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.
Before Jesus departs from his disciples on the night of his arrest and trial, he assures them of his love. His love for his disciples—and for believers in every age—is as the Father’s love for him: “As my Father hath loved me, so have I loved you” (v. 9). What beautiful words to cheer the troubled souls of the disciples and to comfort our fearful hearts!
Jesus adds the urgent exhortation: “Continue ye in my love” (v. 9), where the word “continue” is “abide.” Take note of the order. “I have loved you.” Therefore, “continue or abide in my love” (v. 9). “You are branches in the vine; therefore, abide in the vine” (v. 4). “My words are in you. Therefore, let my words abide in you” (v. 7). This is not ultimately your activity, therefore, believer. You did not engraft yourself into the vine, and you do not keep yourself in the vine. You did not unite yourself to Jesus Christ, and you do not keep yourself in Christ. You did not place Christ’s words in yourself, and you do not keep them in you. Similarly, you did not bring yourself into Christ’s love, and you do not keep yourself in Christ’s love. In other words, you do not abide in his love in your own strength.
Nevertheless, this is a command: “Continue ye.” We are active (we become active) in this.
The love in verse 9 is emphatically “Christ’s love.” Therefore, the meaning is not our love for Christ. Our love is certainly important, but it is not the meaning here. That meaning would not fit the context of verse 9, for Jesus is not exhorting, “keep on loving me,” or “continue to love me.” Rather, he urges, “I have loved you. Now, continue, remain, or abide in my love for you.” “Remain once and for all time in my love.” “Abide permanently in my love.”
Abiding in Christ’s love for us includes at least four things.
First, we continue to believe it. We have assurance of it. We trust in the truth and faithfulness of Christ’s love. We do not abide in Christ’s love when we question or doubt his love for us, for has Christ not decisively proved his love for us in his death on the cross for our salvation?
Second, we remember it. We have knowledge of it. We even grow in our knowledge and appreciation of it. Abide in Christ’s love. Meditate on it. Study it. Occupy your mind, your heart, and your soul with it.
Third, we dwell in the consciousness and enjoyment of it. We dwell in Christ’s love, as it were, under Christ’s shining smile. We abide in the experience of it. We know that he loves us and we rejoice in and delight in that love.
And fourth, we abide in Christ’s love when it is the motivating factor in our life. Christ’s love motivates us to good works. Christ’s love motivates us to avoid sin. Christ’s love motivated Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14: “For the love of Christ constraineth us.” Elsewhere Paul writes, “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). When we consider Christ’s love, we are moved: we think of its depth, its faithfulness, its power, its constancy, its efficacy, its beauty, and its sweetness. Such delightful thoughts of Christ’s love move us to thanksgiving, to worship, to service, to patient endurance, and to obedience. “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee” (Ps. 63:3). “In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul” (Ps. 94:19).
Is that not the testimony and the experience of God’s children? Why did Paul gladly suffer the loss of all things, and endure persecution and opposition for the gospel? The love of Christ constrained him. By grace he abode in Christ’s love, and that love sustained him. This, too, is the teaching of the Reformed confessions. The third section of the Heidelberg Catechism grounds our obedience in gratitude, gratitude that flows from grace. Belgic Confession Article 24 states, “Therefore it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that, on the contrary, without it we would never do anything out of love for God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation.” Love for God motivates us because God loved us in Jesus Christ. Canons 1.13 explains, “The sense and certainty of this election [and therefore of Christ’s love] afford to the children of God additional matter for daily humiliation before him, for adoring the depth of his mercies, for cleansing themselves, and rendering grateful returns of ardent love to him, who first manifested so great love towards them.” God loved us; we render grateful returns to him.
But why is this exhortation, “Continue ye in my love,” necessary? Surely, we know Christ’s love. If we know Christ’s love, we do not need to be exhorted to continue in it, do we? Well, Peter, John, James, and others knew; yet, Jesus exhorted them. We know, too, but we still need the exhortation and reminder. We need this reminder because we do not always live in the conscious enjoyment of that truth. Often we doubt it. Sometimes we cannot sense it. Then we are tempted to imagine, “Christ no longer loves me.” When our faith is weak, we struggle to believe. Such struggles are not unusual, which is why we need this exhortation.
Two things tempt us to doubt the love of Christ.
The first is suffering or affliction. When life is hard, we find it more difficult to believe in Christ’s love for us. When we are sick, we are quick to jump to conclusions—God hates me! We are too quick to judge Christ’s love by our circumstances and our feelings. The disciples would need to “abide in Christ’s love” when persecution came. When the Sanhedrin turned against them, when they were cast into prison and beaten, then they would be tempted to doubt. They would be tempted to forget, question, lose the sense of, and even deny Christ’s love.
The second is sin. When we walk in sin, Christ love seems to be hidden behind a cloud, for in those times he chastises us, sometimes with very painful chastisements. We cry out, “Lord, thou dost hate me!” But Christ disciplines us in love in order to deliver us from our sins. His love never changes. He loves us, but he hates our sin. Therefore, out of love for us he is determined to separate us from our sin, even by inflicting pain and suffering upon us. Nothing can separate us from Christ’s love, but Christ’s love separates us from sin.
Beloved reader, if you think that you can abide in the conscious enjoyment of Christ’s love while you walk deliberately in sin, a whole host of Biblical witnesses will rise up to testify to the folly of such a course. David will tell you, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long” (Ps. 32:3). Jonah will tell you how he tried to flee from the presence of the Lord, only to be swallowed up by a great fish until he cried out of hell’s belly (Jonah 2). Samson will tell of his presumptuous playing with Delilah until God broke his heart in a Philistine dungeon (Judges 16). And Peter will tell you of his bitter weeping outside the courtyard of Caiaphas’s palace (Matt. 26:75).
But even without the testimony of those men, we have the words of Jesus Christ: “if ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love.”
To those words we turn next time, DV.