Surprising Statistics. Recently I decided to analyze John 15, the “vine and branches” passage in my Greek testament. In yellow, I highlighted the plural forms, amazed to find them 51 times in the first 17 verses alone—averaging three per verse. I intended to highlight the singular forms in pink, but there’s no pink on that page. Jesus used only the collective plural in that entire text.
Vertical and Horizontal Connections. Jesus emphatically taught our need for us to have a vertical relationship with Him. If I don’t stay connected to Him, I am no good to Him. That truth is in our comfort zone. But now we make a turn that isn’t, one that requires a major mirror adjustment. Jesus’ other point, his central point really, is: we are of no use to Him if we don’t stay connected to one another. How can this be?! A careful examination of verses 9-12 reveals the progression of His logic. We miss the logic since it’s hidden in the Greek and is foreign to our western mindset, but not to those early believers.
- Verse 9: We remain in him by remaining in his love.
- Verse 10: We remain in his love when we obey his commands.
- Verse 12 and 17: He tells us his command: “Love one another as I have loved you”
We are comfortable with the first two commands of the Great Commandment, to love God and our neighbor, which were given through Moses and endorsed by Jesus. However, abiding in Christ by loving one another is not at all in our comfort zone. Our idea is that abiding is all about the vertical, not the horizontal. Yet Jesus mandated twice in chapter 15 what he first ordered at the Last Supper. That’s a total of three times. “Three’s a charm,” we say, so He really meant it! Some believes celebrate Maundy Thursday . “Maundy” comes from the Latin for command, referring to this very mandate He gave His church: to love each other as He loved us, through sacrifice.
Is my Neighbor my Brother? We now move on to another troublesome blind spot. In the church there is a feeling that we should not love our brother more than our neighbor. We lump them together, calling them both, “others,” This attitude negates the idea that we are God’s unique family. If we think about it, does anyone expect me to make the same sacrifices for my neighbor’s family as I do for my own? That said, let’s do some adjusting.
1. New vs. old: This was not a rehash of the old covenant command of Moses. The Lord endorsed it, but added a new command for a new covenant, a new order for a new order. Giving the Great Commandment three parts—a kind of trinity, not a duality.
2. How we are to love? Moses said treat your neighbor as we wish to be treated. Christ orders us to lay down our lives (Gr: psyches, souls) for one another , as He did for us.
3. Whom are we to love? Love each other. Does that include our neighbor? No, the Good Samaritan story defines neighbor as the stranger along the way, not family members
4. The promise.: ”By this everyone will know you are my disciples,” This is both a promise and a principle. If we strive for harmonious, horizontal connections with each other, we advertise to the world, by our unity, that we are His.
Love Your Neighbor by Loving Your Brother: If obedience to Christ’s love command validates our witness to the world, then, if we really wish to win our neighbor, we are loving him when we love one another.
(1) John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
(2) Noted theologian, Scot McKnight, states our task as Christians is to love God and “others,” lumping us all together.
(3) See Matthew 22:36-40