By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 17, 2020
John 14:15–21 (ESV)
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
If you love me. Over the past few years there has been a theme that has resonated through my mind, “Becoming a disciple loved by Christ.” This is largely based on the concept that in the Gospel according to John, there is one disciple that is regarded as the disciple whom He loved. I have wondered what it would be like to be known not by my name but by the love of Christ. This disciple is thought to have been John. John was probably the youngest of the disciples. Some would say that he might have been in his early teens when he was called to be a disciple. This is interesting because it would mean that John’s entire adult life was lived as a disciple of Jesus, the primary influence in his life would have been Jesus. Imagine living your entire adult life, under the direct tutorage of Jesus. His entire adult life was centered on Christ, and everyone knew it.
It is not exactly an unreasonable concept. The early Friends had a deep desire to follow Christ in all that they did. We often regard George Fox as the founder of the Society of Friends, but there were many people that were involved. These people were living through a civil war within England. This civil war involved politics as well as religion. These Seeker, as they were often called, wondered how people could take up arms against each other under the banner of Christ. They took this even deeper, asking how those claiming to be disciples of Christ could take up arms at all. They wondered and they sought answers to their questions. The problem was each side gave conflicting answers, and these honest seekers were left in limbo, wondering how or what was the true faith. In Fox’s Journal he said that he took his book of scripture out to a field and waited there. And as he waited, he heard a voice saying to him that there was one, even Christ Jesus who could speak to his condition.
These early Friends would sit in silence, seeking the direction of God, because they believed fully that Jesus was their ever-present teacher and guide. Meaning like John we today can live under the direct tutorage of Jesus. Which brings us back to the statement, “If you love me.”
Jesus says these words, near the end of his final teaching segment during the last supper. It is in this discourse we find some of the most encouraging words of Jesus, as he prepares his disciples for their future experiences. Very soon, Jesus knows, He would no long be able to physically lead them. They will be faced with life altering decisions that will cause friends to become enemies, families will disown their own children, and those in power will seek to destroy their message by any means.
If you have ever posted anything on Facebook or Twitter you know how this might look and feel. People twist the words we might be saying to the point we might not even recognize it as being from the same conversation, and why? Because what we say threatens their view of the world in some way. It does not matter which perspective it is from; trolls are on all sides of the spectrum. Jesus is aware of this, and even the ancient church had to deal with their fair share of trolls. Jesus spoke in this session, to direct the disciples through these future struggles. He said to them, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
How are you with commandments? When we hear that word, our attention is often directed toward rules or laws. This is not necessarily a bad thing either. If we were to keep the commandments of the Jewish faith the world would be in much better shape. There would be a great deal less debt, and we would not be able to have a bacon cheeseburger either, so like I said our world might be in better shape. Was this the teaching that Jesus promoted? You could make a case either way. Jesus is recorded as saying that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light, which is in reference to the yoke or interpretation of the law. He is also quoted as saying that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. This makes this statement a little confusing, because if Jesus was promoting the keeping of the law of Moses why was he facing the cross?
I have pondered this along with the theme of becoming a disciple Jesus loves. And I looked up the word commandments. Like many words it can be used in different ways, often it is used to reference legality, but it is also used in commission. This caused me to stop. If you love me, you will keep my commission? This changes things. Some of us have worked for commission, meaning we are paid based on production. Often artists can become commissioned artists, meaning they produce something to order like a family portrait. There are even commissioned officers in the military, these are the ones that are brought in for a specific purpose. No matter what the use of commission is, the person is brought in to perform a specific duty and they continue within that duty until it is completed, and the commission is released. “If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my commission.” Jesus is not demanding them to keep a set of rules but inviting them to participate in his life and lifestyle. He is inviting them to continue the very thing that he started. He is encouraging them to take what they have learned from him and share it with others. This statement is like Elijah passing the mantle to his disciple Elisha.
If we love Jesus, we will take on his commission. This changes pretty much everything we might think about this passage. Our duty, our purpose is no longer merely keeping rules, but it is to be liberators, life givers, healers, providers, and encouragers. To love Christ is to live as Jesus lived and lives. Does this change your perception of the Christian life? It should, because to have a commission means that there is a duty, a responsibility, and participation in what we are join. If we love Jesus, we take on, we participate in, or embody his work.
I want us to let this soak into our minds and our hearts for a moment. The Christian life is not rules, but a commission, a life and lifestyle. When we become a follower of Christ we do not just live by a codified set of rules, but we join Jesus in his ministry. When George Fox heard that voice in the field, he recognized it for what it was. If there is one, even Christ Jesus that can speak to his condition, then he would need to listen to that one and respond accordingly. He began to change the way he approached life. He was living within the commission, going where he sensed God was leading him, speaking the words he sensed he was to say. Every aspect of life was devoted not to self but to the commission of Christ.
This approach of life was not something that was devoted to only a single day. The early Friends did not keep days as sacred or secular, but all days were equal because all days were the days of the lord. They did not regard people of higher or lower stations in life either, because all people were created in the image of God and only that of God deserved respect not the title a worldly system bestowed on them. And since everyone is stamped with God’s image each person had equal access to the Spirit of God, and that Spirit could call them into life with God. Because every person possessed that image of God, every aspect of life then became part of God’s commission. If you were called to minister in a vocal capacity then respond, but that is not the only ministry. Whatever your career might be, it became a vocation of God. If you owned a business, that business was not there only for profit but was your commission in God’s kingdom, what early Friends would often call the Lamb’s war. Your house was no longer your house, but it was the barracks of God’s advancing kingdom, and should be used in that way. Every aspect of our lives is joined into this commission of Christ, and if we love him, we release all that we have for his glory.
