John 15:12-13 – Real Love

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12-13ESV

I remember when I was a student, living abroad in Japan and studying at a university in a suburb of Osaka. There were over 350 foreign exchange students at the campus from all over the world. I was hanging out with a group of them in the cafeteria after school, talking about who knows what. It was during this conversation we started comparing notes on dating woes. In a foreign exchange environment among college students, it wasn’t an uncommon conversation. Everyone was excited by the allure of being around so many people from all over the world. In the course of this conversation, someone offhandedly said to me, “Ruth…I think a lot more people would want do date you if you weren’t Christian. It’s kind of a turnoff. I mean, they know you’re not going to have sex.”

The conversation stuck with me for a long time. While I’d certainly grown up committed to only dating Christians, I’d never considered other people might not date me because of my faith. I’d just assumed if people didn’t have religious convictions, they wouldn’t care if I did. A naive assumption, according to the revelations that day.

But isn’t it interesting that a willingness to have sex was the heart of the issue? In fact, I would argue, the real issue is the constant cheapening of what we call “love” in our culture. Love in our culture seems to be:

  • What makes me feel good
  • What the other person does for me (emotionally OR physically)
  • How much fun I have with that person
  • How much that person affirms me

Now…that list doesn’t seem to be so bad, and honestly…it’s great to have those things in love. However…that list is only about what another person gives me. It is a selfish love, based on the utility of another human being; about what they can do for me.

In direct opposition to this, Jesus says in John 15:13ESV, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” What is love about here?

What you bring to the table for those you say you love.

Love is about serving others, prioritizing the well-being of others. Not just being willing to lay down your physical life for someone else, but also portions of your life. Being willing to sacrifice that promotion to be home more with your family. Setting aside some dreams so you can support your partner in pursuing theirs. Coming home right after school, instead of doing an extra baseball practice to get in good with the coach, because your mom is having friends over and could use the help getting the house ready.

In fact, when Jesus calls us to love, the standard He uses is the very love He demonstrated in His life and death. This love:

  • Held people accountable for sin (Matthew 18:15-17)
  • Modeled radical forgiveness of sin (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Was extended regardless of social censure (John 4:1-42)
  • Met the needs of others (Mark1:34)
  • Faced down the devil, himself (Matthew 4:1-11)
  • Died for a crime He did not commit (John 19:4)

As John puts it in his Gospel account, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25NIV).

The love we are called to is radical because it is socially unacceptable. Jesus did it first. He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7&8ESV). 

The love He demonstrated cost Him His life. But because of that love we can truly and deeply love others and truly and deeply be loved by others. We can forgive. We can give 100%, even when the one we love’s 100% looks more like 60%. We can call those we love to a higher standard than this world sets for us.

Jesus shows us what real love us. Not a cheap cultural construct, but an eternally deep well poured from the heart of the Creator of the World into our wounded hearts…and into all the world.

  1. How have you defined love in the past?
  2. When you have experienced “Christ-like” love?
  3. How does “Christ-like” love impact you, compared to cultural love?
  4. Challenge for the week: Pay attention to the dynamics of the “loving relationships” in your life. Instead of focusing on where the other person is failing to be loving toward you, pray for God to show you opportunities to bring Christ-like love to that person. When He shows you an opportunity, take it!