Scripture Reference: John 15:12-17
A Loving HeartDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | August 27, 2000
Selected highlights from this sermon
What is true love? In John 15, you’ll find it defined by God Himself. On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Then He elevated the disciples from servants to the status of friends. The next day, He gave His life for them—and for us.
A man who committed suicide left this note: “This is my only way,” he said, “out of this hell of loneliness.” But I want you to know today that loneliness does not just exist in the world, it also exists in the church.
Let me quote an older woman who said, “I sit in the pew next to a warm body every week, but I feel no heat. I’m in the faith, but I draw no active love. I sing the hymns with those next to me, but I hear my own voice. When the service is finished, I leave as I came, hungry for someone to touch me, to tell me that I am a person worth something to somebody. Just a smile would do it, or perhaps some gestures, some sign that I am not a stranger.” Loneliness in the church.
I want you to know today that all of us really do need friends, I mean we need friends. Even those of you who have been betrayed or burned by friendships and therefore are very guarded in your relationships. You need friends too. We all do.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how can I tell who my friends are?” There are many ways that you can do that, but I will tell you, there is nothing like this one–make one big public mistake, and then you find out who your friends are. We all need them, don’t we?
What’s astounding to me is that Jesus elevated His disciples to the position of friends the night before He was crucified. The text of Scripture is found in John chapter 15, and I’m reading verse 15: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know His Master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father, I have made known to you.”
Famous people usually don’t have friends because they can’t trust them. They are concerned, lest they be taken advantage of. And here Jesus looks into the eyes of His disciples and says, “You are no longer servants, but you are friends.” What a statement.
A number of years ago some atheists wanted to ridicule the Christian faith. What they did is they wrote a tract based on the thesis that you are to be judged by your friends. That was the basis of what they were going to say.
And then they looked into the Bible and said, “Abraham was a liar, and yet he is called a friend of God. Jacob is a cheater, and yet he is called a Prince with God. David committed murder and adultery, and yet he is known as a man after God’s own heart.” And then the atheists said, “What kind of a God would have these people for His friends?”
Now, in a kind of strange way they had a point, didn’t they? What kind of a God would have us, sinners as we are, as His friends? What kind of Jesus would say to His disciples, who were filled with their own weaknesses and shortcomings, “You are my friends.”
Of course the fact is Jesus was about to give His life as a sacrifice, that those who believe on Him would be saved. Therefore, God took that barrier between us and Him, that barrier of sin. And He set it aside legally so that He could now be our friend, because our sin has been put away. What marvelous news.
What I would like us to do today is to look into this passage of Scripture and see three facts about friendship. First of all, the badge of friendship is love. I’m picking up the text now in verse twelve: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”
How many commandments are there in the Bible? You say, “Well there are the Ten Commandments.” Yes, that’s true. But in the thirteenth chapter of John, Jesus said “A new commandment I give you to love one another even as I have loved you.” There are eleven commandments: we are to love one another.
Now in the Old Testament it said “Love one another.” That’s true. But the standard is a new one: “Love one another even as I have loved you,” as Jesus again repeated in this passage of Scripture.
What can we say about this kind of love that is spoken of here in the text? How do we characterize it? Well obviously it is a love that obeys. It is a love based on obedience. Look at what is says in chapter 15, verse 10: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love.”
You say, “Well, you can’t have this conflict between obedience and love.” You say, “I thought that love was supposed to be spontaneous, we just love because we want to love, with no other reason. Nobody can command you to love.” And if you are thinking that today, it is because we are more influenced by Hollywood in our understanding of love than we are the Bible.
Of course one can command love, scripturally speaking. A man can be commanded to “Love your wife,” the Scripture says. We can be commanded to love one another. Jesus said “Of Him it is said, I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me. I loved through my obedience and my obedience proved my love.” No contradiction there.
And the reason is because biblically, love is sacrifice. Love means sacrificial action. You may know someone today who you are finding difficult to love. In fact, there may be someone who you hate. Jesus said these words: “Love your enemies.” It’s a command. It isn’t a suggestion. Jesus didn’t say “This suggestion I make unto you.” He said “This command I make unto you: love your enemies.”
