This morning I read John 15:9-12
As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept the Father’s commandments, and abide in his love . . . This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
This isn’t works-based favour with God. It’s about living within a relationship instead of running away from it. The Prodigal Son didn’t lose his father’s love when he left home, but he certainly didn’t abide (dwell) in it. In the same way, if we want to dwell in Jesus’ love, living in close communion with Him and experiencing daily relationship with all its benefits, we need to keep His commandments.
What commandments, specifically? He pinpoints one: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Elsewhere Jesus calls this commandment a “new commandment.” And it is, because it is not quite the old commandment from the law that we remember — “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” No, this is different. This is a call to love each other as, in the same way, with the same passion Jesus does. Self-love is no longer our reference point; Jesus is.
In the very next verse He defines this kind of love in a way that leaves no room for watering down:
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus’ call to relationship goes two ways. He calls us to abiding relationship with Him by way of relationship with each other — and to relationship with each other by way of His love.
I think it’s also significant that the verse doesn’t say “a man lay down his life for his wife,” or his children, or his parents, his nation, his cause, his master or king. In all of those relationships there’s a sense of duty and obligation, and in some cases of instinctive devotion (like that of a mother for a child). A secret service agent may lay down his life for the president, but love isn’t necessarily the driving force. But friendship is completely voluntary. There is no obligation in it — it’s love we freely choose. To lay down one’s life for a friend shows real love. And that’s the love Jesus is calling us to live by.