You may recall that last week I spoke about gardening and the importance of pruning, and how the Gospel passage used such an illustration for how we grow in our faith and become more fruitful. To bear good fruit we are to get the foundation right by remaining or abiding in Christ. To “remain” is to be immersed in and connected with the very source of life and love – Jesus Christ. The command Jesus gave is in the sense of something we must keep on doing – if we are to bear fruit, we must keep on remaining in Christ. I could have spoken about what the fruit looks like – but if our foundation is not based on love, if the very source of our being and doing isn’t love, we cannot hope to bear good fruit that brings glory to God. That is why when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he replied, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Matthew 12:29-30)
That theme continues in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus gives us guidance about how we are called to be in the core foundations of our faith and discipleship. We are to:
- Remain in his love.
- Love each other as he has loved us.
- Be willing to make sacrifices for one another.
- Acknowledge that he has chosen us and appointed us for a specific purpose – to bear fruit that will last.
If we don’t love each other and remain in Jesus’ love, we don’t stand any chance of bearing fruit that will last. We often find that God is a God of surprises. He often works in ways that we don’t necessarily expect. Look at the people he chose and called to serve him; look at those he has called now. Look at how the early Church was so surprised when God called all – both Jew and Gentile, circumcised believers and foreigners alike. We see God at work in our lives every day, if we will acknowledge his presence. I believe the Holy Spirit is just as active today as he was in creation. We are powerless to obey Jesus’ command to love unless he lives within us. But if we do love each other and remain in Jesus’ love we will know joy in all fullness and be known as friends of Jesus. I have known times in my life when I have felt like I was on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. God has been incredibly patient with me, and constantly and gently reminded me of his presence and his love. He has helped my walk of faith to be more consistent, and I have a great support network who help me when I wobble. God often makes the ordinary extraordinary, the secular sacred; we can do all this through him who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13).
Our reading from 1 John continues with this theme of loving, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands.” We sometimes have a jaded view about following commands or instructions, but I want it to be clear that God’s commands lead to life, wholeness, healing and fulfilment. Let me give you an illustration. If you say to a child “Do not place your hand in the candle flame”, you are not being mean or restrictive. You simply want to protect the child from getting injured. The command is there to ensure safety and wellbeing. God’s commands are similar – they are not there to be restrictive and limiting, but to protect, nurture and help us to flourish.
I have spent a very long time reflecting on these passages and it occurs to me that if we get the foundations right and both receive God’s love in all fullness and share it with others, it is transformational. I don’t do what I do because I am worthy, I don’t do what I do out of obligation, I don’t do what I do as a reluctant servant – I do what I do because I am loved by God, I love God and I love each and every one of you. The way in which this world has twisted, and distorted love is tragic in the extreme. People say, “I love chocolate”. The world wants love to be diminished, diluted, but also spontaneous and driven by feelings. But Jesus knows our deeper need and seeks to restore and renew a right understanding.
Psychologists tell us feelings are not facts. I agree. Love is a choice. We are called to love even when we don’t feel like it because we want others to love us when we are unlovable. If we waited to be motivated by affection for others, we wouldn’t always love others. Treating others with honour and respect (even when we don’t feel they deserve it) may give them space to grow in the love of God too. If we understand how deeply we are loved by God in spite of our sin, we will be pushed in the direction of loving others ourselves. Unless we realise the length, the depth and the breadth of God’s love for us we will find it difficult to really love others. Thankfully we are not alone; in Jesus we find the model for loving – he is the author and perfecter of our faith, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are equipped to do every good work. Jesus commands us to love, and gives us the means to accomplish his command.
In the book of Romans, we are told, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” When we have an encounter with God’s love, grace and truth, we are cleansed, purged, pruned, restored, renewed and set free, and we become overcomers. No wonder John Newton wrote that great hymn “Amazing Grace”. May you come into the fullness of the knowledge of the love that God has for you, be set free to be all that you are called to be in Christ, and have the courage to walk with Christ loving one another along the way. Amen