12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
I’ve said it before. It bears saying again. We know it’s right. We know it works. We know that when all the hatred and violence has expended itself, however long that may take and whatever suffering and destruction it may visit upon the earth and its people whilst it wears itself out, what will be left is love. It is a central theme throughout the Bible, particularly in the New Testament. It first appears in Leviticus 19:18b ‘but love your neighbour as yourself’. Jesus (in Matthew 22:37-40) connects it to a command from Deuteronomy (6:5) ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’. Paul emphasises it in his letter to the church in Rome in advance of his hope to visit them on his way to Spain (Chapter 13:8-10 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. And John in today’s reading places this idea on a wonderfully personal level – “abide in my love; you are my friends; I chose you; I appointed you; No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Love permeates the New Testament and Paul encapsulates the sort of love we are talking about in his first letter to the church in Corinth (13:4-8):-
Love is patient; love is kind.
It does not envy; it does not boast; it is not proud.
It is not rude; it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects; always trusts; always hopes; always perseveres.
Love never fails.
The ideas behind it are relatively easy to say, they can trip off the tongue with consummate ease. But putting them into practice is quite a different matter – often difficult, sometimes virtually impossible, especially when we get hold of the ‘always-ness’ of it – always protects; always patient; never envies; never easily angered; and so on!
So what are we to do?
Well, we can start by ensuring that we always ‘do no wrong to a neighbour’ – and that needs careful, thoughtful consideration in our complex, connected and economically global world.
And then there is the ‘active’ part of love: always protecting, always persevering; always looking out for those in need. In our own strength, I think this is impossible.
In John’s Gospel Jesus says: 16 “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” – and it seems to me that the fruit that will last is indeed ‘love’ – it will be what remains after all else is expended and extinguished – and ‘asking in my name’, the name of ‘love’ itself, will help us in our weakness and enable us to approach the ‘always-ness’ of love and live it out as best we may.
Almighty and eternal God,
you have kindled the flame of love in the hearts of the saints:
grant to us the same faith and power of love,
that, as we rejoice in their triumphs,
we may be sustained by their example and fellowship;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Reading (Full text)
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 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. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.