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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Since we're Jesus' beloved friends, we're to love one another
Text:John 15:12-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Love
 
Preached:2023
Added:2023-12-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 80

Psalm 145:1,2,5 (after the Law of God)

Hymn 72

Psalm 89:1

Psalm 91:1,3,5

Scripture reading: Ephesians 1:1-14

Text: John 15:12-17

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

One of the first hymns I can remember learning was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  It’s such an encouraging hymn.  A couple of the lines:  “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!”  And:  “Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?”  If you don’t know the hymn, I’d encourage you to look it up when you get home.  There are lots of different versions and it’s been sung by many different singers.     

Even though some appreciate it, there have been some Reformed folks who haven’t.  Some have critiqued it for being too sentimental.  Others have said it’s not proper for us to refer to Jesus as our friend.  They’re afraid that if we use that kind of language, we’ll become too casual with our Saviour.  If we think of Jesus as our friend, it’s like we’ll look at him as our buddy or something.  We won’t respect him properly as our Lord. 

And yet here we have our text in John 15 this morning and Jesus speaks about believers being his beloved friends.  Just like Abraham was called a friend of God in the Old Testament, in the New Testament all the spiritual children of Abraham are friends of Jesus.  And how odd it would be if he calls us his friends, but we’re not to think of him as our friend.  That would be an extremely lop-sided relationship.  Friendship is inherently supposed to be a back and forth thing between two people.  So the hymn is on solid biblical ground when it refers to Jesus as our friend.  We have a friendly relationship with him, one in which we’re loved and cherished deeply.  That’s what a friend does.  A friend loves.  And no one loves like our friend Jesus does. 

Because that’s true, our Lord and friend wants us to reflect his love.  We’re to do that by loving one another.  That’s what our passage from John is about this morning.  I preach to you God’s Word, Since we’re Jesus’ beloved friends, we’re to love one another.  We’ll consider:

  1. How he demonstrated his love
  2. How we reflect his love

As we begin looking at this passage, I want you to notice something about its structure.  Look at verse 12 and verse 17.  Notice that these two verses both contain the same command:  to love one another.  This command frames the passage.  You get the main command, but the basis for that command is found in the middle verses from verses 13 to 16.  In these middle verses, we find three things Jesus has done to demonstrate his love for believers.  So let’s look at these three ways that unpack what Jesus means when he says, “as I have loved you.”

In verse 13, we find one of the greatest expressions of divine love in the entire Bible.  “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  Just in ordinary human terms, we recognize the value of someone sacrificing his life to save his friends.  You hear stories of war where a soldier jumps on a grenade to save his friends.  Jesus says this is the highest form of love because it involves the greatest sacrifice – the sacrifice of your life.

The point here isn’t to make a statement about all the times other human beings have made heroic sacrifices out of love.  Rather, it’s to point out what Christ was about to do for his disciples, for all Christians, for us, if we believe in him.  He was going to lay down his life for his friends. 

That was a sacrifice unparalleled in the history of the world.  No one has ever made a sacrifice like Jesus did.  There are three factors that really make his loving sacrifice for his friends stand out.  One is the fact that he was the Son of God.  His life, his blood, his death were of infinite value because of his unique identity.  Another factor is that included with laying down his life is the suffering of the infinite wrath of God.  He experienced hell for us on the cross.  A soldier who jumps on a grenade for his friends might feel pain for a moment in his body, but for three hours Jesus suffered the most intense agony of body and soul as he took the divine wrath we deserve.  The third factor making his loving sacrifice unique is the outcome:  by his suffering and death on the cross, we have been bought to be his own possession.  As such, we’re alive now and we will be forever.  When a soldier jumps on a grenade, he saves his fellow soldiers from that one grenade.  But he dies and 20 minutes later, perhaps another grenade lands and takes everyone out.  Or perhaps something like that happens 5 years later.  But when we’re saved by our loving friend Jesus, we’re saved for eternity.  So he demonstrated his love for us in making this incredible, one-of-a-kind sacrifice in our place.

Another way he’s demonstrated his love is in verse 15.  Here there’s a shift in Christ’s relationship with his disciples.  They used to be just servants, but now they’re his beloved friends.  And it’s shown in the fact that he reveals to them everything the Father has made known to him.  That refers to two aspects of Christ’s ministry. 

On the one hand, it refers most obviously to his teaching ministry.  Through the teaching of Jesus, we are taught by God.  He is passing on what he has heard from his Father.  Christ has held nothing back from everything God wants us to know.  All we have to do is listen to him.