You say “Yes, but how?” He said these ways. First of all, bless those who curse you. If someone is cursing you, you bless them and say good things about them and pray God’s blessing on them. Don’t say, “Lord, I pray that you might vaporize them, I pray, oh Lord God, come and descend and destroy them.” You bless them.
Jesus said, “Do good to those who mistreat you and pray for those who spitefully use you.” That is sacrificial action; that is biblical love. It isn’t just this warm feeling.
We look on the news and we see tragedies all over the world. And we say, “You know those children in Bosnia, I just love them.” No, you don’t love them. You feel sympathy for them, but you don’t love them until you’ve acted, until you’ve done something. God loved the world and God gave. There is sacrificial action. It is a love that is based on commands. “This I say, love one another as I have loved you.”
There is another characteristic of this love, and that is it is a very generous love. Jesus was constantly giving. He said, “My peace I give to you, my life I give for the life of the world.” It is a love that has great generosity.
Look at what is says here in verse thirteen. “Greater love has no one that this: that he lay down his life for his friends, and you are my friends if you do what I command you.” But greater love has no man that this, that you die for somebody.
Wasn’t it in The Tale of Two Cities where you have that story about an Englishman going to France during the French Revolution? And because of the hatred of the French for the English, he was going to be put to death, executed? And the night before the execution, if I remember the story, two men came to see him. One was a guard and the other a Frenchman who was standing along with that guard, who was also French.
The two of them came, and after the guard left, the Frenchmen said, “Let’s exchange clothes.” And the Englishmen said, “No I can’t do that.” And he said “Yes, do it because you have a wife and family and I want you to live.” And so they exchanged clothes, and the guard came in and took the Englishman to freedom, and the Frenchman was hung. “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Now follow this very carefully. The love that Jesus is talking about is not what we generally call compatibility. Most of our friends are those people with whom we are compatible. Because it may well be that the color of our skin is the same, our economic income is about the same, our interests are the same, and that which glues us together as friends is the same.
And Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what great thing is there about that?” He said, “Even the wicked do that.” Even the mafia loves one another in that sense. You do something for me and then I do something for you because of shared interests.
Jesus said that, “This isn’t a love that is based on compatibility, that wouldn’t be the badge of being my disciples.” Because remember Jesus did say that, “The world has the right to judge whether we are Christ’s disciples by whether or not we love one another.” Jesus is saying that the kind of love that He is speaking about is supernatural. It is so contrary to our natural inclinations, that it even includes those who are unlovable, and even should include our enemies.
More than a hundred years ago [Edwin] Markham wrote this poem: “He drew a circle and left me out, a heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the will to win. We drew a circle and took him in.”
Listen to the words of Tertullian, going back to the early centuries of the church. He said, “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving-kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Look,’ they say, ‘Behold how they love one another and are willing to die for one another.’”
You know that if you study the early church in North Africa, the reason that Christianity conquered North Africa was because of love. Sometimes Christians were given bad jobs in those days because they were Christians. It was called discrimination.
And they would be garbage collectors and pick up some dead bodies also that had died during the days of the plague. And instead of burning these bodies, they would actually wash them and give them a decent burial. They would argue that even the wicked, who have a resurrection coming, have the right to a decent burial.
And the world noticed that and said, “Where’s all this love coming from?” And because in those days they didn’t have abortion, babies that were not wanted were left on the step to die. If somebody wanted them, they could be taken. If not, they would cry and be left there until they died. And the church organized “baby runs” to run to the different areas of the city, looking for abandoned babies.
And they didn’t have bottles in those days, so nursing mothers would accept these children as their very own and adopt them. And the world said again, “Where is this love coming from?”
Listen, the badge of friendship is love. But it is a love that is based on commands. The Scripture commands us to “love one another.” And this is a love that is based on committed, deep, generosity and sacrifice.
Now I doubt very much that someone is asking you to die for them. But someone might be in great need that is sitting next to you today. There may be someone who you know about who is in great need.
And it means that in order for you and I to love them, we can’t just stay within our same cliques and comfort zones. We must be willing to include that circle, even at great personal sacrifice. Because Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And the commitment that that makes is a commitment that the world notices.
