The DanceRev. Philip Miller | May 16, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
In the Upper Room on the last night before facing the cross, Jesus poured out His heart to His disciples, teaching them (and us) how to live in the love of God. Why? Because living in the love of God is what we were made for—it’s everything.
Jesus’ words in the last half of John 14, are some of the most tender words in all the Scriptures, but are notoriously difficult to outline. Pastor Miller steers us through these passages from three angles: our love of God, God’s love of us, and the life of love. Then he reminds us that the Spirit enables through us what the Son commands of us so that the Father delights in us.
Here in Jesus’ last night before He goes to the cross, we encounter some of the most tender words from the heart of Jesus. He’s simply pouring His heart out for us in the Upper Room. Jesus is about to head out to the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s just washed His disciples’ feet and He is about to return to His Father, and He has explained (we saw last time) that His departure means for the disciples not less love, but more, more love, more of the love of God. He says He’s going away to prepare a place for all of those who love Him so that where He is we may also be. And all of that seems very future, doesn’t it? Way out, heaven, “one day,” “when we die,” “when Jesus returns,” way out here. But Jesus is going to clarify for us now in the back half of John, chapter 14, that He intends a loving relationship to begin now. Even though Jesus is leaving, there is a way to have a loving, abiding relationship with Him even now. And so we turn now to the topic of the love of God. What does it mean to live in the love of God? That’s our question this morning.
If you have your Bibles with you, please open them up and join me in John, chapter 14. We’re going to look at verses 15 down to 31 today, and if you want to use the blue pew Bible there in the seat rack in front of you by your knees you’ll find today’s reading on page 901. Let’s turn to God’s holy Word, John 14:15.
“‘If you love me,’ Jesus says, ‘you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot)—(chuckles, I love that)—said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I will come to you.” If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.’”
Thanks be to the Lord for the reading of His Word.
Now, these verses that we just read in John, chapter 14 are notoriously difficult to outline, and the reason is Jesus keeps circling back time and time again to the same central theme, so He wants us to focus on one really core idea here, which is He is inviting us to live deeply in the love of God. He’s inviting us to live deeply in the love of God.
And so what I want to do this morning is approach this from three different angles here. Okay? We’re going to first look at Our Love of God. Then we’re going to look at God’s Love of Us. And then finally we’re going to look at The Life of Love. Okay? So our love for God going up from us to Him, God’s love for us coming down to us, and then the life of love, what it means to live in this loving relationship with God. Okay?
So here we go. Let’s jump in here. Actually, let’s pray and then we’ll jump in. Okay? Bow your heads with me if you would.
Heavenly Father, we love you, and we ask that you would teach us what that means. We say those words, but we need you to fill them out with truth and clarity and conviction that we might actually walk in love, live in love with you. Help us, we pray, by the power of your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus to the glory of you, God the Father. Amen. Amen.
First, we see Our Love of God, our love of God. What does it mean to love God? What does it mean to love Jesus, to really love Him, not just with words, but in our real lives? Well, Jesus tells us, doesn’t He? Four different times He repeats the same statement for us. Verse 15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Verse 21: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he is the one who loves me.” And then in verse 23, in responding to the question from Judas (not Iscariot) when he asks, “If anyone loves me,” Jesus says, “he will keep my word.” Or in verse 24 from the negative in reverse here He says, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my word.”
So it’s very clear, isn’t it, what Jesus means? To love Jesus, to love God is to obey God, right? To love Jesus is to obey Jesus, He says. To keep His words, to keep His teaching, to keep His commandments. So the next logical question is, “What are Jesus’ commandments?” If we need to love Him by obeying these commandments, what are the commandments, right? That’s the question we need to answer. And immediately a passage comes to mind, doesn’t it, I think for many of us?
