John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus said He was giving His disciples a new commandment, but He Himself had quoted Leviticus 19:18 and said that loving your neighbor was the 2nd greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37-40) So what was new about it? The very next sentence gives the difference: “As I have loved you.” Jesus’ love for us His disciples is beyond anything that is possible for us without the help of God. That’s why God chose Greek as the language of the New Testament. Just as the Inuit language has many different words for snow, Greek has four words that can be translated “love,” ranging from storge, meaning simply to like something, all the way to agape, the unconditional, selfless love Jesus is talking about here. Hebrew, English, Japanese, and every other language in my awareness lack such distinctions. Because we can’t generate agape on our own, it stands to reason that demonstrating it proves that we are indeed Jesus’ disciples. I’ll never forget the time I was with my mother in a park in Fukuoka that has a huge bronze statue of Nichiren, the founder of a sect of Japanese Buddhism. A young man spotted us and made a beeline for us. He was a member of Sokagakkai, a militant offshoot of Nichiren Buddhism, and he figured my mother was a missionary. (My father would probably have been too imposing for him to approach!) When he got to us, after confirming that my mother was indeed a missionary, he immediately went on the attack, saying that Christianity required things that were impossible, while Sokagakkai did no such thing. He particularly took offense at the command to love our enemies, as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. (That command is famous in Japan, by the way.) He said that Christianity had to be a lie, because loving your enemies was impossible. My mother countered with the story of an American couple who came to Japan right after WWII to track down the person who had murdered their son, who had been a POW. By the time they found the murderer, they had learned that he was a young teenager who had been conscripted as a prison guard but had lost all his family in Hiroshima, and in blind rage and grief shot the American who was closest at hand. The American couple ended up adopting the young man who had killed their own son, choosing to love him as God loves us. The Sokagakkai young man had no answer to that story. God indeed enables everything He asks of us, if we will trust Him enough to allow Him to do so.
This of course challenges me as much as it does anyone else. I am no more capable of loving my enemies on my own than I am of turning myself into a duck. The longer I walk with Christ the more I appreciate His love for me, which makes me realize that the bar of “as I have loved you” is even higher than I had thought. However, nothing is too difficult for God, even expressing His love through me! I have been given opportunities recently to love people who have acted as my enemies, and it has been shockingly easy. That gives me a deep awareness that it’s not me, but Christ in me. We are currently ministering to a lady who has just lost her husband, and she has commented that just hearing my voice over the phone makes her cry, because of the gentleness she perceives. That isn’t anything I have generated, either intentionally or otherwise. My prayer is that God’s love through Cathy and me would draw this woman to Him, so that she may perceive that love directly. Sometimes recognizing that we are disciples of Jesus may make people run away from us or even hate us, but at the very least we will have made them aware of Him, and that can give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to touch their heart.
Father, I am sharply aware of my imperfections. Thank You for using me anyway. I pray particularly that as I go to the crematorium today on behalf of the widow, as Cathy stays with her at the home, that Your love through us may indeed draw her, and her siblings, to You for their salvation. Thank You. Praise God!