When we think of the Apostle John, most of us think of the word “love”. That arises usually because of two facts about John:
- He is often referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This is what John calls himself, as a way of deflecting attention from himself in his Gospel account of Jesus’ life and ministry and back onto Jesus. Five times, beginning in the upper room and ending with Peter’s reconciliation with Jesus on the beach, John refers to himself in critical moments as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
- But John is also known for his use of the word “love”. Of course he uses the word to quote Jesus when the Lord famously states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3.16).
But he also uses the word on his own initiative. 65% of all of the uses of “love” in the New Testament are in the writings of John. 
Representative of those are the words of John in I John 4:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (I John 4:10-11, 16-21).
John is not seen, however, as a great example of love earlier in the Gospel accounts. In Mark 9:38-40 we have the account of John coming to Jesus to complain. Earlier in the chapter we have the incredible account of Peter, James and John accompanying Jesus up an unspecified “high mountain” and being transfigured there before them. Moses and Elijah then appeared with Jesus and talked with him. A cloud enveloped them and the voice of God declared, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” A pretty incredible experience.
Upon coming down from the mountain, they travelled to Capernaum. On the way, Jesus overhead them arguing about which one of them was to be the greatest. When confronted by Jesus, they sheepishly admitted the argument. Jesus stated, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mk 9:35–37)
So, after seeing the glory of Christ displayed, heard the voice of God and been rebuked by Jesus about their unloving pride, how does John respond?
He approaches the Lord and whines, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” (9:38).
What love does that show to those who are doing miracles in Jesus’ name? What love does that show for the person afflicted with demons?
Jesus replies (I imagine with a patient look on his face):
“Do not stop him…, for no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mk 9:39–41)
John has a great deal to learn…particularly about love.
In the very next chapter of Mark is recorded a second opportunity for John to enter the school of love.
Matthew and Mark give the accounts a bit different spin. Mark says that the event happened on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus has such a determination to get to Jerusalem that it alarmed those accompanying him. Their fears are not relieved when Jesus tells them what will happen when they arrive: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mk 10:33–34).
What happens next differs a little bit between Matthew and Mark. Mark says that James and John approached Jesus and asked him a request with which most parents are familiar: “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (That’s a setup if ever we have heard it!)
Matthew says that it is James and John’s mother Salome (Jesus’ aunt) who came and asked him a favor. While Matthew’s account makes the most sense—Salome came and made the request with her two sons, they certainly didn’t disagree with her. Mark just cuts to the chase and lays responsibility for the request on James and John themselves.
“Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mark 10:37)
There is the height of insensitivity for you! Jesus has just said that he is going to suffer, be condemned to death, turned over to the Romans who will degrade him and then finally kill him. And then (mysterious to them at this time) he says he will rise from the dead.
And so they come to Jesus, “Um, Jesus…if you’re going to die would you let us sit at your right and left hands?” Perhaps they were referring to the resurrection…thinking that Jesus’ resurrection is going to mean he will finally come and take political power, “When you show them your power by rising from the dead and take your earthly position of power, will you let us sit on either side of you in your reign?”
They show the height of sensitivity and love. (Not really.)
After trying to get them to see the seriousness of the situation into which he is walking, he simply tells them that these places are reserved to those for whom they have been prepared. Very probably NOT James and John.
If being insensitive to the feelings of Jesus is not sufficient, they also show an attitude of superiority to the other ten disciples. When the others found out about the request, they were (appropriately) indignant. How dare these two put themselves into positions of authority over the rest of them? (Perhaps some of them were wondering, “Why didn’t WE think of this?)
And so, how do we go from insensitive, petty John, to John “the disciple of love”? The transformation seems almost as great as the transformation of Peter from denier of Christ to the bold proclaimer of Christ we see in the early chapters of Acts.
(To be Continued Tomorrow)
In the meantime, a great way to learn about your own teachableness (in love as well as in other areas) is to participate in the group coaching program that I will launch next month, based on my book “The Teachable Journey”. Space is limited. For more information, click here.
 Out of the 179 times that the word “love” appears in the New Testament, 57 of those occurrences occur in the Gospel of John and it occurs 46x in I John. If you add 2 & 3 John (7x) and the book of Revelation (7x) that means that 117x