If you go to Matthew 22:36–40, this is what we read as Jesus responds to a question. The question is, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
So according to Jesus in Matthew 22, the summary statement, if you will, of all the Law and the Prophets, everything God expected in the Old Testament, comes down to loving God and loving people, right? Love God and love people. What God desires is that we would love Him rightly, and then love one another rightly as well. So there’s a verticality to our love, a vertical dimension, and a horizontal dimension to our love of others. And what Jesus is saying, and I think this important, is that the vertical component of love for God cannot be separated from the horizontal component of the love of God. To love God is to love people. You can’t separate these things out.
Now, here’s the question. Is this the commandment that Jesus has in mind here in this chapter when He says, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments?” Well, I think, broadly speaking, the answer is yes. But within the immediate context, we actually have something even more clear than this. If you flip back with me to John 13:34, so the previous chapter. You’ll recall that Jesus says there, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” He’s just washed His disciples’ feet. He just made Himself a servant of all. He just loved them, as John says, to the very end.
And now if you flip forward to John, chapter 15, you will see a similar statement. John 15:12, “This is my commandment,” Jesus says, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” So immediately before and after this passage Jesus defines His commandment as the commandment to love one another just as He has loved us. “If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will obey my commandment, and this is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.”
“If you love me,” Jesus says, “you’ll love one another.” In other words, our love of Jesus naturally and necessarily flows into an obedience to Christ’s law of love. Our love for Jesus naturally and necessarily flows into an obedience to Christ’s law of love. “If you love me,” Jesus would say, “you will love one another.” Why is that? Well, if you love Jesus, you have to learn what He loves, right? And He loves all His people. He loves each and every one of us, even the ones of us who are particularly difficult to love. It’s probably not you. It’s the person sitting next to you, right? I mean you know that, right? Because listen, Jesus loves all of us. He washed all the disciples’ feet. He died for all of us, so to love Jesus I must learn to love what Jesus loves, love the people Jesus loves.
As a father, I’ve got four kids, right? As a father, one of my greatest joys is watching my kids learn to love one another. It gives me tremendous joy. When Krista and I were first married it was just love back and forth with the two of us. Then Claire was born and it became a triangle, right? We all start loving each other. And then Violet came in, and for the first time something new happened. There was a love connection in which Krista and I did not have a part, between Claire and Violet. We weren’t even connected to it, but that love took on a life of its own.
And then we had Cora and Jude, and they entered into this matrix of love, and now there’s more love going on than ever existed before, and it is an enormous joy to me to watch it unfold. And this is the same picture here. This is how it is with God. To love God, I have to love God’s kids. We have to love one another. This is a non-negotiable for us, friends.
First John 4:20 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” This is one thing: love of God, love of others. Do you see that? This is one cloth.
To love God is to love others, but here’s the problem: Loving people is hard. Isn’t it? Loving people is hard. It can be a lot of work. And I think if we’re going to love like Jesus we need at least three things from Jesus to help us. I’ve just been thinking about this, this week.
The first thing we need is direction. We need to know what it means to love. We don’t know what love is. We need to know what true love looks like, don’t we? We need His instruction, His guidance. We need Him to move us along in the way of love.
The second thing we need is we need wholeness. We need the security and peace that comes on the inside when we know that we are deeply loved by God so that from that place of wholeness we can love others.
And then thirdly, I think we need courage, don’t we? We need courage. We need the help of God when loving gets hard, because loving is tough. Isn’t it? It requires so much. There’s a cost, a sacrifice of love, and we need His help to have courage to continue to love when it gets hard. So we can’t do this on our own, but thank God we’re not on our own.
Second point: God’s Love of Us. The only way we’re ever going to be able to obey this law of love that Jesus commands of us is if the Holy Spirit comes and enables us to love as Christ has loved us.
Verse 16: “And I will ask the Father,” Jesus says, “and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. [But] You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
So just as the Father sent Jesus to the disciples to lead and guide and direct them and be with them, now the Father is going to send the Spirit at the request of the Son to be with His disciples to lead and guide and direct them and be with them.
