12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)
Love is Self-Sacrificial
One of the many distinctions between the one true God and every other false religion is that the one true God loves His people, calls them His friends, and in loving them, He lays His life down for them. The one true God is a distinctly self-sacrificing God. No other false gods can do this, because no others are triune. Only the Triune God can lay down His life and remain all sovereign. The gospel requires the Trinity. And the second person of the Trinity, the Lord incarnate, laid down his life for his friends. All other false gods and religious systems expect their subjects to be able to work or earn their way to heaven some way. These religions don’t live in reality, nor correctly assess our sinfulness. The one true God knows that’s impossible, so He came to us in the person of the Lord Jesus and gave Himself for us, since we could not give ourselves for Him. But in this way, these false religions are actually very self-serving. Since they do not deal in reality, they only meet the sinful desires of the person involved – it makes them feel good, or brings some kind of temporal benefit to them, or something like that. It doesn’t actually do something real for them. I will come back to this thought later on, but just know for now that because we have an all-sufficient, total sovereign God who gives of Himself for His friends, we have a God who deals in reality and actually does something for us, and the world. The true God is a distinctly self-sacrificing God, that does so on the behalf of others.
Now this is one of the reasons that secular humanist statism, which is one of the most prevalent false gods of our day, hates Christianity so much. The god of statism is all about itself. Now, of course our God, is all about His own glory as well, in fact, that is every god, every god is all about himself. The distinction that I was making is that the one true God procures His glory, in such a way that is self-sacrificial and to the benefit of the world. And when He saves us He tells us to turn around and do good in the world, even to our enemies. And statism hates the true religion, because statism is all about itself, it is not for the benefit of others, and any benefit it sees Christians doing for others, it is jealous for because either that benefit could’ve been done to the state, or the state itself could’ve been the one giving out the benefit. And it only gives out those fake benefits until it has gained total control. This is the false god and false religion that we are dealing with today. It is the giant that must fall. Secular humanist statism is an enemy of God and has done nothing but brought disastrous harm and destruction on countless numbers of people. As Christians we must be opposed to this ungodly statism. Christianity is the only sufficient means in the world, with the adequate tools, to take this sucker down. And ultimately it is in the God who gave Himself for us, that we might lay our lives down for one another, not for the state.
Christian love is self-sacrificial, modeled after Christ.
When you tell someone to give up their life for you, that is not love, even if you call it love. So when the government tells us to give up our lives by staying home and staying away from people, that’s not love. Even if they want to call it “love for neighbor,” it is not. Love does not seclude oneself away from danger and away from serving one another. But you see, when the government tells us to do those things, and give up our lives in that way, the government is not loving us. Love does not demand that others give up their lives for you, it lays itself down for others. So there again is that distinction: the statist humanist god does not and cannot love you; only the Triune God can and does love His people.
Furthermore, to press in on this issue from another point of view: when we as individuals decide to do those things: stay home, avoid people, isolate, etc. We can’t love one another doing those things. Because love is self-sacrificial, and those are things centered around self-preservation, unless you are actually sick, then it is loving to stay away. But if you are healthy, it is about self-preservation and is not loving as a way of life. Yeah there are going to be people out there that could give us viruses, but no one ever said that loving as Christ has loved us was safe! Jesus loved us and gave Himself up for us. His love subjected Him to a fake trial, to brutal beatings, and death on a cross. If we are to pattern our love after His, what do we think that will get us?
Love does not drive one to self-preservation, but to self-giving. That of course is not to say that we must always choose the most dangerous and life-threatening activity. Many times it is better that we preserve our lives, so that we can remain alive to lay down our lives for our families, than to do something extremely life-threatening, depending on what that thing was. But it is also true, that sometimes, the best thing we can give our families, is a dad that gives up his life in a legit situation of courage, rather than a cowardly father who preserved his life. For one example I think of Canadian pastor James Coates who has been and remains in prison for defying Canada’s health orders and having church. Many of his critics criticize him for doing what he did, because now he’s in prison instead of at home with his wife and children. But in this situation I believe it is absolutely true that better than having a husband and father at home with them, is to have a husband and father who rightly and self-sacrificially loved Christ and His Church and is now in prison. We need to settle it in our minds that indeed is better, should the same situation be presented to us.
