Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts to you. Call us with your voice that we will trust in you and believe your word of truth. Set our feet on the path you have put before us and fill us your Spirit to strengthen us to walk that path. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
In ages past, before I was a pastor, I spent four years working with Middle School students. At the beginning of the year, we often played a game to introduce ourselves called ‘Three truths and a lie.’ Basically, you give four statements about yourself, one of which is false. Everyone else’s job is to try and guess which of the statements is the lie. Let’s try it a second. These are about me:
- I once won a rubber chicken as a prize in a trivia contest. (TRUE)
- I can sing the Alphabet song backwards. (FALSE)
- I named a cat after the medieval English theologian Julian of Norwich. (TRUE)
- I was once called “Hermione” by one of my seminary professors. (TRUE)
I will say those again and Olga is not allowed to play. But let’s take a show of hands…
In our scripture passage today, Jesus reveals at least three truths that we should hear this morning, but he also exposes a lie that we so easily believe in our world today. The four statements are in the sermon notes in your bulletin. But we are going to listen to God’s word, then examine each of these statements to find the truth and root out the lie. The passage is John 15:12-27.
Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:
This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you servants, 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. 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 in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you. If they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It was to fulfill the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Three truths and a lie. Four statements: He chose us. He calls us friends. He commands us to love one another. He promises us a comfortable life. Three of these Jesus words reveal to be true, but one is a lie. Let’s look at them one at a time to see what is true and what is not.
FIRST STATEMENT: HE CHOSE US
Verse 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.
You did not choose me, but I chose you. On the surface, this is simply a statement of fact about how Jesus chose his disciples. He went out and called fisherman who left their nets and followed him. They didn’t go looking for him, but he sought them out and called them. But Jesus is not only talking about how the disciples were called. Listen to what the Bible says in Ephesians 1:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
You did not choose me, but I chose you, Jesus says, and Paul reiterates, before the foundation of the world. Before we had done anything, God chose to save. Before we ever chose him, God chose us. We may have a specific moment in which we remember first saying ‘Jesus, I love you and trust you. I believe in you.’ This is good and a gift from God, all are called to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, but Scripture teaches that long before that, long before you ever knew God, God knew you.
I know that this gets into controversial territory among various Christians. We are not talking about this to congratulate ourselves on how Reformed we are or to start a controversy with other believers who struggle with this teaching. We are talking about God’s choice of us, not our choice of him, not because it fits into some neat and tidy system we came up with, but because this is what Jesus said is true. We have it from the lips of Jesus. We talk about election, which is another word for God choosing to save some, because it is in the Bible. This is good news.
First, it shows God’s grace. God saves sinners. If it was about being deserving, being good enough, exercising our free will to choose God, no one would be saved. But God in his mercy reaches down to gather up a people who had done nothing to deserve his grace. Your life cannot be too much of a mess, too far gone, too broken for the grace of God. God saves sinners. You did not choose me, but I chose you. Not because of anything we had done or will do, but because of his great mercy. So ‘repent and believe,’ trust in Christ who saves.
Second, God’s choosing frees us to share the gospel with everyone. The fact that God chooses to save at all when none deserve it, the fact that God in mercy redeems a people despite their sin and rebellion means that no one is too far gone or too hard of heart to believe. If it is God who changes hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, then he can do it with anyone. Even you. Even that person you think could never change, could never believe, could never turn and trust in Christ.
This is good news for you and for everyone you meet. That God could save anyone frees us to share the gospel with everyone. So that person you know that you think could never come to faith in Jesus Christ, share the good news because you do not know whether God will redeem them. You did not choose me, but I chose you. God’s merciful choice to save should give us courage in communicating the gospel, because if God can save anyone, we can share the gospel with everyone.
So the first statement: He chose us. Truth or Lie? Truth. Okay, let’s look at the second.
SECOND STATEMENT: HE CALLS US FRIENDS
Verses 14 and 15: You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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 heard from my Father.
Jesus choice of his own, his redeeming of a people, has brought us into a relationship with him. Jesus Christ is King of creation. Every square inch is his. So he has every right to treat us as his servants, just as any king would with his subjects. But that is not what Jesus does with his church. He invites us into relationship as friends. Yes, as we will see, there are still commands and expectations, but it comes out of a prior, close relationship.
It’s like the difference between if your best friend asked you to help him move and your boss at work ask you to do the same thing. Both times you might do it, but with your boss you might do it so they will consider you a better employee and more deserving of a promotion or because you are afraid if you don’t they will fire you. With your friend, you may do it simply because you love them.
When God saves sinners, he brings them into a relationship of friendship with him. It is a relationship marked by loyalty and love, but also a relationship where Jesus holds nothing back. A servant will hold things back from the master, but friends do not hold secrets from each other. Jesus highlights this difference when he says, I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I heard from my Father. Jesus holds nothing back and so calls us friends. All that is his he shares with us as he invites us into relationship with him.
So the second statement: He calls us friends. Truth or Lie? Truth. Let’s look at the third.
THIRD STATEMENT: HE COMMANDS US TO LOVE EACH OTHER
Verses 12 and 13: This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
There are times in life where we wonder what God’s will is for us. We wonder what God wants us to do. We never need to wonder. He has told us: Love one another as I have loved you.
He tells us to love one another. He is speaking to his disciples, to believers in the church. The way the world will know that we are friends of Jesus, that we have been brought into this close relationship with him, is by whether we love each other within the church. Of course this love should overflow to neighbors and even enemies, but it begins here within the church.
