The Law of Love

Text: John 15:9-17
Date: Easter VI + Mother’s Day + 5/10/15

It is still that night of high anxiety, Jesus’ last night with His disciples before His death. His last words to them are filled with urgency, but above all with love. He has drawn the disciples and you and me to know and to believe who He is, the great I AM, that is, our great Lord and God incarnate, in the flesh come to save us. We need to know and believe that or our faith will be misplaced and our understanding of His death and resurrection inadequate. He makes clear that we also need to know and believe how He will still be with us after His death and resurrection. Today we hear Him expand on that, saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Today we need to understand the Father’s love for the Son, the Son’s love for His disciples, and what sort of love this is to which we are called to have for the brethren, our fellow Christians, one another, our family, but even, we might add, also for all those around us be they friend or enemy.

You know that there are four different Greek words which we translate with the word love, three of which are found in the Bible. Nevertheless, the fourth love is demonstrated in our Lord’s and His disciples’ bond in their common interests—first fishing, then teaching and learning, and now after His resurrection the love of preaching the mighty Word of the Gospel. Of the other three words Jesus uses two of them in today’s Gospel—one, αγάπη, the highest form of divine love, and φιλέϖ, the second highest translated “friend.” In today’s pericope Jesus uses the highest word, agape, nine times and the second highest, phileo, three times. Today we are especially interested, however, in this agape love which He commands us to have for one another.

The biggest problem to understanding this is our common, everyday way of understanding or speaking of love in general as more of an emotion.

Let us learn and remember the classic definition of agape love, the love of God and the divine love we are called to have toward one another. It is certainly not merely an emotional thing. The classic definition of agape is “the love of intelligence and corresponding purpose.” Or in other words the love that sees a need and rushes to meet that need regardless of how loveable is the object. As we Norwegians would say, “Uf dah! That sounds so academic, dry and lacking of emotion.” And this is not to say there is no emotion involved. Holy Cow! How emotional is going to be the next few hours of the highest demonstration of God’s love for His world than “the innocent, bitter, suffering,” and bloody death of His Son on the Cross. Every year we attempt to experience a little of the emotional factor of Holy week with special processions, the three-day-long service of the Triduum, the various rites of imposition of ashes, the washing of feet, the stripping of the altar, the reproaches and the adoration of the crucified, then, of course, the sacraments of getting all wet in Holy Baptism and inebriated with Christ’s blood in the Lord’s Supper! But it is not the emotional impact that is the substance of God’s love nor of the love we are to have toward one another. You all know that we are called to love even those we find repulsive, different, even offensive or unlovable…just like we are in our raw sins before God!

The love of God is the love of intelligence and corresponding purpose. Jesus says His love for us is similar to the Father’s love of His Son. He says it has something to do with keeping the Father’s commandments. So this is not the inner-Trinitarian, ineffable love that is God’s very nature. The Father loves the incarnate Son, Jesus, because He faithfully carried out the mission for which He was sent. The Hymn of the Day puts it this way:

God said to His beloved Son:
“It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown,
And bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
May live with You forever. [LSB 556:5]

That mission required as of first importance that He take on our human nature, our flesh and blood, born of the virgin Mary. This is such a magnificent mystery, not just for God but also for us—two natures, human and divine, in one Person—that we literally bow when we confess how God has honored us that He became like us. As Adam was God’s first creation, so Jesus is God’s new creation. Of course Jesus had to take on flesh and blood, first, so that we could see God; see Him and not be destroyed or die but live. Then in His flesh He laid down His life into death, the one all-sufficient sacrifice that takes away sin and brings forgiveness. Here is where Jesus uses both words for love when He says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends…. No 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.” This is the love of intelligence and corresponding purpose. Our greatest need is for the Word of God, of knowing and believing that Christ’s death was for the destruction of our death and raising us to new life.

So today He says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Now of course our laying down our life in no way has the power or effect of taking away anyone else’s sin. But we know that Christ’s death has already disarmed all sin and death. So we love one another, above all, by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to free our neighbor from sin, to bring the same salvation we have received for ourselves. To love one another is to see the neighbor’s deepest need and to bring God’s forgiveness and life to them.

Then there are other levels or expressions of divine love, of course. Sometimes it will be telling the neighbor the Gospel, what God has done for the world in His Son’s life, death and resurrection. That may take the form of an evangelism call, but more often teaching Sunday school or especially teaching and praying with our own children at home. Other times this love may be bringing healing or relief from a physical illness or injury. This may be as simple as providing transportation to the doctor, clinic or hospital. Or, as we said last Sunday, simply providing a cup of water or some food or a coat or blanket. It is with this kind of love that, today, we give honor and thanksgiving to our mothers. Whether we try to express that love with flowers, “Sheri’s Berries®”, going out to eat or cooking a special meal at home, the need is the word of appreciation, thanksgiving and love for the one who has faithfully fulfilled her vocation, her God-given station in life.

So you see that this highest form of divine love is not beyond our ability. For as between Jesus and the Father it consisted in faithfully doing what He was sent to do, so with us this love is simply fulfilling our vocation as Christians set with specific roles in our family, life and surroundings. What’s that great quote attributed to Martin Luther? “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” So don’t think Jesus is today commanding us to some spectacular or even arduous work but in simple faithfulness, to love God above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves by being an expression of the love of God for our neighbor in the vocation God has given.