His image. But the divine image in us has been totally lost because of our sin. And so, this ‘love of God,’ this ‘agape love’ does not come naturally as it should. So it must be commanded. No where in the Scriptures do we hear God command ‘storge,’ or ‘eros’ or even ‘philos.’ But ‘agape’ He attaches to a command. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Listen carefully to what He says here. “Love one another as I have loved you.” “I have loved you as the Father has loved me.” His love for us always comes first. Before we ever get down to the business of loving one another Jesus has already loved us. Before we ever get to the business of laying down our life for another, Jesus has already laid down His life for us. His love has to come first because He is love and we are not. Apart from Him we don’t have any love to love one another with.
So He says, “Abide in my love.” You have to receive before you can give.
E. Abide in My Love
How do we do this? How do we “abide in His love?” Lot’s of confusion about this these days too. We ‘abide in His love’ by ‘abiding’ in those places where He says He pours out His love into us. Abide in your BAPTISM where the LOVE OF GOD was poured over your head and He joined you to His death and resurrection. Abide in the WORD where the LOVE OF GOD continues to be poured into your ears and He joins His absolution to your sin and breathes His breath of life into your dying heart. Abide in His SUPPER where the LOVE OF GOD is poured over your lips and tongue and He joins His physical body and blood GIVEN FOR YOU, to your physical body that He may be the source of love within you.
Like we said last week, that’s the Commandment. “Abide in my love” is the law. “Love one another” is the promise, the gospel. “Love one another” is the fruit of “abide in my love.”
Our English translation isn’t very helpful here. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” It’s those little words “this” and “that” that are the problem. You’ve got to be sure what “this” refers to. “Abide in my love, THIS is my commandment. With the result THAT or for the purpose THAT you love one another as I have loved you.”
III. Two ways to hear this.
A. For the Unloving
We need to hear what Jesus says here in two ways. First, when we ‘abide in His love,’ we are to produce the fruit of love, which is, ‘love one another.’ Abiding in your Baptism and the Absolution and the Supper and yet refusing to ‘love’ one another with the love of Christ, is a sin, its outright rebellion against God.
If I can put it this way, when Jesus intends to love your neighbor He carries out His love for them through you. You become His love to your neighbor, and your neighbor may well be the person sitting next to you, your own child, a person who’s name you don’t know and have never met, it may be your enemy.
To receive His love and refuse to love one another is a rebellion against the whole second table of the 10 Commandments. Commandments 4 through 10 are summarized by Jesus, “love your neighbor as yourself.” We think that we’re free to love our neighbor as LITTLE as we love ourselves. Better to think about this as “loving your neighbor as you yourself have been loved.’ If you want to pin this down to one commandment in particular, we could say that we break the 7th Commandment, ‘thou shall not steal’ when we keep for ourselves what has been given to us to be shared with our neighbor.
B. For the Unloved
The second way that we need to hear this ‘commandment’ from Jesus is when we are the one who is not loved by our neighbor. When we are unloved by our neighbor, we must not think that we are unloved by God. God loves you. “Abide in His love” and persevere in faith, trust that He will work though the lives of others that you might receive His love through them.
IV. Joy Fulfilled.
Sometimes, we Christians are accused of taking all the fun out of love. I think this comes mostly from those who reject the boundaries lines of ‘eros’ that we say are important to live within.
Certainly ‘agape’ love, laying down your life for another, unconditionally, sounds like something that is dreadfully painful and burdensome. Certainly it was painful for Jesus to lay down His life unto death, even death on a cross for us.
But Jesus makes it very clear that we dare not think of His love for us and through us as either fun or drudgery. A love that is rooted in something so deep and mysterious as the death of the Son of God could never be for the shallow or momentary experience of ‘fun’ or ‘pleasure.’ Likewise, to think of our participation in God’s great love for the world as drudgery and toilsome is equally absurd.
Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my JOY may be in you and your JOY may be full.”
“Joy!” That wonderful emotion of deep satisfaction that lifts up our hearts. The bible is filled with ‘joy,’ and ‘rejoicing’ and God’s ‘joyful’ people.
The “joy of Jesus” is the reward for loving others as we have been loved.
Once again, Jesus first of all talks about HIS JOY. His joy is a perfect joy just as His love is a perfect love. As He goes to the cross, He already sees the completion of His work and the renewing of His creation. Which right away tells us that this ‘joy’ that Jesus is talking about is something much more than just ‘pleasure’ or ‘happiness.’ In Jesus, we see real joy even in the midst of real pain and real sacrifice.
His joy is “FULL,” which means that there is no room for worry or sorrow or fear or regret. “Full” joy is “complete” joy, “perfect” joy. Joy that has reached its “telos.”
“THESE things.” What THINGS? “Love one another as I have loved you.” THESE things, I have spoken to you THAT…” “For the purpose THAT, with the result THAT, “your joy may be full.”
This is Easter joy, friends; the joy of participating in Christ’s victory over our sin and loveless and unloved lives; the joy loving one another as He has loved us; the joy of being loved “to the end.”