John 15:9-17


Jesus' farewell address to the disciples, John 13:31-17:26, is one of the grandest and profoundest passages in the Gospels. In view of the fact that Judas was about to betray Him and the other disciples were about to abandon Him, plus the fact that He would be unjustly arrested as a criminal, the quiet serenity of this whole passage is remarkable. He had just said in verse 5: "Apart from Me you are able to do absolutely nothing." That proved to be true in the abandonment of Jesus by the disciples and the denial of Peter.

In verses 1-8 Jesus had spoken about His relationship to His disciples. In verses 9-17 Jesus dwells on a threefold relationship:
  1. That of the Father for the incarnate Son;

  2. That of the incarnate Son for the disciples; and,

  3. That of the disciples for each other.
Bengel: He does not speak here of love for His enemies.

True. It is a comforting sermon to believers. But this does in no way deny the universal atonement.

Christians very easily become lax in their faith and life. They begin to depend on themselves rather than on Christ. Or they may begin to use Christian liberty as an occasion to sin or not to do what Christ says. There is a note of urgency in these verses: to remain in the love of Christ, to love one another, to realize that they have been chosen, to bear fruit, to pray. The text begins (verse 9) with a command to remain in Christ's love and ends (verse 17) with a command to mutual love for one another.

John 15:9  "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love." 

 "As -- so have I" are correlative adverbs of manner, meaning "just as-so also." See John 3:35: the Father gave the incarnate Christ all things so that He might accomplish His work. See John 10:17: He loves Him because He lays down His life to take it again. And at 17: 23:  "You ( the Father) loved them just as you loved Me (Jesus)." There is nothing more certain than the love of the Father in Christ for believers. We so easily forget that.

Now Jesus gives a command: "Remain in My very own love." This means the love which Christ has for us, not the love we have for Him. His love for us is a fact. Just don't abandon it.

John 15:10  "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love." 

Note that "commands" or "injunctions" is in the plural. "Commands" is far more than the ten commandments. It includes all His words to His disciples. In the first part of this verse, Jesus is stressing the fact that the proper attitude toward His Word in general assures one of the fact that he is of the true faith, remaining in His love for that person. Now comes "obey" again. Common to both parts of the verse are the verbs  "remain" and "obey" and the nouns "commands"  and "love." Implicit in this verse are the two natures in Christ. He speaks of the Father as MY Father in a very special way. And yet it is very plain that He speaks as a true human. He confides in the love of the Father for Christ. The Christian is a reflection of Christ in what he does and in what he trusts.

John 15:11  "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." 

Note that the Nestle Greek text begins a subparagraph at this point. The pronoun "this" is quite frequent in these chapters. For example, in 16:1-4 it occurs four times! One must always determine its antecedent. Here in verse 11, likely the antecedent is verses 1-10. "So that" denotes purpose. "My joy" means "my very own joy." What joy? The joy of going to the Father, to complete His work of redemption and to return to the Father. Jesus found joy in doing the Father's will. But not for Himself. He spoke so that His very own joy might be in them, might be their very own by faith.

That becomes clear in the remainder of the verse. "Your joy" means that it becomes theirs. "May be complete" is very strong, "might be fulfilled," "completely realized." The Christian's true joy always comes from the outside, from Christ. The joys of this life, if in keeping with the ten commandments, are not wrong. There's the joy of the relationship between husband and wife, between parents and children, between friends, the joy of good weather, etc. But, sooner or later, we must realize that the only lasting joy is that of remaining in Jesus' love and keeping His commandments.

John 15:12  " My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." 

Here, unlike the 25th edition, the 26th makes a subparagraph. Paragraphing in the Gospel of John not always easy. At any rate, the meaning is: "This is my very own injunction." The divinity of Jesus is implicit in this statement.

He doesn't say "that you like one another." Love is far greater than self-gratifying liking. This verse is made plain at John 13:34. It's a new commandment in the sense that He fulfilled it in its highest sense.

"Each other" denotes Christians. Must Christians be told to love each other? They surely must! How often don't Christians detest each other! That should not be. If persisted in, it leads to a denial of what Christ did for the Christian, because Christ says "as I have." He loved me in all my misery. I must love fellow Christians in all their misery. His love covered all my sin. My love must cover the sins of fellow Christians.

John 15:13  "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." 

Now Jesus explains how lofty this love is. This verse is an axiom, a generally accepted truth. People stand in awe of someone who will lay down his life in behalf of his friends. It is the greatest sacrifice which a human being can make. But, though such a sacrifice on the part of a mere human being can save no one's soul, Jesus is implicitly reminding us of what He has already said in John 10:11.15.17. It reminds us of 1 John 3:16.

This verse does not deny the universal atonement. It does not deny that Jesus died for His enemies. But Jesus is using an axiom in verse 13 which involves friends and now He is about to apply this to the disciples specifically.

John 15:14  "You are my friends if you do what I command." 

