“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Young married couples were gathered in our living room to talk about how to build strong marriages. “I think I could handle my husband’s death,” my wife, Muriel announced. Her audience seemed a bit startled, but her comment didn’t surprise me because she had periodically asked God to let me die first. Muriel maintained that she could handle life without me better than I could handle it without her. In the end, I didn’t “die” first, but that night no one suspected that Alzheimer’s Disease was lurking in the shadows.
She continued, “It’s the little things that are hard to handle.” I sensed it was one of those rare moments of grand enlightenment, but did I want the whole crowd enlightened? Reluctantly, I asked, “Like what?”
“Like when you don’t agree with me!” she said with an infectious burst of laughter. Indeed, the daily dying to one’s rights and desires may be more difficult than some major crisis. And though laying down one’s life for another is the ultimate gift of love, laying it down in small pieces is just as certainly proof of love. And if we refuse to lay it down?
Muriel’s way of life was to “lay down her life” for me. No wonder, when the time came for me to resign in order to care for her, I would tell the students at Columbia Bible College and Seminary, “She cared for me so selflessly for forty years, if I should care for her another forty, I would never be out of her debt.” Indeed, I wonder if Muriel knew how to respond anyway other than in self-giving love. But her “revelation” to the young couples that night taught me it wasn’t always easy for her. I wouldn’t have guessed it, though. She was outrageously joyful. Always.
And that is the “fruit” Christ identifies. Joy is so important that Jesus says our joy is the reason he is giving this teaching! (John 15:11). In other words, the end product of abiding is joy – like some vine bursting exuberantly over the garden wall. Another source of joy may be indicated. The flow of thought in the immediate context could mean that joy is the product, not directly of abiding, but of love (vs 9, 10). Any engaged couple can testify that love has produced a special kind of ecstasy, a joy that won’t stop, that overflows into all of life. And that kind of joy is the natural overflow of our ultimate love affair – his love for us and ours for him.
The text may also indicate that joy results from obedience. For the Christian, joy flows naturally from obedience. And no joy without it, that is certain. Whatever the immediate or ultimate source of the joy, Jesus promises an overflowing kind of joy that cannot be explained by the most brilliant psychiatrist with an analysis of one’s early environment or present circumstances. It is supernatural, the fruit of life flowing from Jesus.
These same verses identify a cluster of fruit that includes all varieties of Jesus’ beautiful character: everything he heard from the Father (John 15:15). Love summarizes the will of God that we be like Him (vs 11,12) but note that He describes in detail the specifics of how love will think and behave: “if you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (vs 10).
God does not leave love undefined, some warm feeling that produces whatever one feels good about. No, the way love thinks and acts is spelled out in detail in “all that He commands.” Furthermore, it is not a remote and unattainable ideal nor mere advice on how to find adjustment and fulfillment. He commands us to obey. No option to do otherwise. And to the extent we do what He says, by the enabling life-force of the Holy Spirit, we will prove to be His disciples (vs 8) and put on display the glorious product of full-orbed likeness to Jesus. This is the fruit He promises. But there is more. The expression, “all that He commands,” prepares us for yet another expectation. His commands include, in addition to Christlike attitudes and behavior, His plan for us to produce a crop of effective service.
A tomato vine is fulfilled only through bearing tomatoes. And it is really “filled full” when the vine is loaded with fruit. Jesus holds before us, in John 15, a beautiful portrait of ultimate fulfillment: Himself! And He describes in detail how we can have it: Himself! As you stay tight with Him, His life feeds into yours and the inevitable outcome is greater and greater likeness to Him. Not “falling in love,” but growing in love, from one degree of His beautiful character to another. May He ever be satisfied with a bumper crop through us!