Greatest Love

When I look at the Bible, online or a printed edition, I’m one of those who like to see the words of Jesus in red. The red letters prompt me to read a bit slower, be more meticulous, and pay close attention to the terms. Those who first wrote the text we now call the Bible must have savored every word that Jesus spoke. Given their background in keeping a flawless oral history, I can imagine they tested each other after one of Jesus’ sermons to make sure they captured every word he said. They wanted to be accurate. It was their signature.

If you’re with me on the red-letter editions of the Bible, you may have noticed there aren’t that many entirely red chapters. I know the chapter and verse numbering scheme is somewhat mechanical, but it is a consistent division across translations, so it has some inherent value.

Today we’re reading from John 15. The main focus of this post centers on verse 13, but I couldn’t help but notice the red letters that surround the words. The entire text is one of those rare red-letter chapters. At the very least, this means we should be careful when examining only one verse, though it’s often quoted by itself.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13

Taken at face value, we probably don’t struggle with this idea. Coming from a military background, the thought is a bit more concrete for me than perhaps many who have not been challenged to consider this is a reality faced on a daily basis. Our law enforcement friends feel the same pressure. But it’s not limited to those in lethal occupations. There are many others who would willingly sacrifice their life in place of a child, spouse, or dear friend. The latter concept is the point of Jesus’ statement. A child or spouse is one thing, but a friend is a different matter altogether. You don’t become a true friend overnight. Let’s zoom out a bit and look at the context.

Jesus is preparing his beloved disciples for the events that are about to transpire in just a few hours. I think that’s one reason this is a red-letter chapter. They are carefully listening to what Jesus is saying. The scene I’m trying to depict is one of incredible compassion for those few who are about to come under immense pressure. Jesus begins by washing their feet (John 13:1-17), then warns them about Judas’ betrayal (John 13:18-30), and prepares Peter for his unthinkable denials (John 13:31-38). These words trouble the disciples, as we can imagine, so Jesus chooses words to assure them they will not be alone, even when he is gone.

As we begin chapter 15, Jesus changes the rich imagery to state that he is the true vine, the source of all life. Last year I got caught up in the “if” words included in this text when I wrote about the true vine. It’s a promise that will endure. Complete joy awaits those who land on the right side of the “if” statements.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:11-12

Within this framework, Jesus ties the knot:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13

Over the course of some three years prior to this gathering in the Upper Room, Jesus demonstrated what it means to be a loving person over and over again. Dallas Willard reminds us that “In the deepest sense, love is not something you choose to do; it is what you become—a loving person.1 God wants a thriving relationship with each and every person regardless of status and Jesus is telling us plainly that he is willing to lay down his life for us — his friends.

Serving the Least

Let’s draw a line back to the theme of this series — serving the least, the lost, and the lonely. I think it’s safe to say that most Christians declare that they want to be like Jesus. The reason we read the Bible, worship with music, preach, teach, disciple, evangelize, etc., is to become more like Jesus. As we inch closer to this ideal state we come to the point where we have to love as Jesus loves. We must strive to be friends that are willing to die for one another. It’s this willingness that separates those on one side of the “if” statement.

You are my friends if you do what I command. John 15:14

Jesus, God incarnate, wants to be our friend. The Son of Man came to serve. He demonstrated this over and over again. He healed the lame, brought sight to the blind, and led by example for all to see.

The red letters continue through the rest of the chapter and mostly through chapter 17, the most amazing prayer recorded in the Bible. Take a few minutes and read the text. Imagine Jesus sitting in the room with you as he speaks these words for the first time. Slowly and deliberately, to make sure you hear and understand the significance.

The last song that Rich Mullins recorded was an attempt to capture the essence of these thoughts. As he sat in an old church building with his cassette recorder, pencil, and paper, he left us with this thought: “That where I am, there you may also be.” I particularly like the rough recording featured in this video.

Jesus’ greatest desire is to welcome all to his kingdom. Everyone is invited, but not all will accept. We don’t get to control that, but we do have the responsibility to provide the opportunity. That will look different for everyone, but that doesn’t let anyone off the hook.

How can we best serve the least, the lost, and the lonely? Do what Jesus commands. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. When we love others without reservation, we will make true friends. The kind of friends I would lay down my life for. How about you?


1Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack, p. 170.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

My prayer is for you to join me on this journey. Subscribe to this blog below to get an email when a new post is available.

Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.