Every year, around Memorial Day, social media feeds are littered with references to John 15:13, but is it possible we’ve misunderstood what Jesus was saying in the popular New Testament passage?
I hadn’t really considered my understanding of the verse — I just took my knowledge of the passage for granted — until I was reading through a devotional by 20th century evangelist Oswald Chambers, author of “My Utmost for His Highest.” And now I’m seeing just how challenging Jesus’ words really are.
“Greater love,” Jesus told his disciples, “has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
I don’t hear that verse often and I don’t turn to it on my own that much, either. To be honest, I have, on some level, felt the passage just doesn’t really apply to me, at least not in my current context, because I’ve never had to consider sacrificing my flesh-and-bones life for someone I love.
But that’s not what Jesus was asking. He wasn’t calling his disciples to death, at least not the kind of death we think of. He was urging them to give up their lives for him.
“It is much easier to die than to lay down your life day-in and day-out with the sense of the high calling of God,” Chambers wrote.
He’s right. One is a momentary sacrifice, no matter how permanent, while the other is one that requires true discipline and genuine love. It’s a daily decision made in the face of countless alternatives and competing opportunities.
Jesus truly laid down his life. He didn’t just die. For 33 years, the son of God sacrificed his own inclinations and desires to, as Chambers wrote, “do the will of His Father.” Christ is now calling us to that same level of sacrifice.
Christians are given the same call in 1 John 3:16. In the passage, John wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
“If I am a friend of Jesus, I must deliberately and carefully lay down my life for Him,” Chambers wrote. “It is a difficult thing to do, and thank God that it is. Salvation is easy for us because it cost God so much. But the exhibiting of salvation in my life is difficult.”
Now, after salvation, with the help of the Holy Spirit, Jesus sets us free to, as the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
Every day, we have to choose to deny ourselves — to put our old ways to death. We have to lay our lives down to follow Jesus. Just like Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, we should see ourselves as “crucified with Christ.”
In that, we will find, there is no greater love.