I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other. John 15:9-17
These red letters form part of Jesus’ final words to His disciples. They took place in the upper room where they had their last supper together and Jesus gave them the sacrament of the bread and the wine to remember His death. They are recorded in John chapters 13-17 and being that they were Christ’s last words to His disciples, they carry an extra weight of importance. In less than 24 hours of speaking these words, Jesus will be hanging on a cross.
This part of His message is all about love — God’s love for Jesus, Jesus’ love for us, and our love for each other. It’s not a vague love. Not a gushy love. Not a Hollywood love. It’s clearly defined. It’s defined by laying down your life for a friend. It’s defined by Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. So how are we going to love each other following Christ’s example? Well we’re not going to die on a cross like He did. You can only do that once. But wait a minute; maybe we do. Maybe we do die on a cross over and over again. Maybe that’s what He meant when He told us to take up our crosses and follow Him. We do die. We die to ourselves. We lay down our lives for our friends by crucifying our own selfish interests and desires and taking up the interests of others. We get out of our shoes and into theirs. We lay down our right to own our lives for ourselves only, and take up someone else’s.
Follow Jesus around in the gospels. Follow the red letters. Does He look like someone who just lives for himself — moving from one thing to another, seeking pleasure for himself alone? Never. Instead, He listens to everything His Father tells Him and then does it, laying aside whatever plans He could have had for Himself. Who knows, He might have wanted to marry and have a family. He was human; He must have had those feelings. Or He might have wanted to use his divine power for things He wanted to do, not what His Father told Him to do. Or He might have wanted to take a rest, get away from it all, get a break from His disciples and the crowds that pressed in on Him. In every way He set aside Himself so He could become our sacrifice and our savior. More than once He said He only does what the Father tells Him to do.
This is love defined. Not our will but God’s.
Follow me around for a while and you will find something else — someone who all too often does what he wants to do, setting aside what would be in the best interests of those he loves so he could do what he pleases. This is not good. The red letters have made it clear. Lay down my life for my friends. Set aside what I want. Sacrifice myself for others; don’t sacrifice everyone else for me. This is love defined. Not my will but God’s.
But here’s the surprise. Do this and Jesus says our joy will overflow. We give up what we want — the things we think will bring us pleasure — and Jesus says we will be filled with His joy. Which joy do you want? Yours or His? His has got to be far better.