Love is costly. Look at the cross.
You see, love that is self-sacrificial is love that loves irrespective of what it receives in return. Jesus laid down His life for those who had nothing to offer Him in return. He gave His all, to those who had none to give in return. He gives from His fullness to those who cannot add to His fullness, and yet He loses nothing.
That is what it means to give up your life: to expect nothing in return from the beloved – except to trust God, that He will raise you from the dead.
Here we must also confront the society’s view of love with that of the biblical view of love. What is the popular phrase in our society? “Love is love.” That’s what they say. What does that even mean? They have to define love that way, a nonsensical way, because they don’t know what love is. And if they do know, they reject it, because they do not love God. Then they say, “Love who you want.” And that is very revealing, because while that phrase still does not define love, it reveals a lot about it, mainly that it is self-serving. “Whoever you want to love, you love.” This is emotionally driven self-serving love. This comes into conflict with Christian love, which is not based on our desires or feelings, but upon our God, who is love, and Christ, who laid down His life for us because He loved us. Indeed we are explicitly commanded in verse 12 to love one another as Christ has loved us. It is not an option based upon what we want. Though when we love Jesus, we do want to love one another.
Loving After the Pattern of Christ
So here in verse 12 Jesus is providing some further answers for verse 9-11. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” So what commandments do we keep in order to abide in the love of Christ, and our joy may be full? All of those things which God commands us, but those things are chiefly found and encapsulated in the two greatest commandments to love God and love neighbor. But Jesus summarizes it here by saying “love one another as I have loved you.” If we love one another as Christ has loved us then it is because Christ has indeed loved us, and we love him. All other laws and commands are ways that we love God and neighbor.
The wonderful thing about this command is not that we are just to do it. It is that we are to love one another, because Christ has loved us. Our love for one another is patterned after His love for us, which comes from the Father’s love for the Son. Loving one another means we have been loved by Christ. His love for us precedes this command. His love for us precedes our actions of love toward others.
Love initiates and takes action: He loved and gave Himself for us first
Here it is we find that the pattern of the love of God in Christ is that it initiates and takes action, irrespective of the merit, worthiness, or action of the beloved. Jesus does not tell us to love so that we are worthy of the love which we have received. He does not tell us to love so that we can receive or earn His love, or keep His love. But rather, He has already loved us. He has already taken action on our behalf.
Adam -> Christ
The fact that Jesus tells us to love as He has loved us, shows us the superiority of His love, and what He accomplished.
I think of Adam in the garden. What did he do when they sinned? Adam blamed the woman that God gave him? That is the opposite of self-sacrifice. Adam was offering his own wife up as sacrifice. When Eve took the fruit, Adam should not have also taken it. He should have offered himself up to God as a sinless sacrifice for his bride’s sin. But instead he self-indulged and sought self-preservation. So we need another Adam, which is Christ. And what does Christ do? He takes the sin of His bride, and He does not commit it. But instead He offers Himself up as a sinless sacrifice for her sins.
Think of the law. The righteous law demands retribution. It demands that you pay for your sins. When it comes to our standing before the law of God, there is no other mere man that can stand in our place and pay for our sins. They are not able or sufficient in any way. But the Lord Jesus is the first and only one, who is able to stand in the place of others before God. And so He does. He meets the law’s demands.
Think of the blood of bulls and goats sacrificed for sin. They pictured forth Christ dying and self-sacrificing for sin. But the bulls and goats did not give up of themselves in a self-sacrificial way – they were animals. The bulls and the goats did not love those for whom they were dying. So indeed it was just a type and shadow of the greater love and self-sacrifice that was to come and has indeed come in the Lord Jesus.
