Friday, July 1, 2011

John 15:13, A Trip in Interpretation

Kacie asked me (LeeWud) to write this blog spot for her since this is a topic I am pretty well acquainted with. Kacie’s memory verse for the time being is John 15:13, which just so happens to be my favorite verse. In keeping with that thought, Kacie wanted me to jot down some of my thoughts on the matter. My thoughts can be a bit lengthy, but hopefully this narrative style will walk you through my muddled mind.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 (ESV)

The story for me starts when I was in Iraq the first time back in the sumer/fall of 2004. At that time I was beginning to learn what it meant to be involved with bible study, accountability, and discipleship. This time was marked by a desire to read, which I normally never did, as well as an inexplicable desire to try to interpret what I was reading (for better or worse).

Around this time I came across John 15 which quickly resonated with me because I had some prior knowledge of the chapter concerning the vine and the branches. The reason this chapter stood out to me was because I knew that the word that Jesus keeps using comes from the greek word μένω, menō, which is translated over and over as “abide” but carries a weight far greater than just staying along side of. So, as superficial as it was, this passage spoke to me because I had a singular greek word to work with... and then I ran into 15:13 that speaks of dying for those whom you love, and once again this spoke to me. To put it in context, without getting too depressing, being in Iraq during the first free elections was a hard time which made me legitimately think about my own mortality. So when I ran across this verse that spoke of dying for those you love, my mind immediately began to compile a list of people that I was pretty certain that I would die for on behalf of my love for them. Never mind that my spiritual (im)maturity was driving this “interpretation” and that I was very much missing the point of the verse in context, I was set on applying this to my life. I was also swayed by the idea that dying on behalf of someone was seen as somehow “glorious” or otherwise commendable. So I worked under the assumption that what Jesus was trying to get across was that we needed to be ready to lay down our lives for the people that we love. Now this interpretation ins’t wholly wrong, it just isn’t completely right.

What I came to realize much later on (about 2 years) as I began to increase in my knowledge of what Scripture says about Jesus’s willingness to lay down his life was that John 15:13 was far more than our willingness to lay down our lives. What I began to see about the above verse was that Jesus was far more willing to lay down his life on our behalf than we could ever comprehend. His supreme sacrifice was rooted in his desire and purpose to “reconcile to Himself all things” (Col 1:19). So for me, my interpretation began to wane from applying it to me, and was focused on Christ’s supremacy over my frailty. This made the entire context of John 15 come to a crescendo in v. 13 where Jesus builds up his teaching stating that the disciples must first stay connected to the “true vine” then they should “bear much fruit.” As they are bearing fruit the outcome would be that “my Father is glorified” which will then lead to an understanding that “my (Jesus) joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”. Jesus then speaks to the heart of the matter in v. 12: “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (emphasis mine). Then he elaborates on how he will demonstrate this ultimate love in 15:13. But my understanding was not yet complete.

What I then began to ponder (2 years later) was that Jesus died once (Heb 9:27-28) and this was absolutely true and necessary. But I was still only looking at Jesus’s death, and not his life. Like I said before, death on behalf of someone garners some respect of glory, and this is a kind of one time deal... but what about a life that is marked by “someone laying down their life” not in the physical sacrifice idea, but a continual life of servitude. As I read Philippians 2 I was confronted with the idea that “though he (Jesus) was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:6-7). Even though this section leads to Christ being obedient to the point of death, one of the fundamental prerequisites was that Jesus humble himself and serve perfectly in order to be the sinless atonement. Then I began to see that ultimately Jesus would demonstrate this love though death on the cross, but he had already been “laying down” his life in servitude while he walked in the flesh with the same disciples he was addressing in John 15. That changed the game for me.

I absolutely affirm that Jesus’s death on the cross was ultimate and final, but I also affirm that Jesus demonstrated what meant to “lose ones life” (Matt 10:39;16:25) every day of his life as he walked the earth teaching and calling men to repentance and fellowship with God the Father. So what I take from John 15:13 is this: giving the “ultimate sacrifice” while on earth garners much glory and respect, but a life marked by a willingness to die to self for the benefit of others is equally important for those on earth. Will we ever be called to be martyred for the faith? Maybe, and if we are then we should gladly lay our lives down. But for most Christians we are called daily to die to self, make war on sin, and carry our cross.

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