Notes on John 15:12-17

John 15:12‑17  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The Lord now specifies one special character of fruit, ever precious, but here in the disciples' relation one to another, as before we had the relation of Christ and the Father to them.
“This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I loved you. Greater love no one hath than this, that one1 lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends if ye do what2 I command you. No longer do I call you bondmen, for the bondman knoweth not what his master doeth; but you I have called [my] friends, because all things which I heard from my Father I made known to you. Not ye chose me, but I chose you and appointed you that ye should go and bear fruit, and your fruit abide; that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name he may give you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.” (Vers. 12-17.)
Love is emphatically the Lord's injunction on His disciples, the love of each other. It is not the general moral duty of loving one's neighbor, but the mutual love of Christians, of which His own love to them is the standard. The nature of the case excludes the love of God which went out to them in their guilt, enmity, and weakness, when objects of sovereign grace. They were now born of God, and hence love; for love, as it is of God who is love, is the energy of the new nature. Hence, whatever else the Lord may enjoin, this is His commandment: He loved them, and would have them love one another accordingly. So Paul tells the Thessalonians that he needed not to write about it to them, for, young as they were in divine things, they were taught of God to love one another. This too was the more excellent way he would show the Corinthian saints, pre-occupied to their hurt with power rather than love, at best the display of the Lord's victory in His creation over Satan rather than the inward energy which enjoys His grace toward our own souls or others to God's glory. On the Roman saints again love is repeatedly urged, as that which should be unfeigned, and also which, wherever it is, has fulfilled the law practically without thinking of it. It is needless to go over all the epistles where the Holy Spirit unfolds its immense place and power.
But every believer acquainted with the New Testament will remember how large a part it fills in the First Epistle of our evangelist. Not that love is God, but God is love as He is light, and he that loves is born of Him and knows Him. For men as then made knowledge all, as before some made power; but it is a question of life in the Son of God, and the Holy Ghost works in that life by virtue of redemption, and those who have life, as they walk in the light, so also walk in love. And even as to knowledge, there is none true save in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life: every object outside Him is an idol, from which we have to keep ourselves, be it knowledge, power, position, love, truth, or anything or anyone else, for whoever denies the Son has not the Father, he who confesses the Son has the Father also. And as the Father has bestowed on us love beyond all measure, giving us even now to be children of God, so loving the brethren marks those who have passed from death to life. The old commandment is the word of Christ that we should love one another, but it is also a new commandment as being true in Him and in us. If Christ lives in me, I live by faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me: and this life is characterized not only by obedience but by love according to its source.
And so here. The Lord had laid it down as a new and distinguishing commandment He was giving them in chapter 13. Here He repeats love to one another according to the pattern of His love to them. How pure and unbounded it was! Do we believe this as His will about us? Do we love as if we believed Him and appreciated His love? Can anything be more hollow, or dangerous, or nauseous than the highest words with low and inconsistent ways? Gnosticism ate out the heart of early Christendom, where it fell not into superstition and formality, ever growing more dark and cold; and the same spirit is no less destructive now, because it has more abundant materials. Loving one another, not merely those who think alike, least of all those who think alike on some comparatively small and external point, but loving those who are Christ's, spite of ten thousand things trying to our nature, is of all moment along with the truth, and guarded as it is here, loving one another as He loved us. He delights in love up to death itself. (Ver. 18.) Greater love none has than to lay down his life for his friends. The love of God in Jesus went infinitely beyond this; but then necessarily it stands alone, and it is meet that it should. We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren, as we are taught elsewhere. But where is the worth of such a theory if we fail in every-day going out of heart to common wants and sufferings of God's children? And the Lord at once binds love up with obedience, without which it is but self-pleasing, not having Him in it or before the soul. “Ye are my friends if ye do what [ever.] I command you.” (Ver. 14.) It is not reconciling enemies He speaks of, but why He calls us His friends. Obedience is the character and condition. Nor does He here indicate how He stood as our friend when we were enemies, but He calls us His friends if we practice what He enjoins.
Is this all? Far from it. He treats us as friends according to His perfect love, for He lets us into His secrets, instead of merely pressing our duty. “No longer do I call you bondmen, for the bondman knoweth not what his master death, but you I have called friends, because all things whatsoever I heard from my Father I made known to you.” (Ver. 15.) He who of old was called “the friend of God” enjoyed this intimacy with his Almighty protector in the midst of the doomed races he lived amongst, a separated and circumcised pilgrim; and so it is with His own now that the Lord dealt in still more lavish grace; for what did He keep back? In another sense it is our boast to be His bond-men, as one said who was pre-eminently separated to the gospel of God. But none the less—indeed very much more truly—do we enter in, and value and act on the free communications of His love if we are habitually obedient, as we may see in Joseph of old or in Daniel later. It ought to be, it is in principle, the cherished privilege of the church thus to know His mind and by it to interpret the tangled web of human life or even the world's changing fortunes; but practically we must be exercised and constant in obedience if the privilege is to be a living reality and not a bare title. Christendom has given it up, counting it nothing but presumption, and content to walk by sight, not by faith.
But God is faithful, and there are those who, walking obedient to His word, enter into what He has made known, and find the blessing. Doubtless the responsibility is great no less than the privilege; and therefore do His own need to be cheered with the grace that underlies all. Hence it is that He adds; “Not ye chose me, but I chose you and appointed [or set] you that ye should go and bear fruit, and your fruit abide; that whatever ye may ask the Father in my name he may give you. These things I command that ye love one another.” (Vers. 16, 17.)
Blessing ever comes from the Lord Jesus and the grace that is in Him. Obedience follows, and ought to follow, such unmerited favor, as in obedience there is surely fresh blessing. But the heart needs to turn from our obedience or the blessing to the Blesser, if it would escape fresh dangers and positive evil; the spring of power is never known save in Him, and the grace that sought and found, saves and blesses. Hence it was of the greatest moment, in pressing the divine government of the saints, that they should ever remember Him and His sovereign will, as the source of all that distinguished them. Not they chose Christ, but He chose them. Nor was it only to know and follow their Master. He appointed,3 or set, them that they should go and bear fruit, and their fruit should abide.
Thus, while responsibility is maintained intact, grace is shown to be the fountain of all that is looked for and made good; and further the connection of both with dependence on the Father, who alone brings to a successful issue whatever they should have asked in the name of Jesus. The deeper and higher the blessing, the more need of prayer; but then the character and confidence of prayer should rise with the sense of grace in Christ, and the Father's unwavering purpose to put honor on His name in which they draw near with their petitions. His name by faith in it can make the weakest strong, and the Father is thus glorified in the Son who glorifies Him. Distrust or negligence are equally precluded.
It is hardly necessary to say many words in disproof of Calvin's exposition, and of others, who make this a question of choosing and ordaining to the apostolate, and consequently who take the fruit abiding to mean that the church will last to the very end of the world as the fruit of apostolic labor continued also in their successors. The love enjoined here is accordingly restricted to mutual affection among ministers. Undoubtedly a free and unsuspicious flow of loving confidence is essential to a good state, and among those who labor especially, as the lack of it here is most deplorable; but the Lord does not limit His words to the apostles or even to such as follow them in the public service of His name.