November 11: John 15:14

John 15:14

“You are my dear (friend)s, if you would do the (thing)s that I lay on you to complete.”

Here, Jesus picks up on the term fi/lo$ (“dear [one]”) from v. 13, introduced as a way of referring to the love that his disciples (believers) must show to one another. This love should follow the example given by Jesus himself, as demonstrated by his sacrificial death—viz., one must be willing to lay down one’s life for the sake of others (cf. the previous note). The noun fi/lo$ denotes a person for whom one has affection, i.e., who is held dear. It is often translated flatly as “friend”, but “loved one” would perhaps be more accurate; in most instances, I translate it as “dear (one)” or “dear (friend)”. The use of this noun (and the related verb file/w, synonymous in meaning with a)gapa/w) elsewhere in the Gospel was discussed in the prior note.

In verse 13, the implication was that the disciples should regard one another as fi/loi— “dear (one)s,” those who are held dear. Now, in v. 14, Jesus declares that the disciples are his “dear ones” (i.e., dear to him). This is an example of the Johannine themes of reciprocity and unity, in terms of the relationship between Jesus and believers:

    • Reciprocity—as Jesus shows love to his disciples (believers), so the disciples are to show love to him (spec. in the person of those he loves, i.e., other believers)
    • Unity—believers are united with one another, through love, with the unity also being demonstrated by this love; the unity of believers with the Son (Jesus) is also realized and demonstrated through love (see esp. the parallel “remain in me” / “remain in my love”, vv. 4ff, 9ff).

As the earlier directive regarding love in 13:34-35 makes clear, showing love to one another is a sign that believers are true disciples of Jesus. Here, the same duty (e)ntolh/) to show love is a sign that they are his “dear (friend)s”. In this regard, we may mention the role of the ‘beloved disciple’ as a figure-type in the Gospel, representing the ideal of the true disciple. The verbs a)gapa/w and file/w are used interchangeably in referring to this ideal disciple (cf. 20:2 [note also 11:3], in comparison with 13:23; 19:26; 21:7, 20); thus the true disciple is properly called a fi/lo$ of Jesus.

That the true fi/lo$ fulfills the duty (e)ntolh/) to show love (to other believers) is clear, both from the immediate context of verse 13 (and the prior vv. 9-12), and also by the use of the verb e)nte/llomai here. As I have discussed, the verb e)nte/llomai denotes laying a charge or duty on (e)n) a person, regarding something that he/she must complete (vb tele/w / teleio/w); the noun e)ntolh/ refers to that duty. Love is clearly defined as an e)ntolh/, both here in the exposition (v. 12), and earlier in 13:34. Elsewhere, here in verse 10, and in 14:15-21, it is stated that love is realized when the disciple fulfills the duties (plural, e)ntolai/) that are required. Love is one of those duties, so the logic expressed is somewhat elliptical; the specific duty to be fulfilled is showing love to one’s fellow believers, according to the example of Jesus himself.

The plural is used again here: “…if you do the (thing)s that [a%] I lay on you to complete”. The verb e)nte/llomai is thus used with regard to at least two duties (e)ntolai/). I would argue that, in the Johannine writings, the plural of e)ntolh/ has, in fact, two duties principally in mind. One of these, certainly, is the duty to show love to fellow believers. What is the other duty? In the Gospel, it is best understood as keeping/guarding the word (lo/go$) of Jesus (or words, lo/goi, par r(h/mata)—i.e., his teaching, message, and witness (regarding who he is). This is clearly the focus in 14:15-21 (vv. 23-24), and is an important theme throughout the Last Discourse (14:10; 15:3, 7, 20; 16:13-15; 17:6, 8, 14ff; cf. also 5:24, 38; 6:63; 8:31, 37, 51-52; 12:47-48).

The suggested identification of these two duties (e)ntolai/) would seem to be confirmed by the parallel between the idiom of “remaining” (vb me/nw) in the Son (Jesus) [15:4ff] and: (a) remaining in his word (lo/go$) [8:31, cp. 15:7], and (b) remaining in his love (a)ga/ph) [15:9]. I have illustrated this by the following diagram:

Thus, a person shows oneself to be a true disciple of Jesus (and one dear [fi/lo$] to him) by fulfilling the duties he has given—(1) keeping/guarding his words, and (2) showing love to other disciples/believers. As discussed in the previous notes on vv. 12-13, the love of the true disciple entails a willingness to give one’s own life for others, in a sacrificial manner, according to the example of Jesus.

In the next daily note (on verse 15), we will examine a bit further what it means to be a fi/lo$ of Jesus.

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