This Sunday, we continued in our miniseries on love and unity within the church by looking at Jesus’s new commandment in John 13:34-35:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
These words were spoken by Jesus on the night of his betrayal—before being arrested and crucified—during his farewell discourse to his disciples. In fact, before saying these words, he had just washed his disciples’ feet.
Now, when you consider that washing people’s feet was a task reserved for non-Jewish slaves in that culture, it makes Jesus’s act all the more remarkable. It was a culture where people walked long distances on dusty roads in sandals, so it was customary for hosts to arrange for water to be available for the washing of feet, again by also providing servants to work in this capacity. But if a servant was not present, the host would certainly not take up the chore himself, as Jesus does.
What enabled Jesus to do this when no one would have done this? John 13:1 tells us: Jesus had “loved his own who were in the world,” and he “loved them to the end” with perfect, humble, selfless, sacrificial, service-centered, saving love. Certainly, by humbly serving his disciples in this way, he foreshadowed his ultimate selfless service that would come on the cross. At the same time, he modeled for his disciples what Christlike, Christian love for one another would look like, and he then spoke the words mentioned above in verses 34-35.
As he does, he shows us both a command to follow and a love to imitate. Which leads us to the main point we looked at on Sunday: Our selfless, loving Savior calls his followers to distinctively love one another, as he loved us.
Notice his words again at the beginning of verse 34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” It’s interesting that Jesus would call the command to love one another a new command. For faithful Jews, there was nothing new about loving one’s neighbors. They would have known the command in Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The reality is God’s people are commanded to love all people:
- The marginalized and the accepted.
- The poor and the great.
- The foreigner and the fellow countryman.
But here in John chapter 13, Jesus gives a new command. He takes his point of departure from Leviticus 19:18 and he deepens and transforms the command to love one’s neighbors. How does he deepen the command? The end of verse 34 tells us: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
So, the command to love one’s neighbor is not new, but the newness is found in loving fellow followers of Christ just as he had loved his disciples. In light of Jesus’s imminent, upcoming death in the gospel of John, it would seem that loving each other just as Christ implies even a willingness to lay down one’s life for each other. John 15:12-13 reiterates this to us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” So, again, our selfless loving Savior calls his followers to distinctively love one another, just as he loved us. This is where the newness lies.
God’s people continue to love their neighbors as themselves, but that love is now deepened, that we might love one another just as Jesus loved us. And as we love one another in that way, something amazing happens…
Notice what Jesus continues to say in verse 35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When the world sees the church—Jesus’s followers—loving one another with Christlike love, the world sees something distinct. In effect, when the church loves one another with Christlike love, it reflects the love of Christ for his own for the entire world to witness. And that distinguishes us!
So we remind ourselves: Our selfless, loving Savior calls his followers to distinctively love one another, just as he loved us.
But what does that love look like? It’s the natural question that arises, isn’t it? As we aim to grow in unity with our Lord, what does Christlike love for one another in the church look like?
For most of us, we can probably admit that one of the more obvious answers is serving one another’s needs. Acts 2:44-45 gives us a picture of the early church doing just that: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
But I do think we sometimes overlook other (more challenging) ways of expressing love to one another:
- Ephesians 4:11-12 implies that our spiritual gifts and abilities are for the building up of the church, that we would equip each other and build each other up unto the likeness of Christ. This also implies being willing to submit ourselves to others and allow others to invest in our lives.
- Ephesians 6:18 and James 5:16 tell us to pray for one another. This also implies a willingness to be transparent with our struggles and circumstances, that others might pray for us and even be able to offer counsel and help.
- Colossians 3:13 indicates that we love one another by also forgiving one another. This in itself can be challenging, but something even more challenging is also implied: A willingness to ask others for forgiveness.
- One of the hardest expressions of love within the church is found in Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Counseling one another back to the Lord when a fellow brother has drifted away or fallen in sin can be incredibly challenging, but avoiding it would actually be an unloving thing to do.
So yes, we serve each other’s needs out of Love for the Lord and a deepened, selfless love for one another, but we also equip and disciple each other as we lovingly serve one another, and we pray for each other, and we forgive each other, and we help each other turn back to the Lord when we see brothers and sisters drifting or falling away. And we do all this because Christ has loved us first, and he’s modeled selfless love to us. We see it in the washing of his disciples’ feet. But we see it ultimately in the selfless giving of himself on the cross, that through his selfless sacrifice our sins would be forgiven through faith and trust in him.
My dear church, let’s love each other selflessly, as well. Let’s allow the Spirit of Christ to give us not only a passionate love for the Lord, but also a passionate love for each other, that we might distinctively love one another, just as our Lord has loved us.
In your small groups this week, take a moment to discuss these questions together: John 13.34-35 Notes. May “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
With love for the Lord and for you,