According to a number of sources, 47,500 people took their own lives in the United States in 2019. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in this country – 2½ times higher than the homicide rate. Among people up to 34, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death. In those from 35 to 45 it is the 4th leading cause of death. And those numbers are only the tip of the iceberg, because below that are tens of thousands who attempt suicide and fail. And then there are thousands more who give it serious consideration without actually attempting to do it.
Isn’t it safe to say that those people are living lives without enough joy to pull them through their days of depression? Some of them are alone and lonely. They have no one to give them reasons to smile – or to live. Some of them have had disappointments serious enough to leave no room for rescue. Some are in serious pain, and there aren’t enough drugs or sources of joy and pleasure in their lives to draw their eyes and other senses away from that pain. Especially among the young – people can become so focused or obsessed with a certain friend that they can’t see the rest of the fish in the sea or the trees in the forest, and they kill themselves. There many, many reasons people take their lives, but a simplistic answer to the question “why” would have to be – they lack joy in their lives. And it is very sad to say, I have known quite a few professing Christians who are among those statistics. Even though the children of God have the spiritual resources to combat joylessness, we are not much more successful than people of the world, because we don’t grasp those resources.
This great chapter in John’s Gospel – filled with the Heavenly words of our Lord Jesus – contains a great many memorizable statements. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” In addition to the memorable verses, are mountains of other extremely valuable instruction.
The text that I’d like us to consider this morning ends in one of those memorizable verses. “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” Obviously, there is a great need today of the joy to which our Saviour refers. That joy should prevent every single Christian suicide. In the light of these words, no Christian should ever take his own life. But, it needs to be recognized that there are some qualifications to Christ’s joy and blessings. My title of this expository message this morning is “Love, Perseverance and Joy.” And those three points are linked to each of these three verses.
Verse 9 – “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”
I hope that you are as amazed as I am in the succinct language of the Bible – it is often short and to the point. Contained in those 16 English words is a major attribute of the infinite God – spread throughout eternity. Those 12 Greek words contain profound concepts we are not going to fully grasp even after spending a millennium in the perfections of Glory. And to put it bluntly, I know that I’m out of my element even in bringing this up this morning. But it was not me who introduced the idea, it was the Lord Jesus, so I will try to expound what He said.
Let’s begin with a very special aspect of God’s love. Do any of us understand or can any of us explain the love which exists within the Trinity? Since the second century “Monarchians,” there have been people who have tried to deny the Trinity. But it is a futile attempt. The Bible shows us the Three Persons of the God-head, and sometimes they are together at the same time. And then there are those occasions, where two of the Eternal Three interrelate, as in this verse. Some heretics have simply said that Trinitarianism is nothing but polytheism. That is not true. Some have said that the single God has appeared sometimes as the ineffable Elohim, then at other times as God incarnate and then also as an omnipotent Spirit. That is not true. There are a variety of ideas opposing the Trinity. But the Bible clearly, unmistakably, shows us God as one essence in three distinct persons.
And one of the ways in which those three interrelate is through their mutual love. But how has, and how does, the Father love the Son? Not even Elizabeth Browning could count the ways. Just as the love of Christ passeth human knowledge, so does the love of God the Father. They loved each other as any father and son love, except to an infinite degree – unknown to man. Sometime before the birth of that human baby, mother and father begin to love their child, but God the Father’s love for His Son never had a beginning – it has always been – never growing or falling. At two special events in Jesus’ life – His baptism and transfiguration – the Father didn’t contain His voice, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” “My beloved” refers to that extra special love which the Father has for His Son and which cannot be experienced by anyone else. The Triune God may love you, but the Father’s love for His Son is not the same as it is for you. The love within the God-head is as infinite as every other aspect of the being of God. But since He is infinite and we are not, that love touches us in a different way than within Himself. The Father loved the Son so much that He committed all things into His hands – John 3:35. He loved the Son sufficiently that to Him was given all that was necessary for the saving of the lost which was the pinnacle of the magnification of His glory. Here, and elsewhere, the Bible speaks of the love which exists between the Father and the Son.
And then the Lord Jesus says, “so have I loved YOU.” In the same way that God the Father loved the Son, so Christ Jesus has loved “you.” But please understand that the “you” of this verse is somewhat restricted. In this chapter, Christ was not speaking to the hypocritical Pharisees, or the unbelieving Sadducees… He was not talking to a group of idolatrous Greeks or Arabians traveling through the area… He was not preaching to a great mixed crowd in either Jerusalem or Galilee… He was talking to His disciples. The blessing of this statement may have nothing to do with you, if you refuse to submit to Him, to worship Him, to love him and serve Him. Ye must be born again, for any of this great chapter to belong to you.