On the other hand, verse 15 also refers to the very character of Jesus.  As we look at Christ as we see him in the Gospels, we see a revelation of what God is like.  We see God’s love, his compassion, his mercy.  We see God’s truth, his wisdom, his righteousness.  When we look at Jesus, we see God’s goodness, his patience, his power.  In his person and how he conducted himself while on earth, Christ has held nothing back from everything God wants us to know about what he’s like.  All we have to do is watch him, observe him in the Scriptures.  A good and loving friend shares good things with you and no one has shared more good things with us than our beloved friend Jesus.    

The third way Jesus has demonstrated his love for us is in verse 16.  Notice how he says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you…”  That’s one of the clearest statements of election in the New Testament.  In the context of John 15, Jesus was speaking to the eleven disciples of his inner circle.  They had experienced this in how they became disciples some three years before this.  Peter didn’t apply to Jesus to become one of his disciples, neither did John or Matthew or Andrew or any of them.  Jesus chose them and called them to follow him.  And they did.  It wasn’t their idea to become disciples, but Christ’s. 

But for the eleven who believed in him, that was simply the working out of an election that had taken place long before this.  It’s the election described in Ephesians 1.  There we read that even before the world was created, God chose those who would become Christians.  God chose believers and he did so not because of anything in them, but out of sheer grace.  Divine election was an act of pure love for the undeserving.  That’s in view in verse 16 too.  Even before they were conceived and born, the Son of God had chosen these men to follow him and believe in him.  Even before we were conceived and born, the Son of God had chosen us as well.  The eleven disciples weren’t chosen because of any special qualities about them, and neither were we.  Election is unconditional, just like God’s love is unconditional.  You don’t deserve it and you don’t earn it.  You can’t earn it.  You just accept it and revel in it.  You enjoy it and praise God for it.

So Christ demonstrated his love for his beloved friends by laying down his life for them, by revealing to them everything he heard from the Father in his teaching and life, and then last of all through his unconditional election.  Now we’ll see also how he talks about how we’re to reflect his love.

Let’s start here with verse 14.  “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  Let’s first be clear about what Jesus isn’t saying.  He isn’t saying that you become his friend when you do what he commands or because you do what he commands.  Our relationship with him isn’t based on our performance, but on his grace and love.  Our relationship with him doesn’t start with our achievements and it’s not maintained with our achievements.  It’s all grace. 

So what is he saying then?  If you take Jesus seriously and follow what he says, that’s the evidence you’re in a friendly relationship with him.  If you don’t care at all about what Jesus says, if you don’t try to follow his commands, that demonstrates you’re not in a friendly relationship with him.  You see, the friends of Jesus care about what he has to say.  They take him seriously.  And here’s one way in which you see how the idea of having Jesus as your friend doesn’t lead a Christian to be casual in relation to him him.  A true Christian will regard Jesus as their friend, but they’ll still have the highest respect for him.  He’ll always be their Lord and they’ll want to obey him. 

And in this context that’s referring first of all to the command to love one another.  In other words, we’re to reflect his love.  Our love is patterned on his.  The word “patterned” there is important.  That’s because we can’t precisely replicate his love.  As I mentioned in the first point, there’s a unique quality to Christ’s love that can’t be replicated by us as human beings.  You can’t be the Son of God who offers his life for sinners to save them for eternity.  Only Jesus could do that – only Jesus has done that.  But you can pattern your love on his.   You can reflect his love in a way that’s fitting for who you are as a human being.

One way we can do that is by loving self-sacrificially.  As Christians in general, our Lord wants us to love one another in a way that puts the other person and what they need first.  To be self-sacrificial is to put yourself to the side and love someone else not with an eye to your needs, but theirs.  This is far easier said than done.  All of us have the leftovers of a selfish sinful nature.  If we’re going to love, we’re inclined to do it on our terms and with our needs in view.  There are two things we need to overcome this.  One is to keep studying the person and ministry of our Lord Jesus.  Study his love in the gospels.  Reflect on it often.  Meditate on the love of our great friend Jesus.  The other thing is to pray for the help of the Holy Spirit.  If our love is to be patterned on Christ’s love, the only one who can help us do that is the Holy Spirit of Christ.  We need him to fire up Christ’s self-sacrificial love in us.

While this is a general commandment for all Christians, there is one place in the New Testament where this commandment comes back in a rather specific way.  It’s in Ephesians 5.  In Ephesians 5, God tells us that husbands are to love their wives in the same self-sacrificial way that Christ loved his bride, the church.  Christ wasn’t selfish in his love, but offered himself because that was what his bride needed.  Paul says in Ephesians 5 that Christ nourishes and cherishes his church.  That’s how Christian husbands are to be with their wives.  Nourishing and cherishing.  Knowing her needs and taking care of them, even if it means there’s a cost to you.  Married brothers, Christ is to be the pattern for how we love our wives.  You might think you’re doing that.  But maybe you’re not such a good judge of the reality.  Here’s the real test:  would your wife say you nourish and cherish her?  Would she say you’re loving her in a self-sacrificial way?  Maybe you should ask her.  Look to Christ and study his love.  Then resolve to love like he does, with nourishing and cherishing.  Pray for the help of the Holy Spirit to be a loving husband like Jesus.