Well, if the badge of love is friendship, the reward of friendship is intimacy. I am going to read verse 15 again: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know His master’s business. Instead I have called you friends. For everything that I learned from my Father, I made known to you.”
Jesus makes a contrast here between servants and friends. What it is about a servant? Well, a servant comes and he does what he has to do. He isn’t really privy to his master’s desires or intentions. There is no real conversation that is going on that is significant. The servant just serves, no questions asked, unless it’s a question about clarification of a command. That’s it.
Many years ago I was in a GM plant in Michigan where they make all these cars that roll off the assembly line. And I was standing there watching one man whose responsibility was to put on the left back tire. That is all that he did all day. He put on that left back tire and then he had that gadget or machine to put in the screws and the nuts. And that is what he did as the car rolled along the assembly line.
By the way, sometimes you think that as a believer if you are going to be a missionary or a pastor, you really need the filling of the Spirit. And you do, but to be able to do that kind of a job for God and His glory takes an additional filling of the Spirit. Just imagine doing the same thing, in the same way, day after day after day.
And I thought to myself, “That’s something like servanthood. What if this man had never seen the end product, namely, a car? Let’s suppose that he was born in that factory. (And some of those men surely thought they were) What if he began to work there and that is all he did, and he never saw the completed product. That is servanthood.
What Jesus is saying here is, “You’re not like that. Because what I have done is, I have given you knowledge; I have brought you into the inner sanctum. And all things that the Father has shown me that I am to show you, I have communicated that to you.” That really is friendship. It’s that growth in knowledge; it’s that growth in intimacy. And Jesus said, “I have called you friends.”
Now let’s just be honest for a moment. There are some people that we would never be intimate friends with because we can’t trust them with that kind of knowledge, can we? We don’t want to have the knowledge. And we think to ourselves, “If I were to yield myself to this person and share my secrets, we don’t know what is going to be done with it.”
And that’s why there is a second characteristic of this kind of commitment, of this kind of friendship: knowledge and trust. When you come to Jesus the Scripture says, “The secrets of the Lord are with those who fear Him.” You and Jesus can have all kinds of secrets, and you can trust Him with your life. You’d better trust Him because He already knows all your secrets anyway.
Now many years ago (and it was many, many years ago,), I was a youth pastor at one of the churches here in Chicago. That is a bit of information that I don’t think is widely known. Well, I have to tell you I lasted three months. Or, I should say the kids lasted three months. But, I remember a letter that my wife and I received from one of the girls in that teenage youth group.
She said, “One thing I like about Jesus is that I can tell Him all those secrets and He doesn’t tell anybody.” Isn’t that beautiful? That’s the way Jesus is. We can tell Him all those secrets and He doesn’t tell anybody. That is friendship, indeed.
Now you imagine what Jesus Christ knows. He knows our down sitting and our uprising. He knows our aspirations and our desires. He knows our fantasies. He knows the secrets of our heart. And, the remarkable thing is that He loves us still. “He who knows us best,” does not the song go, “loves us the most.”
Many years ago from this pulpit, James Vernon McGee who has since gone on to glory, was speaking at Founder’s Week. And, he was talking about this kind of knowledge. And he said, “Now I want you to know, that if you knew my heart the way I know my heart, you wouldn’t listen to me.” Then he waited for a long time. There was that pause… and then he said, “But I want you to know this: before you head for the exits, if I knew your heart the way you know your heart, I wouldn’t even talk to you.” We’re all in the same boat.
Has somebody ever said anything about you that isn’t true? Have they ever shaded things to put you in an unfavorable light? And you have been angry, and have not been able to sleep as a result. Could I give you a bit of advice? You should rejoice that the half has not been told. (Laughter)
What if they knew every thought you had? What if they knew every thought that you had about them, and exactly what you thought about them? And, all those other hidden thoughts. You’d soon discover there is a whole lot more there if it were revealed.
Jesus is speaking to these disciples, and He says to them, “I want you to know that you are my friends. I know all about you and I still love you.”
Let me mention to you the words of one man, George Elliot, who put it this way: “Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person. Having neither to weight thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out just as they are chaff and grain together. Knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
We all desire those kinds of human friendships. Every one of us wants to be known, the good, the bad, the ugly, and still be accepted. But, the one who does that the best is Jesus.