Here, in verses 14-15, is the only place in which Jesus called His disciples His friends, but in a very specific sense. Exodus 33:11 speaks of the friendly way in which God spoke to Moses. James 2:23 informs us that Abraham was called (and known as) God's friend because Abraham believed God. Here in John 15:14 Jesus states that His disciples are His friends because He lays down His life for them (verse 13) and rejoices in their doing what He, true God, commands them. How different this is from the meaning which we usually put into the word "friend!" For us this word usually means a person who pleases us. Jesus uses it in a much higher sense.

John 15:15  "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." 

But He is not yet finished with the word "friend" as applied to the disciples. "No longer do I call you slaves, because the slave does not know what his Master is doing." A slave is a mere instrument. He does what the Master says. That's all. The Master gives the slave no explanations. He merely expects obedience.

By the way, the use of "know" is important. The word here means "to know on one's own." 

He continues: "But you I have called friends because all things which I have heard from My Father, I have made known to you." Of course, Jesus does not mean that they are omniscient. But He does mean that He has plainly told them about His mission for their sake. He hides nothing.

Lenski: This embraces everything pertaining to his mission, that he was to be the light and the life of the world, to make the blind to see, to satisfy the hungry and the thirsty, to make the dead alive, that he is now giving his life for the world, is now returning to the Father, is coming again spiritually (Pentecost), and is returning at the last day to judge the world and to take his own to himself into the heavenly mansions.

Compare John 1:18. We can know God and His revelation only through the incarnate Christ.

Kretzmann: The only name that will now fit them is that of friends, for the Master has revealed to them the secrets of the Father, His essence and especially His counsel of love for the salvation of mankind.

John 15:16  "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." 

Does this verse speak of eternal election? The Formula of Concord, S.D., Article XI, Election, paragraph 12 reads:

It is beyond all doubt that the true understanding or the right use of the teaching of God's eternal foreknowledge will in no way cause or support either impenitence or despair. So, too, Scripture presents this doctrine in no other way than to direct us thereby to the Word (Ephesians 1:13.14; 1 Corinthians 1:21.30.31), to admonish us to repent (2 Timothy 3:16), to urge us to godliness (Ephesians 1:15ff; John 15:, to strengthen our faith and to assure us of our salvation (Ephesians 1:9.13.14; John 10:27-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15).

Evidently this passage means that election urges us to go, bear fruit and to pray. And, in verse 17, to love one another.

Lenski: 'I did choose you' cannot refer to predestination but must refer to the choice of the disciples as the friends whom Jesus selected for himself.

Bengel does not mention election here. However, Ylvisaker understands it differently:

It is He who has made them what they now are as His friends. And this act in time points back to an election, which is represented in this passage, as well as generally in Scripture, as grounded upon the unmerited mercy of divine love for Christ's sake alone. . . All merit and worthiness (of man) are excluded. . . The Scriptural doctrine concerning election, which is as humiliating (he means 'humbling') as it is rich in comfort (Isaiah 43:21; Ephesians 1:4ff; Romans 8:28-30), is protected, as it were, in this similitude of the vine and the branches. . . We may not explain the salvation of those who remain as branches on the vine except in the free mercy of divine love, nor may we discover the cause of the rejection of the unfruitful branches except in their non-continuance upon the vine where they are exhorted to remain, because such contintuance is rendered possible by virtue of the power that is graciously proffered.

In other words, Ylvisaker sees election behind the whole chapter.

Kretzmann: This choosing was done entirely by Christ. Everything that is done by the believers in faith is the result of the gracious election of Christ.

The Formula of Concord does not deny that this passage speaks of election. Lenski does. Ylvisaker and Kretzmann plainly state that it does speak of election. If one agrees with Lenski he is forced to say that Jesus is speaking only of the disciples. That cannot be. He is surely speaking of Christians of all ages. Therefore, these  Notes  agree with the interpretation of Ylvisaker and Kretzmann. Everything that the Christian is and will do and be, originates not with himself but with His gracious Savior Who will bring to pass that which He wills. The Christian must lean heavily on that thought. Of ourselves we are totally inadequate.

The fact that I am a Christian originates totally with Christ and He will see me through. Here Jesus introduces the items in the Christian's life of sanctification. He appointed and He will supply every need. In this verse Jesus calls attention to four items:

  1. Christians are chosen to go;

  2. They are not inactive;

  3. They bear fruit. Verses 1-5 remind us that Jesus is the cause of the fruit;

  4. The fruit remains. It will continue even after the Christian dies.

See Revelation 14:13. Note that He calls it "your fruit" though He Himself supplies it. A high compliment and privilege. Christ has appointed the Christian to beseech the Father, concerning any need the Christian has, to grant such request in Jesus' name, which means by virtue of the fact that Jesus is the sole Mediator between the Father and the Christian.

John 15:17  "This is my command: Love each other." 

"This" goes back at least to verse 12. "Love" again is infinitival.

Once more Jesus stresses the necessity of mutual love among Christians. The very fact that He stresses this so often indicates that even Christians are in danger not loving each other. This implies that they have a sinful flesh. We need not worry about whether or not Jesus loves us. But we do need to be concerned that we love each other. That can be done because He is the Vine. Mutual love among Christians is the highest form of fruit-bearing. If Christians don't love each other, how can they love their enemies?


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 110-112. Used with permission.

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