Those early Friends were bold. They changed how they did business and how they treated those within that business both employees and customers. Fair wages, fair prices, quality, and guarantees are all things we take for granted today but many of those ideas were things that defined how Friends would conduct their lives because their life was joined in the commission of Christ. These things of course are not found only among Friends but are in many traditions. And each of those traditions believe that all of life is sacred.
If we love Christ, we will keep his commission. I do not know if you noticed or not, but life is hard. There is always something that is distracting us from this commission. When I am not at the church, I work in retail, while at the store there are things that constantly challenge my faith. I work in security and it is difficult at time to not become jaded into thinking that every person is out to steal or take advantage of a generous policy. And you would not believe how many people find it perfectly acceptable to steal from retailers, and many would surprise you. How can I live this commissioned life when so often I am distracted? Our passage from last week ended with the verse, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” And in today’s passage, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.”
These verses are often used out of context. There are entire ministries that have been built using this passage in such a way that if you ask for something God is duty bound to give it to you. But that is not what this passage is saying. When Jesus says, “in my name,” it is not a magical formula or spell that will conjure up whatever you want. It is again a commission. You are acting or speaking on his behalf as the steward of Jesus’s estate. It is as if you have been given a management position and have been authorized to make purchases, you are acting in behalf of the business. You are not authorized to make purchases for yourself in the name of the business, but only for the continued work of the company you represent. If you love Christ, you will keep his commission, you will not worry about yourself because your attention is on the continued work of Christ, and you entrust your well-being to him.
When we are joining him in his mission, and we have a need to keep his ministry going, he will provide but how will we know if it is his will or our own. I have been in several meetings of business where the word “I” is thrown around by people, including myself. The commission of Christ does not need our opinion, but our willingness to act in response to the Spirit’s guidance. Jesus told his disciples that a helper would be sent that would be with us forever. Our job is to listen to the helper because the helper will point us to truth. This is probably the most difficult aspect of the life Christ is calling us to. We live in a culture where the individual is important. We pride ourselves in individual accomplishment and self-reliance. I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing because that system has been beneficial to us all. It is that system that has sparked the creative exploration that has made it possible for us to even have this time of worship in our homes, because we would not have YouTube without you. It is difficult for us to lay ourselves aside. I say it is difficult, but we do it all the time. We lay ourselves aside when we go to work. I do not care if you are an employee of an international corporation or a small business owner, every day you go to work you are laying aside yourself for that company. When I answer the phone at work, I do not answer the phone as I would at home. We do this because we are acting in behalf of the company.
We are well practiced in acting on behalf of others. Yet we find it difficult to do this when it comes to the commission of Christ. What is the difference? I know that by laying aside myself for eight hours a day for a company, I will get a return. I will earn a set amount for every hour I act on behalf of others. I can then take that which I have earned and use it to provide myself and my family with the things we need and want. I know that when I sacrifice my time there is a return of some sort. The economy of men is different than the economy of God. The abundance of mankind is unlike the abundance of God because there is a difference in what has value.
What does God value? What commission did Jesus come to fulfill? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God values life. Not just life, but life in relationship or communion with him. The narrative throughout scripture is this constant quest in restoring what was once lost. In the beginning God created, and it was good. The crowning achievement of creation was when God created humanity, which was pronounced exceptionally good. These two humans were placed within a garden and they were able to eat of the fruit and walk with God if they did not eat of the fruit from one tree. If they ate of that fruit they would die. Our first parents decided that God was not enough, they wanted more so they ate of the fruit that was forbidden, and as a result sin entered the world. A chasm formed within the relationship of God and humanity because our first parents allowed erosion through their lack of trust. Once the erosion of trust began the relationship died. God’s value of humanity did not change, God continues to call out to us, yet we continue to turn away. We turn because we do not value the things that God values.
How can we trust God when the things we value seem to be so different? I work so I can eat, I understand that, but where do I fit in an economy where my value can not be measured in the amount of currency my time can be traded? How can I live when the things from my perception of value cannot purchase?
Jesus said these words after they ate a meal. At that meal he said as he passed the bread, “This is my body broken for you.” And when he passed the cup, “this is my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” These are the things that sustain life, the things that constitute the simplest of meals. And Jesus attributes those staples of life to himself. He is the bread because he is life. He is the creator of life, and the one that gave us our abilities to obtain those staples of life. He then says, “Because I live, you also will live.”
If we love Christ, we will join him in his commission or keep his commandments, and if we do because he lives, we will also live. That is easy for him to say that evening, because he was alive, but a few days after he would be laying in a tomb, executed by the powers of the world. His words at that point seemed hollow. That is what the disciples were contemplating that first Easter morning. Then by that evening they had a different perspective. The world killed Jesus, yet he lives. He rose from the grave and was eating with them again. This shows us that God has the power to do what he says. If he lives, we will live also. If he calls us to live according to his economy the things that sustain life will still sustain our lives.
Jesus shows us that his commission, his lifestyle of Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and Living love with others will sustain life. It sustains life because everyone involved is living their lives to His glory and seeking to honor that of God in those around them. It sustains life because it focuses on life abundant. When we live our lives in the name of Christ, we each seek to sustain and encourage each other in mutual profit, and that profit is measured in relationships instead of currency. He lives and we will live. And if we love him, we will continue his commission of sharing life with others.
As we enter this time of holy expectancy today, I encourage us all to consider life with God. What is distracting us from fulfilling the portion of his commission he is calling us to? Why is that distracting us? Jesus lives, and we will live also. Let us lay those things at the cross, and embrace the Spirit of Truth and love Christ by joining him in his life here today.