By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 30 2019 05:39PM
Christian joy is one of the most confusing and often elusive things. We know that faith in Jesus should bring us joy, but quite how can be something of a mystery. The voice of society is loud in our ears and it tells us to throw off the shackles of rules, reject any idea of judgement as the construct of a controlling church and live your life the way your heart tells you to. If you look underneath the gloss of many of our popular films, that is exactly what they are saying. One of the best feel good films of last year was a classic example: The Greatest Showman. Now I loved it as much as anyone, but the underlying philosophy of our age was loud and clear. Yet as we look around at society, we see that, rather than getting happier, mental health problems are on the rise, anger and outrage are an everyday occurrence.
So what does Jesus say about joy? Now of course, it is a complex issue and we're not going to get the bottom of things in 15 minutes, but as we study today's verses of John, we will learn some key points, while also debunking a few myths.
As we read the passage, it would be easy to hone in on v17 and make our own interpretation of what Jesus is saying "This is my command: love one another." After all, we know that love makes us happy, so loving one another will share the joy. But what does it mean to love one another? This is where it gets more tricky. Is love helping people to follow their own hearts, as society would tell us, or is Jesus meaning something else entirely? To get to the answer, we need to dig down into the whole of the passage and see what Jesus is saying.
As we glance up from v17 to v12, we find a fuller version of 'love one another'. "My command is this: love one another as I have loved you." Our love for one another is rooted in how Jesus has loved us. But how has Jesus loved us? As we continue back through the passage, we discover v9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you." Jesus' love for us is rooted in how his Father has loved him. But how is that? To get to the answer, we need to go back to John 5:20 "For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does." God the Father's love for Jesus is shown in revelation. He has shared everything with him: his plans, his thoughts, his inner self. This is what love does, isn't it? When you fall in love you talk for hours, about your hopes and dreams, your past and your future. You reveal your heart. And when this sort of talking stops, then it's not usually long before the relationship breaks down too. From the beginning of time Jesus and the Father, along with the Holy Spirit, have been one: sharing, relating, revealing their hearts to one another. And Jesus has done this for his disciples. (Remember that the words we're looking at were spoken privately to them). He had taught them, warned them, shared with them.
Now imagine love without a response. You've shared your heart with someone and then they've ignored you? That's a terrible thing, isn't it? If it's happened to you, you will remember the pain and the hurt it caused. Love demands a response. And the response to God's love is obedience. v10 "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love." Jesus showed his love for the Father by responding to his revelation with loving, free, obedience. He wasn't bullied or threatened to obey. God wasn't a domineering Father demanding he do as he was told. No, He lovingly did what his Father, in love, had asked. And it cost him. It was obedience which led to the cross. v13 "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." Jesus' willing, costly sacrifice for us. He obeyed. And we are called to obey too.
We're called to obey Jesus' commands. Time for a bit more debunking. Did you notice he says "If you keep my commands". It is plural. So he's not just talking about one command, 'love one another', but commands, plural. This isn't new teaching. If you look back to chapter 14:15-27, Jesus is saying the same thing. And he also makes it clear that he and the Father are united v20 "On that day you will realise I am in my Father." v24 "These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." So it's not like God the Father has made all these horrible commands which we can now ignore because Jesus has given us one which overrides them. No, we are called to obedience to the full revelation of God. That is so important for us to remember. We do not have authority to cast away whole chunks of the Bible because we don't like them any more, or because we think society has moved past them. Unless God himself has rescinded them because they have been fulfilled in Jesus (like the food laws and the temple sacrifices) then they are still applicable to us. We respond to God's love by obedience.
Now, of course, dry obedience can become harsh and self serving. The Pharisees were prime examples of this. They weren't bad people, as we often think of them. Pharisees were keenly aware that the exile had happened because the people had disobeyed God, and they wanted to make sure it didn't happen again. So they made more laws to 'protect' the laws given by God, under the assumption that if the people kept these new laws then they were kept safe from disobeying God's laws. It had a good intention. The problem was, it all became rigid and harsh and individualistic, just about sticking to the letter of the law. Obedience even became a cause for pride. The love had gone. And that's the context into which Jesus was speaking. He needed to remind the disciples to love. Not just God, but one another. The greatest act of Jesus' obedience wasn't about him at all. It was about others. It was for others, us. In fact it cost Jesus everything, for us to gain everything. So Jesus told his disciples to be obedient and love others in this same self-sacrificing way, for the benefit of the other.
Now we need to remember that Jesus was speaking to the disciples. That's the 'one another' he's primarily referring to. It's about how we relate to one another within the church family. Jesus knew that frictions and disagreements could easily creep in and destroy the mission of the church. That happened when he was still with them, and he knew that it would happen all the more when he was gone. The disciples needed to be reminded to put the needs of others before their own. And so do we. Often the hurts and disagreements in church life come because we feel we have been slighted, or our rights have not been considered. When we begin to feel that way, we need to stop and pray, to seek the good of others. Then the church can move on in its mission to the world.
Now, of course, Jesus' words have a wider application to people outside of the church too, as we remember his other commands to love our neighbour and even love our enemies. How do we love others outside the church and seek their good? We don't do it by denying the commands of Jesus and teaching them lies. Neither do we do it by harsh condemnation. Love is about wanting and working for the best in someone else. And the very best thing is for someone to know, love and serve Jesus themselves.
This leads to the final point. v16 "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you." Now Jesus calls his disciples - and us by extension - friends, and that is no small thing. It was only Abraham who was called God's friend in the OT (Though he spoke to Moses as one speaks with a friend). It's a huge thing to be called Jesus' friend, and v16 reminds us that is only so because Jesus has called and chosen us. It's not because we are especially lovely or worthy, or that we've obeyed to the right extent. The initiative is with Jesus. And he's chosen us for a purpose: to bear fruit. What fruit might that be? We often think of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and so on, and that is true. But there is more than that here. Jesus says this fruit lasts. The clue is in the verb: 'go'. It reminds us of 'go and make disciples'. Those are the fruit that lasts, right into eternity. And when you think about it, the purpose of fruit is to make more fruit. It can be pretty and tasty and good for us, but fruit is there to grow new plants. Our purpose is go and bear the fruit of new disciples for God's kingdom. When we begin to think like this, like Jesus, then our prayers are prayers from his heart which God delights to answer.
And the result of all of this is joy. v11 "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." Loving Jesus, obeying him, sharing his love and seeing others come alive in him. This is the way to know joy as a Christian, and it's a joy which runs far deeper than simply being happy. It's a joy which can rest in the love of Jesus, be content in living for him and which shares his delight when others come to know him for the first time. May Jesus help us to live joyful lives as we serve him.