15 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
9 I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.”
If you have been a Christian for a while, you are probably familiar with the three words for love in the Greek NT: eros, philia, and agape. The first is where we get the word ‘erotic’ and refers to physical, pleasure-based love. The second refers to friendship, the reciprocal love between friends. These two forms of love (eros and philia) have some things in common. They are both based on preference, on the lover choosing who to love based on desire, inclination, attraction, etc. In sexual love, the lover seeks his or her own pleasure, in friendship love, we are interested in what benefit we derive from the friendship. In other words, both eros and philia have to some degree a self-focus on the part of the lover, some measure of selfishness, where the object of the love is not so much the other person as what the lover sees of/for himself or herself in the other (a desire to change the object of these loves to conform closer to the lover is common as these loves embrace sameness, not difference). In its basest forms, where the focus is fully on the self, the lover may be nearly or entirely oblivious to the other person, but even in nobler expressions, there remains an essential self-focus, a self-interest that marks all eros and philia love. These loves are temporary, they do not bear lasting fruit.
Agape is very different. It is pure love, divine love, eternal love, love that includes no focus on the self at all, but sole focus on the beloved. Agape is a renunciation of the self. Agape loves the other as they are, as particular persons, celebrating differences. It is not motivated by desire or self-interest, its sole motivation comes as obedience to the command of Jesus: love one another as I have loved you. Jesus did not love out of self-interest, Jesus loved selflessly. Because agape is not dependent on desires or inclinations (which change regularly), it is not temporary. Agape is eternal – it is a love we can remain in. It is a love that bears lasting fruit because the fruit is not immediately consumed by the one loving. Agape creates fruit for others.
So what does agape look like? Jesus tells us is looks like obedience (the opposite of preference). It looks like loving your neighbor – the one near to you, i.e., not the one you have chosen. But this kind of love is quite beyond us. Agape sounds nice, but we are fundamentally self-interested creatures. Jesus addresses this by making clear that the power to grow into agape love only comes from Jesus. Like a vine giving life to branches that give their lives producing fruit, so Jesus empowers us – gives us everything we need – to love neighbors selflessly, to produce lasting fruit. Producing fruit is a requirement for remaining grafted into the vine; disciples are people who produce fruit by remaining in Jesus’ agape love.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.