And since Jesus has done this greatest act of sin-atoning self-sacrifice on our behalf, that means that we can’t, shouldn’t, and don’t die to atone for the sins of others. And it is that fact – that we don’t have to be the savior of anybody – that we are then freed to love others and lay our lives down for them in other ways. There is no pressure to be our own or others’ sin-atoning sacrificial savior – there is already and only one. Therefore we are freed from that pressure and are now able to love freely and sacrificially as we have been loved, from the love that we have been given in Christ.
Listen to how Calvin simply puts it, “…for he loved all his people, that they may love each other.” Calvin continues, “Christ sometimes proclaims the greatness of his love to us, that he may more fully confirm our confidence in our salvation; but now he proceeds further, in order to inflame us, by his example, to love the brethren.”
Other people can be hard to love because of their sin and because of our sin. But remembering how Christ has loved us gives us strength to love one another.
One of the reasons Christians love each other is because we have all been loved by Christ and He laid down His life for us all. Since Christ gave Himself for us, how might we give ourselves for others?
Mothers and their babies
I think of mothers and their babies. The whole pregnancy process is that of self-giving for the life of another. Ladies, there is a way to be pregnant in a Christian way, or non-Christian way. Simply having the baby is the obvious way. Abortion is the opposite of love. Instead of saying, “I will give myself for you,” it says, “You die for me.” If we’ve already had someone die for us, we don’t need to demand that another die also for us. That is obvious but there is a Christian way to be pregnant. You recognize that biblical love is self-sacrificial and irrespective of what one may receive in return. So you give yourself for your child cheerfully, without complaining about the inconvenience of how much they take from you, because you recognize how much more needy and dependent you are on Christ for everything, and yet He lovingly gave of Himself for you.
What about in marriage? Do you have a difficult marriage? How much do you believe the gospel? How much do you believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus? If you believe that Jesus laid His life down for you, and that in laying yours down for others you will get yours back, then you can love your spouse and lay your life down, no matter how difficult they are, or you are. You can bear all of their burdens and let love cover a multitude of their sins, because you are in Christ and He is bearing and covering yours. No matter how much your spouse may not return the love or live up to the standard they ought, or that you think they ought to, you can keep loving and giving, because how much more has Christ loved us and we did not love Him? And how much more do we not live up to the standard we ought, and Christ gives Himself for us?
For husbands especially, we must remember that Christian love is self-sacrificing. We want to affirm strong male headship and leadership in the home that takes initiative and gives direction and instructs and disciplines and is firm. But if we do those things without biblical love we are domineering tyrants. Biblical male headship includes and requires love, which is a love modeled after Christ which instructs men to lay down their lives for their brides. If we are not laying down our lives for our wives, we are not being strong Christian men. We must lead in self-sacrificing if we are going to expect those under us in our home to do the same for others.
What about in the context of our church family? How do we love one another as Christ has loved us? So often in these contexts, sinister sins can crop up, because we may be the least suspecting of them to, and the least on guard against sin – after all we are in church. And yet sometimes we can be tempted to be the nastiest to one another. We must be aware that the enemy wants to cause division especially in strong churches. This makes it all the more necessary that we always love one another as Christ has loved us and gave Himself for us. We must lay our lives down for one another. This means little things like overlooking and letting love cover little things that people may say that offend us – they may not have intended it to be so. We must recognize that we are all needy sinners in need of grace, so we must bear with one another if we become annoyed with one another or have personality conflicts, or have disagreements of various kinds. If we can love and give in the little things, we can be trusted to love and give in the big things, like being willing to face civil punishment for the sake of meeting together.
We can lay our lives down for others because we will get them back again. It doesn’t matter what it will cost us, it could cost us our lives. It may be our whole life in a difficult marriage, or many years of difficult Christians we live amongst. Where the world says “don’t spend your whole life in difficult relationships. Just leave and do what makes you happy.” Christ demands of us and enables us to persevere and continue to love and to give, and to give our very lives, because we are promised that if we give our lives, we will receive them back again.
