As we come to consider the words of Jesus in John 15, the first thing that should strike us is that Jesus uses the word ‘love’ a lot in this passage. The Greek wards agapao/agape did not appear in vv. 1-8, but are found 9 times in these verses. These words are prominent throughout what is sometimes called the ‘Farewell Discourses’ of chapters 13-17. Altogether the verb is used 24 times in those chapters (and 13 times in the rest of the book) and the noun occurring 6 times (and only once in the rest of the book).
In these verses, this verb refers to:
The love that the Father has for the Son (v. 9, see also 17:23, 24, 26)
The love that Jesus' has for his followers, his disciples (vv. 9, 12, see also 13:34)
The love that the disciples must have for each other (vv. 12, 17, see also 13:34-35)
The noun refers to:
Jesus' love (v. 9, 10)
The Father's love (v. 10)
Human (Jesus') love that lays down one's life for another (v. 13)
John’s use of agapao/agape is closely related to John’s use of phileo/philos (vv. 13, 14, 15).
Gail O'Day (John, New Interpreter's Bible) writes:
"The Fourth Gospel uses the two Greek verbs for "love (agapao and phileo) interchangeably (cf., eg., 13:2 and 20:2; 5:20 and 10:17), so when Jesus speaks of friends [philos] here, he is really saying "those who are loved" (cf. the description of Lazarus at 11:3, 11).... A comparison of 14:15 and 21 with 15:14 suggests that to be Jesus' friend and to love Jesus are synonymous, because both are defined as keeping Jesus' commandments." [p. 758]
It is interesting to notes that in this passage there is no mention of the disciples loving Jesus or God because the emphasis in our text is on God's love for us and our love for one another.
Philip Yancy (What's So Amazing about Grace?) writes about this:
"Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words, "I am the one Jesus loves." I smiled when I saw the return address, for my strange friend excels at these pious slogans. When I called him, though, he told me the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning. At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus' closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as "the one Jesus loved." Manning said, "If John were to be asked, 'What is your primary identity in life?' he would not reply, 'I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,' but rather, 'I am the one Jesus loves.'"
What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as "the one Jesus loves"? How differently would I view myself at the end of a day?
Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible's astounding words about God's love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?
Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, "You must be very close to God." The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, "Yes, he's very fond of me." [pp. 68-69]
Today, may you believe that you are someone that Jesus loves.
To quote O'Day again:
"Jesus reminds the disciples (including the readers) that their place with him is the result of his initiative, not theirs; relationship with Jesus is ultimately a result of God's grace (cf. 6:37-39, 44)." [p. 759]