“Greater love has no man than this; to lay one’s life down for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (verses 13-15). These words follow the great commandment of Jesus, “Love each other as I have loved you” (verse 12).

These words never fail to challenge us. They cause our hearts to soar with the realization of God’s love for us, but we are also painfully aware of how far short we often fall in our obedience to this divine commandment of love. It has always been true. Our minds and our hearts clearly understand and desire to love in this way. But our wills? Ah, therein lies the rub.

We have been made in perfect freedom. This will never change. This freedom is the image of God that we are made in. But our struggle is to use our freedom properly, both to recognize what is really good and what is really evil and to make the right choices, then to carry them out, no matter what the cost to us may be. It is in this knowledge, and in our humble submission to the will of God, that we struggle to live in the likeness of God, to be like him in our love for one another. We are challenged to do this in many different ways. Do we defend a friend against the gossip and false accusations of others, even if it may mean that we might lose a job, or a the false respect of others? Do we stand up for what is right, even when most of those around us are supporting something that is morally wrong? Are we willing to risk our reputations, our security, even a friend, in order to remain true to the will of God?

We are to keep this ideal of divine love before us at all times. Jesus does not ask us to do the impossible here. This ideal love is not an unreachable fiction. It is a reality, a reality to be yearned for and to be struggled for in the nobility of our God-given humanity. It is that for which God made us. Jesus is simply calling us to ourselves, to our truest nature. He is challenging us to know who we really are, that is, beloved children of the Father, made in his image and likeness. But we must know ourselves as sinners in need of God’s grace and forgiveness too. He knows the world may hate us for loving in the manner that he calls us to, and he knows how difficult that is for us, but he reminds us too, that it hated him first. And he showed us how to meet that hate by laying down his own life for his friends, indeed for all humanity. But love demands a relationship, a giving of the self to the other. He tells us that in order to be his friends, we must obey his commandment, this commandment of love in the same way as he did. And every day we are called upon, especially by the times we are living in now, to turn away from hate and to love one another, and to sacrifice for one another, in a myriad of ways, even if that means that we must lay down our lives for one another in some way.

Lord, Hate seems to be everywhere these days. The world is desperate for Christians who really do honor your commandment to love one another as you have loved us, who are willing to sacrifice everything, to show the power of your love to redeem even long histories of hate. We pray that you give us the grace of true humility and of true courage so that we may live your commandment of love more openly and more truthfully each day. We pray in your name, Jesus. Amen!

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