In John 15:12-17, Jesus uses the illustration of connectedness and intimacy between the vine and the branches to talk about relationships among His followers. Yes, He has been their example throughout their training in discipleship, but from now on, the love that He has shown to them is the same love they must share with each other. This love is also non-hierarchical (i.e. not arranged in an order from the most to the least important). No longer are the disciples considered servants to their master. They are now “friends” (John 15:15) who are privy to everything Jesus has learned from His Father. But Jesus still retains one command—that His friends love each other as He has loved them. Who can find fault with that?
It all sounds warm and cozy, but then I start thinking about Christians who are not lovable. Two colleagues team-teaching a class together start irritating each other. A self-centered 86-year-old woman treats her home health-care worker as her personal slave. A friend reports being constantly put down by her roommate on an overseas trip. There are one or two people at my church whose company I deliberately do not seek out.
Agape love, of course, does not have to mean liking another person—it is wanting the best for them as you want the best for yourself. It is taking others on their own terms and accepting them the way they are, understanding that hurtful behavior can come from personal insecurity or even mental illness. It may sometimes mean confrontation and “tough love” that can easily be misinterpreted. Agape love demands a lot of humility. It is not surprising that Jesus called this kind of loving a “command” (John 15:17)—something you do rather than something you necessarily feel.
For Your Reflection:
What are your experiences of loving friendship—or the lack of it—in a church or other Christian community? (RETA HALTEMAN FINGER)