The quality of fellowship in the church, the kind of love we show to one another, or don’t, will speak volumes to the world at large about whether we truly belong to and follow Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells us that one of the hallmarks of our friendship with him, of being his disciples, will be our love for each other within the church.
This call is far more radical, beautiful, and costly than we might want to imagine. Sometimes we are tempted to think that loving each other in the church just means being nice to one another. As long as you are not a complete jerk, you are loving your brother or sister in the church.
This is the lowest bar possible, but Jesus calls us to something much higher and deeper. Don’t get me wrong, being nice is not bad. We should be able to clear that low bar of common decency. I come from the States and in our current cultural moment, my home country is struggling not to faceplant trying to get over the low bar of simply being nice to each other.
But in Canada, where we still largely hold to the common values of decency and politeness, we can easily believe that the loving thing to do is just to be nice, to just to like people.
But Jesus calls us to something deeper, harder, and more beautiful. Love, in the Bible, is not primarily a feeling, but an action. But how do we know what it looks like?
This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Love as Christ has loved us. The shape of love in the church is the shape of Christ. And Jesus goes even further when he says that greatest love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. The shape of love in the church is a cross, because that is the shape of Christ’s love for us.
You want to know what love should look like in the church? Look at the cross. It is not some warm fuzzy feeling for each other. It looks like dying – forgiving, suffering, and sacrificing for each other.
What does love look like in the church? It looks like Stephen. Not me, sadly, but the biblical Stephen. When Jesus was on the cross, he cried out ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ And as Stephen was being stoned to death, he said, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ It was costly forgiveness – no malice, no selfish ambition, no grudges held, but forgiveness.
What does it look like to love? It looks like Gerasim. Gerasim is the name of the servant in Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” Ivan has lived his whole life trying to look good, look the part. In the process, he has worked to keep everyone at a distance. In his desire to protect himself and his image, he has been trapped in misery. He has neither given nor received love. As he gets sick and approaches death, even his family and friends are not moved with compassion toward him. They are frustrated and annoyed at the inconvenience of his dying. Everyone, but the servant Gerasim. As Ivan’s health deteriorates, he needs someone to clean and change him. Only Gerasim, who is honest about Ivan’s dying, is able to show him compassion. Ivan’s project of protection only led him to misery, but Gerasim could love and sacrifice for Ivan even to changing and cleaning him. Not because Gerasim was some sort of hero, but because he knew Ivan was dying and that we are all dying, with but one life to live. Why not pour out this life in love for someone else?
What does love look like in the church? It looks like a cross. It looks like forgiving and sacrificing for our brother and sister even when we don’t like them. It looks like being more than nice, but suffering with each other and showing compassion to each other in our weaknesses. It looks like Jesus in his love for us. This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love that this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
I imagine that some of this sounds hard. I am simply trying to be truthful about what Jesus is saying, but I confess that these words have been convicting to me this week. Christ poured out his life for me. He chose me, he redeemed me, he gave me this one life, he calls me his friend. Why not pour it out in love? If my eternal life is secure in Jesus, why not pour out my life in loving others as he loved me?
So this third statement: Jesus commands us to love one another. True or False? True. That means the last statement is a lie.
FOURTH STATEMENT: HE PROMISES US A COMFORTABLE LIFE
Right after he tells us to love one another, Jesus says this in verse 18: If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.
Jesus does not promise worldly comfort and ease if we follow him. He promises eternal comfort, but hatred by the world. Remember that most of the disciples Jesus said these words to first were killed for doing just as he asked them.
If we love as he loves, we will be hated as he is hated. The more our life as individuals and as a community conforms to Christ, the more it will conform to Christ – both in love and hatred. Just because we are hated, doesn’t mean we are doing God’s will. We can be hated because we are doing the wrong thing. But the world – and by this John is speaking of the fallen creation with its ruler and powers and principalities directed by Satan – the world does not know the Father. Because it does not know the Father, it hates Christ. Because it hates Christ and the Father, it hates those whom Christ has sent. The world we live in literally shoots the messenger. If they do not like the one who sent you, they will not like you.
I’m not trying to scare you, but again, be honest about what Jesus is saying. This should sober us up to what is in store for us as we follow Jesus. There is joy and peace and comfort and hope in the gospel. In fact, the only place for find any of those things is in God who came to save. But to enter into friendship with God by grace will put us into conflict with the world.
I read recently that every Christian in North America has a little bit of health-and-wealth gospel in us, no matter our denominational confessions. There is a part of us that expects that if we follow God, things will go well with us. Sometimes that is true, but it is also equally true that obedience to God puts us into conflict and trials. Sometimes by following Jesus, the battle gets harder, not easier.
Olga told me a time when she was working at Camp Shalom and they were doing an exercise with the campers. They had to live with a different disability for a whole day – blindness, mobility, etc. Halfway through the day, one of the campers, frustrated with the exercise, just gave up and got up out of her wheelchair. She said, “If this ever happened to me, I would pray to God and he would heal me, so I don’t need to do this exercise.”
Don’t believe the lie that if you have faith in God everything will go smoothly and easily. Don’t believe that if you have faith in Jesus Christ, God somehow owes you a comfortable middle-class life and that he will make all your problems go away. Instead, believe the truth. God saves sinners. He chose his people before the foundations of the world, so you are never too lost or never too far gone. He has called us friends and brought us by the cross of Christ into a new and living relationship with him, and he has called us to love one another with the same intense, active, costly love that he loved us. But this love and our loyalty to Christ will put us into conflict with a world that does not know him. But though this life and calling is hard, it is better than we could have imagined. This is the truth.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.