There’s one more way our passage speaks of us reflecting Christ’s love.  This is in verse 16.  When Christ speaks here about election, he reminds us how election is always unto service.  It’s not because of service, but unto service, for the purpose of service.  It’s just like in Ephesians 1 where we’re told the elect were chosen “that we should be holy and blameless before him.”  That – not because we were holy and blameless, but for the end result that we would be living in God’s ways.  It’s the same here in John 15.  Believers have been chosen that they would go and bear abiding fruit. 

Now what’s the connection here to love?  It’s in the nature of the fruit that’s being referred to here.  What Jesus is referring to is the fruit of more disciples.  He wants us to go out and make more disciples, to reproduce as disciples.  That’s an act of love for the people around us.  When we share the gospel with others, we’re loving them as Christ has loved us.  We’re sharing with them the most precious gift in the world:  life in Jesus Christ.  Christ’s purpose is for us to share his love with as many people as we can and help them become his disciples too. 

And his purpose is also that whoever we disciple would abide in him too.  That’s why he says, “…and that your fruit should abide.”  “Your fruit” here is referring to other people who become his followers.  Jesus wants them to remain with him in his love.

The end of verse 16 here is referring to the same process of making more disciples.  Christ chose us and appointed us so that we would pray to the Father in Christ’s name.  Specifically, here that we would be praying and asking for the fruit of more disciples through our witness.  Jesus isn’t saying here that you can just pray for whatever you want and as long as you pray for it in Jesus’ name, God will give it to you.  Jesus isn’t some genie who grants you your wishes.  No, he’s saying: pray for fruit.  When you pray to be a fruitful Christian, God will grant that.  When you pray to be a fruitful Christian who helps others to become disciples of Jesus, the Father will give that to you.  But pray to be fruitful in showing the love of Christ by sharing the gospel.  That’s what Jesus is saying here. 

Now that certainly has application to evangelism.  But it also has an application within the church.  It has an application specifically to parents with their children.  You’re a Christian and God has blessed you with those children.  To apply the words of Christ in verse 16, you have been chosen and appointed that you should go and bear fruit by raising those children to be followers of Jesus.  You have been chosen and appointed, that your fruit should remain, that those children would be followers of Jesus for eternity.  Parents, you’ve been chosen and appointed, so you’d pray to the Father regularly for these children that they may be born again by the Spirit and follow Christ.  And just as that applies to parents, it also applies to Christian school teachers who are in the place of parents in the classroom.  All our Christian teachers are also called to go and bear fruit by loving the next generation and discipling them for Christ.  Do it prayerfully and God will bless your efforts.

So this is how we reflect the love of Christ – by self-sacrificial love for others and by going and bearing fruit by lovingly sharing his love and discipling new believers. 

Loved ones, I think I know another reason why some Reformed folks don’t like that hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  I think it’s because some are allergic to the idea that we ought to have a relationship with him.  That leads people to think of Jesus as someone remote from us, or to even think of him just as an abstract concept.  But the Bible is clear in this passage and others that all Christians have a friendly relationship with Christ.  He is our friend and we are his friends.  What a blessing and privilege that is!  Seeing how awesome it is to have a friend in Jesus, we’re led to follow his lead.  We want to be like our friend in whatever ways we can because we admire him and we love him.  There’s no friend like Jesus.  AMEN. 

PRAYER:

Our loving Lord and friend,

Thank you for calling us your friends.  We worship you for your great sacrificial love shown on the cross.  We’re grateful that you took our hell there so we could have eternal life. Lord Jesus, we love you for having done that for us.  We also love and thank you for showing us everything you have heard from the Father.  We adore you for having chosen us before the creation of the world to be yours.  We have been so deeply cherished and loved by you.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to reflect your love.  May we show self-sacrificial love to those around us.  Be especially with the husbands in our church and help them to nourish and cherish their wives the way that you nourish and cherish the church in your self-sacrificial love.  And LORD God, our heavenly Father, we pray that you would make us all bear much fruit.  Lead us and help us to make more disciples.  Let us see more disciples being made who will abide in Christ.  Father, we also pray for the parents and the teachers among us.  Help them too as they work to disciple the children you’ve entrusted to them.  We pray that you would richly bless those efforts so that among these children too, we may see much fruit that abides.                                                      




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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