This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. If you have any questions or comments for Rev. McGeown, please post them in the comment section on the blog.
“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 my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:9–11).
We are familiar with Christ’s beautiful figure of a vine and its branches in John 15. However, what is less familiar is the idea of “abiding” found in the same chapter. To “abide” is to remain, to stay, or to continue, where the verb “abide” (translated in various ways) occurs eleven times in vv. 1–11. Jesus speaks of different kinds of “abiding.” First, there is Christ’s abiding in us (v. 4–5)—that is fundamental. Second, there is the abiding of Christ’s words in us (v. 7). Third, there is our abiding in Christ (vv. 4–5, 7). Finally, and the subject of this blog post, there is our abiding in Christ’s love.
Christ begins with the Father’s love: “As my Father hath loved me” (v. 9). The triune God (the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ) loves Jesus Christ. The believer must not think abstractly about this, for in loving Christ, the Father loves us. The Father views the Son as the head of the elect church and as the husband of the elect church. Therefore, he never views Christ as separate from the church. In fact, the Son became incarnate for the sake of the elect church. Beloved, believing reader, God’s love is never abstract or unconnected to you: you are loved in him. You are loved only in him. When you think of God’s love, therefore, never look at yourself, for you are unlovely and unlovable. Look to Christ in faith, for only in him do you know—and can you know—the love of God.
But what is that love with which the Father loves the incarnate Son? We can say three things about that love, which are three aspects of a definition of love. (Of course, these three things only scratch the surface, but it is good to have a working definition of “love”). First, the Father delights in the Son as his most precious possession, for he highly prizes his Son as precious and dear to himself. Second, the Father seeks the eternal blessedness of his Son, having prepared a kingdom and glory for his Son and having made him heir of all things. Third, the Father draws the Son into close fellowship and communion with himself, so close that the Father is “in” the Son, and the Son is “in” the Father. That is love, beautiful, precious, divine love between the Father and Jesus Christ.
Believers can and must also apply that love to themselves. We are the objects of the Father’s delight. We are precious and dear to the Father. The Father seeks our salvation and has planned a glorious inheritance for us in Christ. The Father draws us into his fellowship and communion by the power of the Holy Spirit of Christ. That is his love for us.
Furthermore, since Christ is the object of the Father’s eternal and everlasting love, we can understand something of the cost of that love when the Father sent the Son to die on the cross for our sins: he sent the object of his everlasting delight (John 3:16). Moreover, God’s love for his Son is spontaneous and natural, for Jesus is forever worthy of the Father’s love. The Son always pleases the Father. Never does the Son displease the Father or transgress his commandments. That is where the difference lies, of course, for God’s love of us is voluntary and purposeful. He did not need to love us, but he chose to love us despite our unworthiness.
“As the Father hath loved me…”
Jesus draws a direct comparison or correlation between the Father’s love for him, and his love for the disciples, and by extension, his love for us. “So have I loved you” (v. 9). Here is an exact correlation: “As…so.” Apply those three points above to Christ’s love for us. First, Jesus delights in us, highly prizes us, and views us as precious and dear to himself. Second, Jesus has planned the highest blessedness for us, for he seeks our salvation in all things; he has prepared for us a kingdom and he has prepared glory for us. Third, Jesus the Mediator draws us into his holy embrace of love, he establishes a relationship of friendship with us, and he has fellowship with us.
What else is characteristic of Christ’s love for us? We can name three more things. First, Christ’s love is selfless and sacrificial. Jesus knew our need. He knew our misery. He knew that we were lost in sin. He knew that our sin left us exposed to the wrath of God. Because he desired to save us from that wrath, he died for us out of love for us. It is for that reason that he came into the world: to suffer and die for our sins. Second, Christ’s love is sovereignly free. Christ was not obligated to love us, but he chose to love us: he set his love on us. Because Christ’s love for us is a sovereign choice of his will, his love for us does not depend upon us: it does not depend on any quality in us. What was there in Peter, John, or Philip to attract the love of Christ to them? Nothing—and if nothing attracted his love to us in the first place, nothing will repel him from us so that he ceases to love us in the future. Third, Christ’s love is everlasting and unchanging. Christ’s love does not ebb or flow as the tide; it does not wax and wane as the moon. It is constant. “Having loved his own…he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). Christ’s love does not vary according to the worthiness of the objects of his love. While we always remain unworthy of his love, his love remains constant and firm.
“As my Father hath loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9)!
Having assured the disciples of his love, Jesus exhorts them to “continue” in it. To that we must turn in our next blog post.