Have you ever thought about how wonderful it would be if you were Moses? Because, the Bible says that, “Moses spoke with the Lord face to face as a man speaks with his friend.” That’s a quote from Exodus. I have often thought about that. Just imagine talking face to face with God. And we are friends.
Do you know that we have that privilege? And, that we today are closer to God than Moses when he was standing at the entrance to the Tabernacle, with the glorious cloud coming to engulf the congregation. Because, Moses was not in the “holy of holies,” but you and I are. Thanks to the coming of Christ, that veil has been taken away. As it is said, “Near to God, nearer I cannot be. For in the person of His Son, I’m just as near as He.” Friendship with Christ, intimacy with Him.
The badge of friendship is love; the reward of friendship is intimacy. And, the result of friendship is fruit-bearing. Let’s look at the text in verse 16: Jesus said, “You did not choose me but I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
Now inevitably when we come across passages like this (and they occur throughout the whole book of John,), we realize that we are really in some theological difficulty here, trying to grasp it. What do you mean it is Jesus who did the choosing? We thought that we chose Him? Isn’t that the way it usually goes?
It’s interesting to hear new converts give their testimonies. Almost always they say something like this: “Now I was going along throughout the years, minding my own business. And then I began to question. And then I…” and here comes the quote now, “and then I found the Lord.”
Well, we can understand that they put it that way. But, after they have studied their Bibles a little bit, and hopefully after they have been to Moody Church for a few months, they clean that up a little bit. And they say, “I was going along, and Jesus Christ saved me. He came looking for me and saved me.” The sheep are always wandering. They are never going back to the shepherd. The shepherd is always seeking the sheep.
And, every time in John’s gospel when it seems the disciples have a right to be proud and say “Wow! We are friends with Jesus,” they are humbled. At that point Christ humbles them by saying, “Now, lest you take any credit for it, remember you did not choose me, but I chose you.”
As we sometimes sing, “I sought the Lord and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me. It was not I that found, oh Savior true. No, I was found of Thee.” Jesus does the choosing. Let’s just let it be there. Let’s just rejoice in it. But, notice why He chooses us. He says, “I’ve chosen you, I’ve appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
Here is where you can take the message that was preached last week, and you can put it all into that phrase. We are supposed to bear fruit that remains. That is why the pruning takes place.
You remember that fruit-bearing is the expression of the inner nature. An apple tree bears apples, and an orange tree bears oranges because of the inner nature. And, the inner nature of Jesus is to break out into our life so that we can be transforming agents. But, most of all to be transformed within us. And Jesus said, “I want fruit that remains.”
I find that passage interesting. Because, if there is anything that doesn’t remain, it’s fruit. A flower will last awhile. I’ve learned that peanut butter can last awhile. (Laughter) But, I’ve also learned that fruit doesn’t last very long.
That lesson was re-taught to me this week when I left a banana in a hot car for a day. And, I wanted to eat it on the way home. But there was something going on there that I didn’t like. (Laughter) Fruit normally does not last.
Jesus said, “I have chosen you, we’re friends. I want you to be a fruit-bearing Christian.” Remember that what we learned is that if you are not a fruit-bearing Christian, you are disappointing God. And as far as God is concerned, you are of no special use to Him. He says that the branches that don’t bear fruit are thrown into the fire, as we learned last time.
Now, are you that fruit-bearing Christian? One day I was talking to a man who was going blind. And he was so angry that nobody wanted to be around him. He was angry at people, but most of all he was angry at God. Now, I don’t want to blame him because I don’t know what I would do if I were going blind. I think I would have some mighty hard days.
That’s not the reason I tell you this story. It is because he told me in his anger, “I have always been a self-made man. And, now I am going to have to depend upon others.” And that was the thing that stuck in his craw.
Well, I think I began to understand a little better why God may have blessed him with blindness. God can’t use self-made men. God only uses God-made men. And God has to take these self-made men, and God has to break them. He has to mold them, and he has to prune them as we learned last time, so that they become fruit-bearing Christians.
