In an age when love is frequently lauded but often misunderstood, we must have a proper view of love. Modern culture bombards us with messages telling us that love is a mere feeling, that we will never disapprove of those whom we truly love, and that everything done in the name of love is right. But the Scriptures instruct us otherwise. God’s Word makes it clear that true love is costly.
Jesus, in today’s passage, emphasizes the cost of love. Having told us to abide in His love (John 15:1–11), Jesus begins to unfold what abiding in His love looks like. Love means loving others as Jesus has loved us, particularly in laying down our lives for our friends (vv. 12–13). Our Savior obviously makes an allusion here to His atoning death on the cross that turns away the wrath of God (Rom. 3:21–26), and this means we must first consider what laying down our lives for our friends does not entail. After all, none of us is the spotless Lamb of God sent to save sinners, so none of us can lay down our lives in exactly the same manner as Jesus. Christian theologians have long recognized this truth. Augustine of Hippo, for example, comments on it at length in a sermon on today’s passage.
We cannot love others as Jesus has loved us in the sense of atoning for their sin; however, there are other ways in which we can imitate the love of Christ. For example, Christ loved us so much that He was willing to leave His place of glory with the Father in order to pay for our sins on the cross (Phil. 2:5–11). We, likewise, can refuse to exploit our privileges in order to meet the needs of others. Furthermore, Jesus spent His life in service to others, healing the sick and teaching God’s truth. Similarly, we can spend our lives in service to others, helping even those who seem the least deserving of our assistance and pointing people to Christ.
Some of us may literally have to die in order to save another person’s life, but that will be rare. More likely, we will lay down our lives in a multitude of smaller ways. Parents can set aside their right to rest quietly after a hard day of work in order to spend time with their children. Employers, when appropriate, can refrain from giving overly harsh but deserved criticism of employees in order to work alongside them and help them improve. Retirees can give up part of the spare time they labored years to earn in order to volunteer at their churches. Whatever our station in life, we should look for ways to spend our lives for the sake of others.