Here are my notes on John 15:17-20. The main thrust of this passage is a call to place our hearts in heaven, and to treat others in a way that reflects our priorities and heavenly citizenship. Enjoy!
15:17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
In verse 17 Jesus caps off what some have referred to as “the Magna Carta of love.” He ends this section by once again reminding them of the new commandment – which is tied in with everything He has been saying about bearing fruit.
If we look back just a few chapters, we’ll remember that the first time Jesus spoke of this new command, it went like this:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
The principle aim of the new command is to conform the hearts of the disciples to match His own. Jesus is not interested in working from the outside in. He does not impose a moral law in order to show us our sinfulness and our need for Him, as with the Mosaic code. Rather He aims at the heart – to transform the very motives at the root of our actions in order to bring the Father glory.
The Spirit now dwells within us to help us do the impossible – love one another as Christ loved us.
15:18-20 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
The Battle Lines Have Already Been Drawn
Now that Jesus has told us what we are to do (obey His command to love one another thus bearing fruit), and how we are to do it (abiding in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit), He tells us what the result will be. Sure, He’s already addressed the result within us (we’ll “bear much fruit”), but now He warns us that the world’s reaction will not be so sweet.
In all of this, He reminds them that the persecution isn’t happening because of a bad decision they made – they didn’t take the wrong path. Instead He says that “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Jesus has chosen us to a life of persecution and hatred by the world. The world will hate us, the world will persecute us, and the world will kill us.
The reason for this is that Jesus has been hated, persecuted, and we are now “in” Christ. The benefit of being “in the vine” has been extensively looked at above, but now there are consequences. MacArthur puts it this way, “The privileges that characterize the friends of Jesus Christ carry with them corresponding responsibilities.” I hope you affirm with me that the consequences are far outweighed by the benefits of being “in” Christ.
It struck me that this is all part of a much larger picture. Remember, you have now become the spiritual seed of the last Adam (Gal. 3:29) which will defeat the seed of the Devil (Gen. 3:15b). For the seed of the woman is at enmity with the seed of Satan. The battle lines have been drawn, and since the fall the seed of Satan has always tried to kill the seed of the woman. Nevermore has the Devil smarted than when Jesus put him to open shame on the cross (Colossians 2:15). That victory is but a foretaste of the victory He will one day usher in.
Doug Kelly puts it this way:
All the wars and struggles of this world history, and our little part in it, go back to the Holy enmity, the Holy War, between the seed of this first woman, and the seed of the evil one. The Bible is basically an unfolding of the map of this conflict.
This battle is vividly described in Revelation 12 where we read of the woman clothed with the sun who is pregnant and fleeing from the dragon. Eventually her child would rule the world with a “rod of iron”, and this is certainly the case. We know that Jesus reigns over all powers both seen and unseen.
Citizenship Defines Battle Lines
Lastly, all of this has to do with the fact that we are now no longer a part of the world, and so you aren’t going to be fighting for the world’s causes or interests anymore. It is an interesting perspective to meditate upon, is it not? You simply cannot go back across enemy lines. You can’t be plugged back into the Matrix! Once you’ve been born again, you can’t be “unborn” again spiritually. You are now in the camp of the Lord of Hosts.
Therefore, you must not desire to defect and once again live for the pleasures of the world as though you are not Christ’s. You must understand that you have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20) and you are not your own. Neither do you belong anymore to this world – you are citizens of heaven. Consider the following passages:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:20)
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Therefore we are no longer part of this world and need to stop acting as though we love it so much. I preach to myself as much as to any other. For I am like you – always fighting the love of the world for something that it much higher, and much better. We will face persecution, we will face trials – not to mention the battles of our own flesh! But in all these things let us remember that we are “in Christ” and that is the safest place to be!
As Doug Kelly says (during a discussion on Revelation 12):
The only hope of ultimate security and victory for us as individuals is to identify by faith with the ascended one, the seed of the woman, who sits on that throne and is ever gracious to receive us, to forgive us, to love us and the keep us.
Do Not Love Your Enemy?
The implication of the world hating us is that we are in a battle that places us squarely in the camp of those opposed to the world’s desires. Our desires are for the Lord and not for all that the world has to offer. There is a balance between love of His creation and a love for the things of this world that trumps all else.
Elsewhere Jesus calls us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), but here we learn that another kind of enemy – an enemy which we are called not to love in a manner of speaking. Perhaps a more accurate way of speaking is that we are not to love the world more than we love Christ – for Jesus loves His creation, and His creatures (John 3:16), and we are called to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31). But what Jesus is saying here is different. He is calling us not to love the world more than we love Him. We are not to idolize the world and treasure it above Christ.
Think of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
Jesus later had to warn the church at Ephesus that they had lost their “first love” (Rev. 2:4) and I think it was because a love of the world had crept in and supplanted their love for Christ. This is what He said:
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:2-5)
Lastly, John makes this same truth abundantly clear in his first epistle:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
Jesus has called us to place Him first in our lives and to cultivate a love for Him. From this flow a love for others who are in the world, though it is opposed to a love for the world that supplants or supersedes a love for Christ.