During His last days on earth, Jesus gave His disciples an impossible order to “love as God loves.”
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12, 13 NASB).
How can human beings love as God loves? We can’t—not on our own. If you’re like me, you are constantly being reminded of how imperfect your love is. Right? White, black, brown, mixed, whatever our race or ethnic background or socioeconomic status: We let our egos drive us and our interactions.
We measure and judge instead of exhort and encourage. We put our own wishes and wants before others’. We’re demanding when we should be understanding. In short, we cling to our life instead of laying it down.
Luckily, God does not expect us to obey His command in our own strength. He has given us a means to love as He loves. And boy, do we need it!
But it takes faith and trust and effort to put it into action! Let’s look at the context of the passage in John 15 to figure out what this means for us.
At the start of the chapter Jesus uses the analogy of a grapevine to teach His disciples something important. (Stay with me—I promise this will lead to learning how to love as God loves!)
So Jesus calls Himself “the true vine.” (The disciples would have understood the implication. In the Old Testament Israel was the vine, designed to show the world God’s nature. Jesus came to earth to reveal God to us.) Then He goes on to say that we are the vine’s branches. God the Father is the “vinedresser” or gardener. Like a good gardener God makes sure all the branches are connected and well positioned, so that they are fruitful and don’t dry up or grow crooked. If that happens, they must be pruned.
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2 NASB).
Jesus is not talking about salvation here. He’s conveying how important it is to live intimately with Him. To “abide.” I love that term from the New American Standard Bible translation. It helps us picture what it takes to be hooked into His nurturing power.
But some of you aren’t abiding in Christ. You don’t feel very close to Him, and that is making it hard to love others and bear fruit.
Ask yourself this: What is it about your lives that has disconnected you from the true vine, your Lord Jesus? Take a look at everything. Your schedule, your priorities, what you put in your mind, certain relationships, your preoccupation with your career or achievements. Do they help you to abide in Christ? Or hinder you?
If you aren’t connected to the vine, to Jesus, then you aren’t being nourished by the source of life and love. Being connected is studying His Word, praying regularly, investing in a spiritual community, reaching out to others.
And if that’s not happening, that means you aren’t bearing fruit and God the gardener is going to get out the pruning shears. Notice verse 6.
“If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:6 NIV)
This is serious stuff. If you’re His son or daughter, the process of learning to love everyone as God loves them will mean trimming or repositioning unfruitful branches. It can feel pretty drastic. Ever seen a rose bush cut down to what looks like stubs? But revisit it in summer and you’ll find a profusion of beautiful flowers.
We’re all going through tough times, as the whole world faces the COVID-19 pandemic and the United States is experiencing a heightened awareness of the need for racial reconciliation. I believe God is pruning us, so that we can learn to give Him our lives and to love as He loves.
Remember, Jesus is committed to His life being manifested in you and through you, so that your life can bear much fruit. He wants your character, your heart, your patience, your concern for those outside of Christ, your love for Him, your participation in His mission—all to be aligned with the way He loves.
Loving as the Lord loves requires intimacy with Christ. Dodge the pruning shears and abide in Him!
If you’re interested in growing more into His likeness, check out Chip’s four-part series, Jesus Unfiltered.
Founder & Teaching Pastor, Living on the Edge
Chip Ingram is the CEO and teaching pastor of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. A pastor for over thirty years, Chip has a unique ability to communicate truth and challenge people to live out their faith. He is the author of many books, including The Real God, Culture Shock and The Real Heaven. Chip and his wife, Theresa, have four grown children and twelve grandchildren and live in California.More Articles by Chip