But even for the saint of God the question remains – Do we have the ability to understand this statement – “so have I loved you”? Really understand it? We can only touch the hem of this Heavenly garment. But I hope that you can at least see that Christ’s love for us is as eternal as the Father’s love for him. Just as He has chosen people to save before the foundation of the earth, He chose to love His saints from eternity past. “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” – Jeremiah 31:3. And His love is not one of complacency or mere delight – in some ways it is as intimate as the Father’s love for Christ. At the appointed hour, when the fulness of time was come, the eternal Son assumed our nature, choosing to suffer and die in our place, displaying…. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” – John 15:13. But remember, this wasn’t a mere man laying down his life, this was the infinitely holy Son of God. As His Father loved Him with a special and peculiar attachment – with an unchangeable, constant, eternal love – in like manner does Christ love His chosen and saved people. Words fail me in bringing the Father’s love of Christ down to Christ’s love of us, but I must move on –
Jesus told His disciples, “CONTINUE ye in my love.” “Continue ye IN MY LOVE” – don’t misunderstand this, thinking that Jesus is telling us to keep loving Him. While there is perhaps nothing wrong with an exhortation like that, let’s keep these words within the context. Jesus speaks of “my love” not “your love” – it is the love which Christ has for us, not what we have for Him. So this basically means, “continue to live in the light of Christ’s eternal love for you.”
Let’s say that the temperature is 105 degrees; the sky is perfectly clear except for one little cloud. The shade of that cloud passes over you and refreshes you for a moment as it slowly moves away. You decide to chase it, to follow it; you choose to live under the blessing of that gift from God. You persevere for a while in living under the light, or in this case, the shade of Christ’s blessed cloud. You can choose to “live under the blessing of Christ’s eternal love” or you can let it slip away. As a Christian you have that choice and ability. It is really a pretty simple principle.
Are you in so much pain you can hardly get out of bed, or look at a beautiful sunset, or even to speak to another person? Before asking for stronger medicine or praying for deliverance from that thorn in the flesh, ask the Lord to help you remember and to enjoy Christ’s eternal love for you. Remember that His love led Him to Calvary, where He suffered far more pain than you ever will. Not only did the Saviour suffer and die out of love for YOU, it was also out of His love for the Father. It was a love flowing in two directions. And the blessing – or effect – of that multidirectional love may be yours to enjoy. What might you be able to suffer under the realization that Christ loves you and remembering the love you once had for Him? Continue in the love of Christ, which has no variableness or shadow of turning. Value it: prize it:, bask in it: glory in it. Persevere in it. It is a medicine for every kind of disease which the Christian might suffer.
Verse 9 speaks of the infinite, eternal, Trinity-intertwined love, which Christ has shed upon His Saints.
And verse 10 describes, in a different way, the perseverance which flows out of that love.
“If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” One theme found throughout this chapter involves the relationship of love and obedience. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.”
Listening to these statements, along with verse 10, it is easy to become derailed. It is easy to think that Christ is saying, “as long as you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.” We might make that conclusion, but while looking at the first half of the verse, don’t ignore second. Was the Father’s love for Christ, dependent on Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, or His obedience in any other area? No – their love is eternal. Our habit of compartmentalizing things should never apply to the God-head. The Holy Spirit is not more or less holy than Christ or the Father. None of the Three is any less infinite or omnipotent than any of the others. And then each attribute of God overlaps and intermingles with every other attribute. Which came first for Christ – the decree to die, His will to obey, or the love which drove the obedience? I know that it’s hard to grasp, but they are so interrelated that in our finite minds we are driven to separate them, but within God there is no separation whatsoever. Christ kept the Father’s commandments out of His love for the Father. But at the same time, it was the Father’s love which enabled Christ to obey. And because of Christ’s obedience that mutual love was “maintained” – for lack of a better word. I feel like I am stuttering and stammering here, but I am praying you can understand.
The same principle applies to the first part of the verse as well as the last. “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love.” The Lord just told us, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you.” We didn’t earn the love which sent the Saviour to Calvary to save us. It was divinely self-generated; it was love bestowed on us before creation. And the fact of the matter is, what we do, or do not do, will never change that eternal love. And because we are forever children of God’s love, we WILL strive to keep His commandments. Our love co-mingles in time with our obedience, neither one preceding the other. Neither one generates, expresses or is blessed by the other.
But because we are finite creatures, it is a fact that the more we live in God’s love, and obey out of love, the more we will feel or seem to experience that divine love. I know this isn’t a good illustration, but it’s the best that I can do right now. Let’s say that you don’t consider yourself particularly good looking, beautiful or even healthy-looking. Actually you are – not only in your Saviour’s sight, but also by all those who really know you. But you try to keep your face clean and healthy with creams and ointments. You eat right; you obey all the beauty rules, and yet you still lack assurance of your beauty. And then someone you know and respect comments positively on your appearance. Not only does the positive comment make you feel good, but it encourages you to keep striving to do all those things that people do to improve their appearance. And you stand taller; you have more confidence; you express yourself more. There is a cycle of love; joy in that love and obedience empowered by love, which increases that love and furthers that obedience.
