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What Is This 'Greater Love' That Jesus Talks about in John 15?

  • Meg Bucher Writer and Author
  • 2021 2 Mar
heart cloud in blue sky, no greater love

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Imperfect people befriending imperfect people is complicated and hard, but Jesus assures us it’s possible to love each other as He loved us. Jesus came to earth, love incarnate, on a mission to define love, walk out love, and die out of love. . . for us. Through Jesus, we embrace this greater love and allow it to flow through our lives, by His power.

What Is the 'No Greater Love Is This' Spoken of in John 15?

This phrase occurs during Jesus’ sermon about the Vine and the Branches. Christ Jesus used the illustration of a good gardener pruning plants so they produce good fruit. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener,” John recorded Jesus saying. “The vine and the vineyard were old sacred imaged in Judaism,” the NIV Application Commentary explains, “The vine represented the covenant people of God, planted and tended by him so that Israel would produce fruit.”

The love Christ introduced is agape love. This love, according to christianity.com, “refers to a pure, willful, sacrificial love that intentionally desires another’s highest good.” Contrary to the way the world loves selfishly, Jesus loved selflessly and taught His followers to aim for the same. This type of love is almost indescribable, a product of the very character of God, who is perfect love.

God prunes our hearts, sanctifying us daily as we draw closer to Him. When we choose to live life within the love of Christ, we are able to accept and receive the gift of God’s love. Submitting our plans, we instead allow our lives on earth to serve as a conduit to spread the love of Christ to the people He has purposefully placed in our paths. “Jesus laid down his life for his friends,” John Piper explains, “Jesus is the pattern and the power of that love. And he can be those for us, even though we are sinners, because he removed the wrath of God by laying down his life for us.”

What Does This Type of Love Mean for You and Me?

There is no greater love than the love the Father has for us. To send His one and only Son to sacrifice His life on our behalf is the greatest love story of all time. John 3:16 reminds us, He came for the world. Jesus died, willingly and sacrificially, once for all. ALL. We talk a lot about unity in our world today and strive for peace. “Jesus didn’t cast Christianity as a glorified clique,” explains Marshall Segal, “but as a contagious love that compels people to come and see.”

Jesus loves us selflessly, having chosen to die for us knowing fully we would not always love Him in return. God’s love is not fickle or fragile. Everything He does and allows is meant to draw us closer to Him. His love is a product of who He is. Yahweh, Abba. Who spoke the world into existence and knit each of us in our mother’s womb. We spend a lot of time worrying about self-worth even though God proclaims we are worthy (Psalm 139). Jesus, the living Word of God, was there at the beginning and now sits at the right hand of the Father. The Holy Spirit, living in every believer, translates the aches and praises of our hearts to God in prayer and faithfully counsels and comforts us.

This type of love calls us to lay down our lives, as Jesus did His. Not necessarily on a cross, but through one we carry to Him daily as we lay down our sins, guilt, and shame. We submit our pre-conceived notions and societal expectations for His will in our lives; our selfish desires for His Kingdom purposes. We allow and understand the pruning in our lives, the removal of all that distracts us from a singular focus on Him, alone. The gift of grace, salvation, and forgiveness reigns in lives surrendered to Christ. It isn’t easy. There’s no ticket to an easy life on this earth. But Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

What Does it Mean to Lay Down Your Life for Others?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

The Bible has a lot to say about friendship. Jesus modeled it perfectly. Without a guarantee of reciprocation, He poured His life out for His friends. His focus was on forgiveness, friendship, and the fruit of walking in love with Him. The Bible is clear that Jesus is the model for selfless love; this is shown by Jesus giving up His own innocent life to save undeserving sinners. 

The fruits of the Spirit, products of a godly life, are fostered through the grace given to us through salvation in Christ, alone. To be selfless. In a world consumed with self-care, self-love, and self-confidence, Christ calls us to run a race in the opposite direction. He calls us to be God-reliant, to love God and others, and embrace His provision and allow Him to sustain us. Laying down our lives for others is to live a Christ-centered life, and foster Christ-centered relationships. To listen to one another, learn about, remember and encourage one another. God purposefully places us in the generation we live in, amongst the people in our lives. When we notice who they are, through the filter of Jesus, we are able to love them as we are called to. Laying down our lives is refusing to worry about what tomorrow will bring because we understand only God knows. It’s trusting Him to prepare, lead, and provide for us as we work for His Kingdom.

How to Receive and Reciprocate “Greater Love”

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his mater’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I choose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit- fruit that will last- and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” John 15: 9-17

Jesus gave us a blueprint to “greater love.” It has very little to do with us and everything to do with who He is. We are called to submit to His authority in our lives, and obediently follow the truth of God’s Word. “The war between flesh and spirits is a war of allegiance,” Derek Cazel explains, “If we would give in to the flesh, our definition of love would follow the world’s definition, namely, that nothing is greater than our desires and ourselves.” Jesus accomplished what we never could through His life on earth, His sacrificial death, and miraculous resurrection and ascension to heaven. There is power in the name of Jesus, yet He calls us His friends.

Shortly after His sermon about the Vine and the Branches, Jesus prayed before He began His final leg of the journey to the cross. The prayer, recorded in John 17, captures greater love in action. Jesus prayed His life and death would glorify God; He prayed for His followers, and then He prayed for everyone else. All of us. Those who would follow. He prayed we would all find unity in Him. Unity requires a greater love. It requires the power and love of Jesus, and the supernatural force He wields within lives surrendered to His call, and God’s sovereign will. “The believer has no fruitfulness apart from union and fellowship with Christ,” the NIV Study Bible explains, “A branch out of contact with the vine is lifeless.”

There is none more powerful than our God. The purposes He has planned for our lives require pruning, and it’s hard to journey through a world cursed with sin wreaking havoc upon it. But God is greater than the highs and lows and everything in between. In order to receive and reciprocate greater love, He invites us to remain in Him. Remain. We seek Him in the quiet hours of the morning and cry out to Him in despair. But He calls us, no matter our circumstance, to keep the conversation going. Keep seeking. Keep listening. Keep obeying. One step at a time. One pruning at a time. One beautiful piece of godly fruit at a time. He calls us to avoid getting caught up in the world’s selfishness, and remain in Him. Abide and stride with Him one pace at a time. . . one day at a time. . .until home in heaven we arrive to embrace Him fully. 

Greater love is possible through Christ, alone. We serve a God who loved us more than we can properly honor and give glory to. But as we live our lives within the love of Christ, God will faithfully adjust our perspective to see ourselves, and others, through the filter of greater love. 

Sources

  • Crosswalk.com, 'What Is Agape Love?'
  • NIV Application Commentary, Copyright © 2000 Gary M. Burge.
  • NIV Study Bible

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/aapsky

meg bucher profile pic bioMeg, freelance writer and blogger at Sunny&80, is the author of “Friends with Everyone, Friendship within the Love of Christ,” and “Surface, Unlocking the Gift of Sensitivity,” She writes about everyday life within the love of Christ. Meg earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters, which led her to pursue her passion to write. She has led a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. Meg, a Cleveland native and lifelong Browns fan, lives by the shore of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and golden doodle.


This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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