So Jesus is the first Helper, you see. He’s the first Helper who came along to help the disciples, and now there’s another Helper, another Helper who is coming. Now this phrase here in Greek is allos parakletos which is really fun. It means another paraclete. Paraclete’s a really hard-to-translate word. Paraclete means something like helper or comforter or counselor or advocate or encourager or strengthener. At its core, I think the best word is advocate. It’s an advocate. This is an advocacy word. It’s used in a legal context or in social advocacy context in the literature.
So, for example, let’s illustrate this. Let’s say you have a friend who is out of work, okay? And they’re having trouble getting a job. And so you decide to be their advocate, right? You decide to help them get marketable skills. You decide to confront, maybe some of their bad work habits and things that are making it hard for them to get a job. You help to work to make them more presentable and professional. You help them build a résumé, and you write a letter of reference, and you network for them. And you endorse them and vouch for them to colleagues, and you stand with that person, you see. You help them become eligible for who they are meant to be. You stand with them. You endorse them all the way. And if there are setbacks you encourage them to keep going, don’t you?
And this is what advocacy looks like, and it’s much of the same work that we see here that the Holy Spirit does for us. The Holy Spirit comes into our life and He speaks truth to us. He’s the Spirit of Truth, we are told. He sees the gaps in our life and He addresses them, compassionately but courageously. He points out where we need to change and be conformed to the image of Christ, and He helps us become the people we were always meant to be. And He stands with us and He endorses us and He advocates for us. And when there are setbacks, He encourages us and He strengthens us and reminds us who we are, that we are called and loved and kept by Jesus Christ, and we belong to Him forever.
So the Holy Spirit is our advocate, you see. He’s our Helper. And just as Jesus taught the disciples, and guided the disciples, and modeled a life of love for them, and challenged them in their presuppositions, and encouraged them when they failed, and Jesus was their advocate, He was their friend. He was their counselor, their comforter, their helper. Now the Spirit will come and step into that role. And “You know him,” Jesus says, “for He dwells with you and he will be in you.”
Now remember those three things we desperately need from Jesus if we’re going to love like He loves. Watch, they all get provided for here. First, direction. Verse 26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
So the Spirit, God’s Holy Spirit, comes on the inside and guides us in the way of Jesus. He reminds us of the teaching of Jesus. He brings His commandments to mind, and He teaches us the way of true love, to love like Jesus loved us first.
Secondly, He provides wholeness. Verse 27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Now this idea of peace in a Jewish and Hebrew context refers back to the Old Testament concept of shalom. Shalom. You may still hear that greeting today in Jewish communities. Shalom. It means peace. It means more than just peace. It means like wholeness and wellness. It means a holistic sense of wellbeing where all is well. That’s what shalom means. And Jesus says, “I leave this shalom with you.” And how does He leave the shalom with the disciples? What is He leaving behind? The Holy Spirit. This is all about the Holy Spirit and His presence. The peace comes with the Spirit, you see. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, and peace. And so Jesus leaves us not alone but with the presence of His Spirit which brings wholeness and joy and peace in a holistic well-being, this deep well of wholeness from which we can live and love one another.
And then He gives us courage. Verse 28: Jesus says, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, and the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”
So Jesus is calling His shot here, friends. He’s about to lay down His life. He’s telling us, “I’m going to go to the cross, and it will look like a defeat. It’ll look like the ruler of this world has triumphed over me, but don’t you believe it. He has no claim on me. No one takes my life from me. I lay it down willingly” (John 10:18). “No, I go to the cross in obedience and love for my Father. I love the Father, and because I love the Father, I obey the Father. And because I obey the Father, I will in love lay down my life for you.”