I believe it to be a Biblical truth that those who already – and permanently – abide in Christ’s love will keep His commandments – as a result of that love. No, they will not completely, 100%, constantly and without fail, obey every precept. But the truly converted soul will strive to live in obedience to God, because he is a divinely loved individual. Christ, of course, did obey the will of the Father, completely, 100%, constantly and without fail, because, among other things, He did abide in the Father’s love, and He didn’t have to fight with our sin nature. In the last verse of the previous chapter the Lord Jesus says, “That the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me command, even so I do.” Obedience to God is an expression of love, and at the same time it is the result of God’s love and the conversion of the soul which that love produced.
Verse 11 – “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
The word “remain,” by the way, is the same Greek word which is found 12 times throughout this chapter, including the previous two verses. “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: CONTINUE ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall ABIDE in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and ABIDE in his love.”
Christ says, “I have told you that I love you even as the father loves me… I have told you to CONTINUE in my love and that you WILL CONTINUE in that love if you keep my commandments… I have shared with you how to ABIDE in my love as I abide in my Father’s love…” I have told you these things in order “that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
Remember these are not my words, but those of the Lord Jesus. Christ tells us how to have joy in a world which is so joyless. He speaks of “my joy.” The Lord seems to say, without specifically saying it, that HIS JOY is in a league of it’s own. HIS joy exceeds any other kind of joy, just as His PEACE is unlike any kind of earthly peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
What can we say of Christ’s joy? Of what kind of joy is He speaking? It is the joy of which the Saviour is the author. But its also a joy in which He is the object and subject. As Christians, every one of us have access to divine joy which is “unspeakable and full of glory.”
Among other things – those 47,500 suicides are a testimony that the world does not have the wherewithal to fill the emptiness of the human heart. It doesn’t matter that our region is filled with beautiful lakes, mountains high enough to see the sky and cedar forest to fill our lungs with the wonderful scent of camphor – thousands of our neighbors have no joy. There aren’t enough video games, marijuana joints, gin bottles or comedy clubs to lift, or keep, a sin-dead heart out of the gutter of depression. Admittedly, there is paltry, temporary, earthly happiness – the kind which the prodigal temporarily enjoyed. But there is also Christ’s joy which is eternal and so powerful it can overcome any earthly problem.
The Lord indirectly says that even God’s people can become so filled with self – so worldly – so sinful that even they can have no joy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you.”
“And that your joy might be full.” The Lord contrasts His joy to our joy. How can we explain that difference? Can we say that the practical difference between Christ’s joy in us and the fulness of our own joy is like the difference between theological religion and practical religion? While not implying that Christ’s joy isn’t practical; it can be nothing more than something of which we read in the Bible. We need it; we need to study it; we need to believe it exists and we need to yearn to possess it. But for some Christians it never leaves the pages of God’s Word. Jesus said in John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Someone in the midst of severe trials may try to calm his heart by repeating this verse like some kind of Hindu mantra. “Christ has given me peace; O my heart, stop being troubled and afraid. Christ has provided eternal joy, I need to abide in that joy. Heart I order you to be joyful.” There is a difference between that sort of attitude and simply trusting and resting in the Lord for peace and joy.
But remember in all this, there is one important prerequisite to the enjoyment of Christ’s joy. “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love” and also remain in Christ’s joy. It is up to us to meet the qualifications for enjoying Christ’s joy and being blessed by Christ’s peace. If we choose to live our lives in the flesh, ignoring the Lord’s will, not bearing fruit, and so on, then we will not have the blessing of which He speaks here.
Even as a Christian, maybe your life is a mess, or at the very least a bit messy. Perhaps it’s time to stop blaming people around you, the world and the evil society in which you live. And it’s time to stop looking inside, beating yourself up, or moaning and groaning about your life. It’s time to go back to verse 1 and slowly read this chapter – again and again if necessary. Christ says in verse 18 – “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” Verse 16 – “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” Would you like the fellowship of the comforter of the last two verses of the chapter, then go back to the first few verses of the chapter.
Without a doubt, this is a joyless world, but the Christian has access to an unceasing fountain of joy. The Lord Jesus said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that MY joy might remain in you, and that YOUR joy might be full.” The question is – Is Jesus your Lord? Are you a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus? Do you love Him, as He has loved you? Are you striving to keep his commandments as He kept the commandments of the Father? We have the key to the vault of God’s blessings, but we have to be willing to use it.