28 October 2016

John 15:17-27

“I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (v. 17)

Psalm: Psalm 117


'Us' and 'them'. How often do we define ourselves as 'not them'? It was an uncomfortable feature of the recent EU Referendum debate. Here, in this passage, it is "you" versus "the world", where "you" and "they" are in opposition. But who are "they" in this context"? "They" are 'the Jews', whom John, in his Gospel, portrays as the enemies of Jesus and of his followers. This represents a significant and, some would say, regrettable move from the earlier Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke where Jesus is very much Jewish, and his followers are Jewish.

There are differences, of course: for Matthew his church is exclusively Jewish, which non-Jews can only join on Jewish terms, whereas for Luke, following Paul, his idea of church embraces both Jews and non-Jews on equal terms. But for John, his church in not just non-Jewish, it is anti-Jewish, reflecting a time at the end of the first century when Christianity had largely separated from its Jewish roots and was increasingly seen, not as a radical group within Judaism, but as a separate and distinct religion in the wider Roman world, and (sometimes violently) at odds with the, now despised, Jews. 'We', on the other hand, "love one other" and have "the Spirit of truth" (v. 26).

Now, I've explained this in some detail because it's important to understand just what is going on with a passage like this before we extract the bits that suit us or which fit the theme of a sermon. Maybe, for example, we need to think very carefully about how we identify 'us' and 'them'. Who do we call "they"? It is good to "love one another", but what about our neighbour who is not "one of us", in social, cultural, racial or religious terms? How certain are we that we have "the Spirit of truth", and they haven't? Even Christians sometimes make these judgements about fellow Christians, claiming the authority of Jesus as they do so. The history of the Church is littered with 'us' and 'them'.

To Ponder

  • Are there any risks for Christians to say 'we love one another' and claiming that they have 'the Spirit of truth'? What might they be?
  • Does 'the world hate you'? Why?
  • If you are 'you', who are 'they'?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.