There are so many lost people out there who don’t know what love is, because they’ve never actually been loved with Christian love. People have only loved them self-servingly and just took what was of benefit to them. There are many people out there in our world who are truly broken, and have truly been used and abused and chewed up and spit out, and are desperate for love. And they don’t know where to find it or how to get it. And I will say, this is the reality among homosexuals. They are the ones who tout “love, love, love.” Yet, because their activity is objectively not love, but rather hatred, they are among the most miserable and hurting people – the suicide rates are way higher than others. They need the gospel. They need the true Church. They need to know that true love does not coddle you in whatever desires you have, but it seeks the good of the beloved. Christian love seeks the good of the beloved and tells the beloved, “stop sinning. That’s not good for you.” Yeah that will hurt some people’s feelings. But Christian love is tough. It can take it. There are so many people who don’t even know Christian love, and they are hurting, they are desperate for a love that brings them into a world bigger than their own little lame bubble world of self-serving love.
There is nothing more weak and small-minded and soul-sucking than living a self-serving life. Civilizations are not built by people only thinking of themselves. The next Christendom will be built on the blood of those who gave up themselves for others. The next Christendom will not be built by self-serving isolating individuals, but by those who believe in their bones that Christ gave Himself up for peoples, and nations, and planets. If the Christian life was simply about zip zapping people out of this world and into heaven, this self-giving love as a way of life would not make total sense. But if we believe that we have a duty to make full-fledged disciples of Jesus Christ who seek to obey everything that He taught us in all of life, and if we believe those disciples are to be entire nations, well that just means then that we have a civilization building great commission. It is a good thing Jesus gave us the tools to build such a civilization. If Jesus just told us to meditate in private and seclude ourselves from the rough and tumble of the world, then are ill-prepared for the great commission. But Jesus prepared us for His great commission. Because the love He gave us was not inward and upward warm and fuzzy feelings. The love He gave us came down to us, and goes out through us. Christian love is not merely personal spirituality and piety. It is earthy, practical, bloody, and costly in the real world. It means we actually give up our own wants, desires, comforts, ease, and maybe even our literal lives, for the good of others.
This is what Jesus patterned and accomplished for us. He did not merely live a religious and pious life. He actually healed people, provided for people, gave up his time and energy to people, taught and loved people, was patient and kind with people, and then He goes to the cross. He didn’t just die to make the ultimate example of inspiration. He took on our actual sins. He really became our sin, so that in Him we might become, really, the righteousness of God. Jesus shed His real and actual blood. His real flesh was actually torn, mangled, and pierced. And He literally died and gave Himself up for us. And then He rose again from the dead, actually, in the real world, saving His people, forgiving their sin, redeeming the world and transforming it.
You see love is something that is actually helpful, and actually beneficial to its recipients. It’s not just sending good vibes or “thoughts and prayers.” It actually benefits the beloved. And many people think that the love of God in Christ does no good for them in the real world. And the only reason they think that is because they haven’t received it yet. Not only does the love of God in Christ free us from the punishment and penalty of our sin, saving us from the wrath of God and the eternal flames of hell and grants us eternal life and pleasure forevermore – as if that wasn’t enough – it is actually, totally real life, practically transforming. The self-giving love of Christ through His people has lead to thousands upon thousands of real addictions overcome, real marriages healed, real demons cast out, real diseases healed, real mouths fed, real babies saved from abortion, real children adopted, real sin repented of, real ethical businesses built, real poor cared for, real comfort in sorrow, real friendship when otherwise you’d be all alone, real laughter around the dinner table, and real needs met.
When Jesus gave Himself for us, He did something for us that immensely does things for us, here, now, and forever. Let us go and do likewise, for Christendom, and for the glory of the Triune God in this world. Amen.