Do you see He’s modeling for us everything He’s commanding for us? Right? He loves the Father. Right? “If you love me.” And He obeys the Father, “You obey my commands,” which is to love others. He lays down His life in love for you and me, you see this. So He’s modeling what He’s actually commanded, so that when people are hard to love, friends, when you and I, when we have a relationship and someone is hard to love, the Holy Spirit is in us and He reminds us of Jesus, who went courageously to the cross and loved us to the very end at great personal cost to himself. And He endured all of this. And if I’m having trouble loving someone else, listen, this is what I remember: Jesus had gone to great lengths to love a great sinner like me. And if He did that for me, how can I hold back in loving hard people around me because I’m one of the hard people Jesus has loved.
The Father delights to see His children loving each other like that, you see. And here, I worked really hard on this statement so please write it down, okay? (laughter) The Spirit enables through us, what the Son commands of us, so that the Father delights in us. The Spirit enables through us, what the Son commands of us, so that the Father delights in us.
You want to know how hard love can be, friends? It takes the whole triune God to help you and me love each other. It’s an act of God. (laughs) (applause)
Now, we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet, okay? There’s a progression here. This is the life of love. Okay?
Third point, The Life of Love. There’s a progression here. I’m sure you’ve noticed it. And let me make it explicit here:
When we love God, then we obey God, yes? And when we obey God, we love people, yes? And when we love people, God sends His presence in greater measure to us. That’s what this whole passage is about. To love God means to obey God, and to obey God means to love people, and to love people means God comes and resides and dwells with us.
Let me show you this. Verse 15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. [But] you know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
So to love Jesus is to obey Jesus, and to obey Jesus is to love one another, and to live in loving obedience to Jesus means that Jesus will ask the Father to send the Spirit who will be with you, be in you. In other words, God’s indwelling spirit will come and make His home in us. His presence will manifest itself to us. We get more of God as we live in loving obedience to God. Do you see this?
Not only is this true of the Spirit. It’s also true of Jesus. Look at verse 18: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
Now, Jesus is still talking about the Holy Spirit here. He’s still talking about giving the Spirit who will come and reside in them, but it is also Christ, don’t you see, who comes Himself to them, manifests Himself to them, tethers His life to ours, His own resurrection life, now wed to ours, as Jesus is in the Father, and we are in Christ. Now Christ is in us, just as the Spirit is in us.
Look at verse 21: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” So to love Jesus is to obey Jesus, which is to love one another. And when we love one another as Christ has loved us, we are loved by the Father, and we are loved by Jesus who manifests, reveals, discloses, opens up Himself to us.
And then the Father joins in as well. Verse 23: “Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we (we, Father and Son) will come to him and make our home with him.”
Friends, this is mind-blowing language that the Father and Son would come and make their home, abide with us, live in us as we live in loving obedience to Him. So to live in the love of God means that the Spirit indwells us, and the Son resides in us, and the Father abides with us.
Remember that word I introduced to you last week? Perichoresis? Remember this? Perichoresis means, it means the dance of mutual indwelling. It’s a term theologians have invented to describe the community life of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are three persons, one in essence, that the One God eternally exists as three co-equal, co-eternal persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and these three are One God.
And Perichoresis is the divine dance of eternal loving embrace, each person of the triune Godhead lovingly self-giving unto the others, and welcoming and receiving one another into themselves with unrestrained, overflowing intimacy, delight and everlasting joy. So the Father is in the Son, you see. And the Son is in the Father. And the Father is in the Spirit. And the Spirit is in the Father. And the Son is in the Spirit. And the Spirit is in the Son.
And now Jesus says (verse 20): “In that day you will know that I am in my Father (Perichoresis), and you in me, and I in you.” It’s the same language, Perichoresis, mutual indwelling, you in me and I in you.
Do you realize what that means? It means to be united to Jesus by faith is to be “in Christ” and to have “Christ in us.” And just listen, if we share a perichoretic mutual indwelling relationship with Christ (that’s what He’s talking about), and Christ shares a perichoretic mutually indwelling relationship with the Father and the Spirit, then to have Jesus is to have the Father. To have Jesus is to have the Spirit. To have Jesus is to have the entire triune God in relationship with us.
