Of all the gospels, John's (although I don't think the apostle John actually wrote it, but that's another story) is probably the most developed theologically. It was written late in the 1st century and was very much rooted in the historical context of John's audience. There had been ample time for followers of Jesus to consider deeply the significance of his teaching and actions during his ministry and with greater time and reflection came greater understanding. So with that in mind, it's appropriate to hear Jesus' teaching and discourses throughout John's gospel as being as much directed to those disciples of the late 1st century as to the original hearers within the story. And of course, there's a message for ourselves in the 21st century too. With this in the background, here are some reflections I take from John 15:12-15 (these verses come from Jesus' "farewell" discourse to his disciples in John 14-17).
Text:"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my father."
My Paraphrase: Jesus invited his disciples to love one another just as he loved them. He explained that the greatest love in life is the willingness to surrender one's life for the sake of one's friends. Friendship with Jesus carries with it the responsibility to obey his commands, chiefly the command to love others. Though Jesus' disciples are his servants, he welcomes them into grater intimacy as he honors them as friends.
Reflections: From Genesis to the maps, the story of God is also the story of God and his people. From the very beginning, God has been and continues to be a relational God. In fact, the crown of his creation, humanity, he made in his very own image. God took it even further when in the person of his Son, he emptied himself, in-fleshing himself in the man Jesus. Jesus did not exploit his divinity, but rather related to humanity as a fully human person with all of the natural limitations that we all endure. Relationally speaking, this man Jesus embraced his disciples as friends and showed us all what humanity was always supposed to be, but had failed to be. After laying down his life for his friends, through the Spirit, Jesus was raised and then exalted to the right hand of the Father. In Jesus' exaltation, God has actually taken humanity into himself, thus taking his relationship with us that much further.
So that brings us to our response to the amazing love of this relational God. Essentially, we are asked to follow in Jesus' footsteps - the footsteps of the one true human who bridged the gap to the one true God. Just as Jesus put his complete trust in his Father, so we put our trust in both the Father and the Son. As Jesus submitted to the Father in baptism and received the Holy Spirit, so too we are born again of the water and the Spirit. And just as Jesus loved his disciples and not only his disciples, but the entire world, by laying down his life, so too are we to love others by putting our own wishes, agendas, and personal preferences to the side for the sake of others and for the sake of Christ. It wasn't easy for Jesus and it's certainly not easy for us. But a life lived in this Spirit is the kind of life that Jesus described in John 10:10 - life abundant. - Shay