And this man if he were to believe it, can also yet bear fruit. Because, there is such a thing as bearing fruit in a more public way. But, there is also bearing fruit in the shade where no one is watching. And Jesus said, “Wherever you are, you can bear fruit that remains. I love it! It will not spoil.”
Now, as we look at this passage of Scripture, you can see here that the friendship lies at the heart of fulfillment. It is because of our unity with Jesus, it is because He is that friend to sinners. It lies at the very root of who we are. “And though friends forsake us, Jesus is there,” as the song reminds us.
I think that there are different levels of friendship. First of all, we have of course the acquaintance. We sometimes say we have many acquaintances, but few friends. An acquaintance is someone whose name you know. You may know where they work, you may know where they live, but you don’t really know them. You have no idea, and they may not really know you. And by the way, if all that you have are acquaintances and no friends, the Bible does say in Proverbs 18:14 that, “He who would have friends should show himself friendly.”
I’ll throw this in with now extra cost, but sometimes here at The Moody Church we receive letters from visitors. Some of them say, “You know, we came to Moody Church and it was so cold, nobody talked to us.” Maybe the same week I get another letter that says, “We came to Moody Church expecting it to not be friendly because it is so big, and we were so surprised. So many people talked to us and they made us feel at home.” And I say, “Now wait a moment. Are we talking about the same church, or aren’t we?”
There’s a little poem that says, “I went out to find a friend, but could not find one there. I went out to be a friend, and friends were everywhere.” So, first of all there is the level of acquaintance.
Then there is what I call “occasional friendship.” That’s where you know somebody better, but you have to be on your guard. You don’t want to reveal everything that is going on inside of you, because you fear rejection. So, you really don’t think that you can share intimately. But, at least you have some kind of a basis for a relationship.
But, then we have the full friendship. The friendship that Jesus is talking about here, the friendship where He knows us intimately. We don’t know Him intimately, and maybe this explains why the Bible does not call Him a friend as such. But, He says “You are my friends.” We don’t know Him intimately. We should try to as far as we can in this life, but we don’t know all about Him.
But, He knows all about us. And it is in that relationship where God comes and says, “I know you, but I love you and I can affirm you.” This is an example of the friendship we should have as human beings. It is there that the depth of experience really happens, and the fulfillment comes. We are not alone. We have significance because God loves us. And because of that, we have the strength now to love others. Hopefully, even as Jesus loved us.
Back in 1819, there was a young man who was born in that year, Joseph Scriven. Joseph was born in Ireland. He had a very good upbringing, and a very fine Christian family. The family was quite wealthy and had lots of friends. And he had a special friend, too. And he was to be married on a certain day, and his fiancée drowned the night before the wedding.
He was of course in great grief, and eventually went to Canada to a place called Port Hope. And he spent the rest of his life helping people even without them paying him. So much so that he became known as “The Good Samaritan of Port Hope.”
When his mother became ill, (and remember now, we are talking about the 1800s,) he could not immediately go to visit her.
But he sent her a letter of encouragement along with a poem he had written.
Someone who looked at the poem said, “Who authored this poem?” And he said, “I did, and the Lord did; we did it together.” And you know perhaps when you stop to think of it, he might have been right. Because the poem that he wrote were these words: “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer. Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God to prayer.”
Someone said to me, “It’s wonderful to be saved, but there is something even better than being saved.” You say, “What could be better than being saved?” And he said, “Being friends with the One who saved us.” Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, because they don’t know what’s going on. But I have called you friends. I have brought you into intimacy, and I have told you everything that the Father has shown me. And you are my friends if you do what I command you.”
Now I have to ask you, is there a privilege greater than that? I can’t think of one if there is; Jesus, what a friend of sinners.
Let’s pray together. And our Father, we want to thank You today for Jesus. We thank You that He was willing to take those who were His enemies and win them over. We thank You that when we were without strength in due time, Christ died for the ungodly. And Your word says that, “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” We thank You for that.”
“And thank You that Jesus was able to bring us in. We thank You that even though He is Holy, He did not withdraw from us. But He puts His arms around us and says, ‘You are my friends.’ Grant, oh God, that the cultivation of that relationship shall be our lifelong motivation and desire. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.”