Friday, March 21, 2003

The Upper Room Discourse

This is the fourth post in a series that explores the Upper Room Discourse recorded in John 13 - 17. To start from the beginning, click here.

Our Responsibilities

Lets look at John 13:1-5 one more time:

Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. (John 13:1-5, The Net Bible)

The first 5 verses of the Upper Room Discourse set the tone for all that follows. It shows Jesus' destiny, which we later learn, is a destiny that we share. In this lesson, we will see how these same verses hint at our responsibilities.

A New Commandment

Our responsibilities as presented in the Upper Room Discourse are centered on loving others and loving God. It begins with a new command that Jesus gave us:

“I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

The depth of meaning and responsibility here is awesome. It starts simple enough, "I give you a new commandmentto love one another." If that were all the Jesus said, then I say bring on all the old songs "What the world needs now, is love sweet love. It's the only thing that there's just—to little of." or "All you need is love." or "Peace train." Those are the unrealistic songs of warm and fuzzy feelings. To my knowledge, not one has changed the world.

Jesus states the commandment and then defines the term, "Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." Jesus did not come to earth to share warm and fuzzy feelings to make us feel good. His love began with knowing that "the Father had handed all things over to him" and ended with "he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, ... and began to wash the disciple's feet." In other words, it is the kind of love that washes the feet of people who should have washed yours and for whom you are soon going to die. As Paul puts it,

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, (Philippians 2:1-5)

So the standard by which I am to measure whether I love my fellow Christian brothers and sisters enough is whether I have loved to the same degree that Jesus loved! God help me, but I am not there!!

What would happen if we got there? Jesus said, "Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples." I have seen churches split. Have you? One thing is for sure: This new command is of critical importance to reaching the world. I shudder to think of who is lost, because we have not loved and so gave excuse. Jesus also said, in this discourse, "No one has greater love than this--that he lay down his life for his friends." Lets press on towards this goal in the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Obedience that Comes from Love

Besides loving others, we are to love Jesus, which will have this result:

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him. The person who does not love me does not obey my words. And the word you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

Let me say this 3 different ways. Love is the precursor to genuine obedience. Love comes first and yields obedience. Obedience is not a proof of love, it is a result of love. Let me illustrate this with an example from marriage. If I come home and find a peaceful home, a welcoming wife, and warm satisfying dinner; will this have come from my having published a list of homecoming rules or will it have come from a wife who loves me and knows what pleases me? If I love Jesus, will I not study to know Him better and anticipate what pleases Him? Love seeks to know and do. Indeed, our salvation will be complete on the day we fully know Him:

Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)


This is really an outgrowth of the entire discussion so far. Here are Jesus' words:

“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit. You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples. (John 15:1-8)

Abiding comes from loving God and loving each other. It comes from letting the word yield fruit in our lives by the working of the Holy Spirit to bear fruit (Gal. 5:22, 23). It is the key to answered prayer.

No Need to Despair

I suspect that none of us will ever love as Jesus loved. I will say that the first step is our love for Jesus. The second step is the filling of the Holy Spirit. The first gives vision and the second gives power. Starting anywhere else violates Jesus' warning and promise above, "apart from me you can accomplish nothing."

Study the gospels. Find out what motivates Jesus. Who has His favor? Who doesn't? Why? What is the relationship between Him and the Father? How is it maintained? Soon you will discover His worth. Once you have discovered His worth, love will awaken, and so will the desire to please, and so will the ability to hear.

Monday: Our Challenge

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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