Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude. Our Gospel for the day comes from John 15:12–21, and our devotional reading comes from Luther’s Works: volume 24, a collection of sermons on the Gospel of John.
- Jeremiah 26:1–16
- Psalm 43; antiphon: v. 5b
- 1 Peter 1:3–9
- John 15:12–21
Read the propers for today in Lutheran Service Builder.
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
In this long sermon Christ dwells on this theme almost to the end of the chapter; He exhorts us—after we have become His branches and now abide in Him—to hold together in love as His true branches and now abide in Him—to hold together in love as His true branches and parts of this Vine, lest we be misled by alien doctrine and thus be cut off from Him. This shows the emphasis with which Christ is speaking here. For wherever love and unity are destroyed and schism and discord take root, there agreement in doctrine also disappears, and defection from Christ ensues.
“Therefore,” says Christ, “if you are in Me and remain in Me, be intent on keeping My commandments; for I must assign a task to you, and by your performance of this task you will be recognized as My branches. [Thus Christ declares in John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”] And that is the very commandment which I Myself keep and observe as an example and pattern for you; for I remain in My Father’s love by keeping His commandments. Consequently, if you keep My commandments, you also remain in My love.” These are the two items of Christian instruction that must be inculcated daily in Christendom; neither one dare be neglected.
Wherever faith is not preached and is not given primary importance, wherever we do not begin by learning how we are united with Christ and become branches in Him, all the world concentrates only on its works. On the other hand, wherever faith alone is taught, this leads to false Christians, who boast of their faith, are baptized, and are counted among the Christians but give no evidence of fruit and strength. This makes it difficult to preach to people. No matter how one preaches, things go wrong; the people always hedge. If one does not preach on faith, nothing but hypocritical works result. But if one confines one’s preaching to faith, no works ensue. In brief, the outcome is either works without faith or faith without works. Therefore the sermon must address itself to those who accept and apprehend both faith and works; the others, who do not want to follow, remain behind. Just as the devil, who is the god and lord of the world, will never become pious, so it will never be possible to make the whole world pious. And no matter how much ones say to the world, it grows defiant and does all the more in opposition. It takes this as a provocation to be even worse. Because these people refuse to hear and to believe, we let them go their way until they find and experience the truth, not only in eternity but also here in this temporal life.
But we preach to the little flock, who know, and reflect on, their eternal destiny, whose chief concern is to remain in this Vine, who find all their consolation in Him, and who then also give practical proof of this in their conduct. For faith will surely manifest itself in such fruit, as Christ said earlier: “He who abides in Me bears much fruit.” Such a person will necessarily reason thus: “I believe in Christ, who loved me and gave His life for me; therefore I will reflect this love in my attitude over against my neighbor. I will be friendly and helpful to him and bear his faults and excesses with patience and gentleness.” You are not asked to sacrifice life and limb for him, as Christ did for you. “But,” says Christ, “I am only commanding you to prove your faith by serving and helping your neighbor, by promoting his welfare, by showing him fidelity and love. If you do this, you have done all I ask of you; and now you are like Me. But if you neglect this or do the opposite, you dare not boast of Me. Then your own deeds bear witness against you and prove that you are not true and fruitful branches in Me, but decayed wood that has been severed from Me.”
Now that Christ has shed His blood and sacrificed His life for you, and now that He bears with all the sins and frailties that still inhere in you, it is a crime if, in return, you refuse for His sake to remit a neighbor’s claim of a heller or to overlook an evil word. I shall not even mention that you might contemplate stealing form him, robbing him, defrauding him by usury, deceiving him in business, or cheating him with false ware—in brief, demonstrating every under-handed trickery, such as almost everybody does today without any qualms of conscience. Therefore it behooves everyone to search his heart and examine himself. Let no one bank on thoughts like these: “I am baptized and am called a Christian. I hear God’s Word and go to the Sacrament.” For here Christ Himself separates the false Christians from those who are genuine, as if He were saying: “If you are true believers in Me and are in possession of My treasure, it will surely become evident that you are My disciples. If not, do not imagine that I will acknowledge and accept you as My disciples. You will never cheat and deceive any but yourselves—to your eternal shame and harm. Christ and the Gospel will surely not be cheated and defrauded.”
You are My friends if you do what I command you.
Christ is exceedingly friendly, and His words are full of kindness. As He bids His disciples farewell, He urges them to take this commandment to heart, and He fixes in their minds the example which shows them how He loved them and what He did for them. It is great and strong love if a man gives his neighbor in need a hundred or a thousand guldens, or if he pays all his debts for him. How unusual it would be for a king or a prince to give a poor beggar an earldom or a principality, or even his own kingdom or country and subjects! Then all the world would sing and speak of such unheard-of love. And yet all this is trivial compared with Christ’s giving His life for you. This is surely the greatest love that one man on earth can show another. To serve someone with money and goods, yes, even with one’s body, is also love. Yet there is no one who would not surrender money and goods, or even lands and people, rather than give up his life for another. And even if a person were to do the latter, it would still pale into insignificance when compared with what the Son of God did when He came down from heaven to take your place and willingly shed His blood and died for you, who had been damned and were His enemies. This is a love that is far greater and higher than heaven and earth and anything one can name.
Devotional reading adapted from Luther’s Works, American Edition: vol. 24, pages 248–51. Copyright © 1961 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.