“I give you a new commandment – to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 NET).
Just after Jesus finished washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-17) and Judas had departed (John 13:18-33), Jesus began to give his final instructions to the men who had been with him for so long. Jesus loved these men (John 13:1) and he wanted to prepare them for what was about to happen (John 13:33).
Jesus began by giving them a “new” commandment: they were “to love one another.” At first glance we might ask what is new about a commandment to love each other? This had been part of God’s law for his people since they were at Mt Sinai. God had told his people, “You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). What was new about telling his disciples to love each other?
The newness was not in the command to love, but in the depth of that love. In the Old Law, the command was to love others as we love ourselves. That, in itself, is a tall order. Do we really give to others the same leniency that we give to ourselves? Do we overlook the faults of others as quickly as we overlook our own?
The problem is that we are so used to our own inconsistencies and even our own sins that we sometimes no longer see them. When did you last quit speaking to yourself because of something you had done? If we love others as we love our selves we must not treat others differently from how we treat our self.
But Jesus calls us to a greater love. Notice what Jesus said: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” We are to love each other in the same way that Jesus loves us.
John explained it this way: “We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians. But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?” (John 13:16-17).
We are called to love each other to the extent that we would die for each other. Although that is quite a tall order, how many of us will ever be called to do that? Notice the practical way John applies this – if we have this type of love we will help each other in any way that we can. Even if it requires washing the feet of someone else, as Jesus had just demonstrated in the upper room.
John referred to this command as the “new commandment” that is an “old commandment” (1 John 2:7-11). Our lives are to be full of love. Love for God and love for each other. Love each other as we love ourselves. Love each other to the point that we would die for each other. Love that is seen in how we treat each other.
When people see that we have this love for each other, they will recognise that Christians are different from those around them. This is something that is attractive to people. Those who know of Jesus will recognise that we are his followers – when they see visible proof of our love.
Readings for next week:
7 November – John 17
8 November – John 18
9 November – John 19
10 November – John 20
11 November – John 21