What if his love for me were my very identity? Could it be true, an identity which derives from an intimacy with God too blasphemous to claim for ourselves had he not said it first?
Last Sunday I preached from a passage which is fast becoming one of my very favourites: John 15. I had thought nothing came close to Romans 8 but my mind and heart are being slowly won by the beauties of Jesus’ words as John tells them here. I could spend days and weeks reading nothing but John 15, I think; it may be years before I can live more fully into its truth. In particular, I have been captivated by John 15:9 in recent times, that verse almost obscene in its claim, that ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you’.
I mean, what is a preacher supposed to do with that?!
How can I do any justice whatsoever to that claim? How can I hope that by spilling words, preached or written, I might somehow plumb its depths? That the Son has loved us, most especially at the cross, as the Father has loved him! It makes me want to go running to the big, fat Greek dictionary that I usually avoid like the plague because it is so detailed that I forget what I went to look up in the first place. It makes me want to pull it down off the dusty library shelf, the one which is so high that I have to really, really want to get the book – enough to trundle the squeaky stepladder from the other end of the otherwise silent library, apologetic face firmly in place. This verse, though, the one so bold and terse in its crazy big assertion, this verse will send me to that dictionary, just out of sheer desperation to look up that word kathōs (‘as’) and see if it sheds any light on exactly what kind of comparison we could be trying to make here between the eternal, unblemished, all-consuming love of the Father for the Son…
…and the Son’s love for you and me!
I’ll get that dictionary because, to be honest, words are failing me right now and sometimes, at those points, a little bit of Greek exegesis of the text can really help. (If you don’t read Greek, you just need to trust me right now – or smile and wave, smile and wave!)
But that dictionary – and the exact way in which the two loves are like one another – is a job for next week. For now, I am content to meditate on this excerpt from Michaels’ weighty commentary. (When you get to page 810 of your commentary and you are still only as far as chapter 15 in a gospel of 21 chapters, that definitely constitutes weighty, I reckon!) So, listen to this:
The Father’s love for the Son is the basis of the Son’s love for the disciples, which in turn is the basis of their love for each other. But instead of coming immediately to the “new command” of mutual love (see vv.12, 17), Jesus simply tells them, “Make your dwelling in my love” (v.9b), that is, make my love for you your very identity. Who are you? Those whom Jesus loved. If the consistent designation of a certain disciple as “one whom Jesus loved” (see 13:23) is, as many believe, a self-designation of the author (or implied author) of the Gospel, then this is how he identified himself (even to the exclusion of his actual name!).
Make my love for you your very identity. Did you hear that too? Make my love for you your very identity. Abide in me. Remain, Rest. Stay in that love. A few verses further down, John’s Jesus calls us friends, a word which might also be translated ‘beloved’ if we agree that John uses agapaō and phileō, two verbs relating to ‘love’, synonymously in his gospel. You are my beloved if you do what I command you, that bit of the text says. Did you hear that too? You are my beloved. As Michaels notes, the gospel’s author understood this. In fact, it seems that he understood it on such a deep level that he appropriated it as his identity. He knew himself as ‘the one the Lord loved’.
Brothers and sisters, his love for me is my very identity. I am beginning to know that more than I did before and less than I one day hope to know it. I know it as true of me. It is just as true of you. But do you know it yet?