Tough Love

John 15:9-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) – Jesus said

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.

“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing”

Reading the Old Testament in isolation, you’d be forgiven for not knowing – or understanding – what God is doing. One minute God is full of compassion, who’s love is never-ending, and the next minute He is the looser of plagues, commanding His people to annihilate their enemies. At best its confusing, and at worst disturbing.

In the Old Testament the relationship between humankind and God is depicted as one of master and servant, whereas in the New Testament this relationship is transformed – by Jesus – into one of ‘friendship’. “I have called you friends”, Jesus says. The friendship Jesus is describing is one of mutual love and respect, God is Love (1 John 4:8 ). A Love most fully expressed in and through His person. 

I don’t know if you’ve tried reading through the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy)? It’s a long (and ofttimes laborious) read! These books contain what is known as the Mosaic Law – Rules for life. 613 of them in fact. Too many to keep.

Jesus distils the Law into three commands (Matthew 22:36-40), which can be summarised as:

Love God

Love yourself

Love others

Three commands, with one important caveat…Love your enemy…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven… (Matthew 5:43-48)

“…love one another as I have loved you.” What does this love look like in practice? Like Jesus Love. Sacrificial. Selfless. Lasting fruit. As Jesus-followers Jesus Love is our primary witness, as we share this love with one another and the world. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Problem is its a tough call. Left to my own devices, I have to confess that I’m not that good at it. This kind of love doesn’t come naturally to any of us. Its super-natural. Revealed and received through the working of God’s Spirit in us. The Spirit of Love (2 Timothy 1:7).

Drug dealer Jamie Acourt was arrested this week. Acourt was one of the men accused of killing Stephen Lawrence in 1993. No one’s shedding any tears at Acourt’s arrest. Its safe to say that he is perhaps one of the most despised individuals in Britain. Yet, Neville Lawrence, Stephen’s father, has recently said publicly that he forgives him and the others for the murder of his son.

‘Neville Lawrence, 78, said the decision to forgive the gang for the racist attack was the hardest one he would ever make, but that he was embracing his Christian faith and planned to spend the anniversary of his son’s death in church.’ (The Guardian, 15 April 2018)

That’s the kind of love Jesus is talking about. Tough Love.

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Keith Hitchman, Vicar


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