In other words, the triune God is inviting us into the dance. The triune God is inviting us into the dance. Now to be clear, we never enter into this dance as a member of the Trinity. There’s only room for three, okay? God is God. But the triune God is inviting us, you and me, to share in the overflowing beauty and mutual self-giving love and everlasting joy that can only be found in the infinite and intimate loving relationship within the Godhead Himself. He is inviting us to be indwelt by the Spirit, to be united to the Son, to abide with the Father.
And so there’s a big cycle here, you see. Love God, obey God, love people, experience the presence of God, which is the only way you’ll love God, and obey God, and love people because you have His presence which helps you love God and, you see? It’s a big cycle. How do you get into a cycle that has no beginning? It falls on you in grace. You get invited in. How do we enter into this life of love? Let me say this quickly as we close. This is super important. Okay?
John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” which means if I have an obedience issue in my life, it’s because I have a love issue in my life. Do you see that? If I have a gap in any of my obedience to Christ, it’s because I do not love Him enough. That’s the issue. Under every disobedience is disloyalty and dislove of Jesus.
First John 4:19. How do we get this love? How do we get into love with God? First John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” So how do I grow in love for God? How do I get it? If I don’t love God enough, I’m not obeying Him. If I have a love problem, well how do I work on my love problem? “We love because He first loved us,” which means His love always initiates and ours is always responsive. Do you see this? We respond. He makes the first move, and we respond.
First John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Friends, this is the Gospel. You will never be able to love God as He deserves, but God loved you. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. He came and laid down His life in love for us so that He might change us into the kind of people who may begin to love Him back. God does not love us because we’re lovely. He loves us when we’re unlovely. And it’s His love that makes us lovely, you see.
C.S. Lewis in “The Problem of Pain” writes this: “God’s love, far from being caused by goodness in the object, causes all the goodness which the object has, loving it first into existence (creation), and then into real, though derivative, lovability.” In other words, God loves us into loveliness, you see. Which means that our love for God, friends, no matter, in its highest possible form, is always responsive. It’s never initiatory. We love because God first loved us. In this dance of love with God, God leads and we follow. He gives and we receive. He woos and we swoon. Because if our obedience flows from love, and our love is a response to His love. Listen, the most important thing we could possibly do is fall in love with God, let His love all the way in, all the way down. Enter into the dance, to be indwelt by the Spirit, united to the Son, abiding with the Father, to allow His love to sink down, permeate all the way down in our hearts, to dwell in our hearts richly, because if we abide in His love for us, then we’ll learn to love Him back. And in loving Him back we’ll obey. And in obeying we’ll love others. And in loving others we will enjoy even more the richness of His presence in the Spirit, the Son and the Father which then helps us love God, which helps us obey God, which helps us love others, which helps enjoy more of His presence. And we begin to understand, you see, what John writes in 1 John 4:16: “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” And there it is: Perechoresis, the ultimate meaning of the universe.
So here’s the takeaway. Will you have this dance? Will you have this dance? Will you let Him in? Will you let the love, the triune love of God sweep you off your feet? Will you let Him woo you, win your affections, your heart, your trust? Will you let Him change you so that you lovingly obey Him? Will you entrust yourself to Him? Will you dare to begin loving others as He has first loved you? Would you live now in this love of God?
Will you have this dance?
Father, Jesus knows you so well, and we catch a glimpse in His words of a world so good, so true, so beautiful, we want to live there. To love is to be vulnerable. To love is to take risks. To love is to lose control and so when You invite us to dance we come up with a million reasons why we can’t go there. We’re scared, but without risk there’s no love, there’s no beauty. So would you give us, by your Holy Spirit, the guts to say yes, to walk out onto the dance floor and be swept into a kind of love and relational intimacy that Jesus knows and we can only dream about? Help us to live in love with you, right here, right now. Not someday, but today! We pray this in Jesus’ matchless name, Amen.