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.”
This was a landmark moment in Jesus’ ministry. Up until now He had given several fresh interpretations of Old Testament commandments, but here He says He is giving a new one. Even so it is hardly out of line with the Old Testament, because Jesus Himself had said that the second-greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39) However, He here says, not simply as we love ourselves, but as He has loved us. That’s a game changer! The sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated, being born as a human being in the first place and then living among us in what we today would consider very primitive circumstances, ultimately suffering a very horrible death in our place, would be unimaginable if He hadn’t shown it to us. Paul wrote memorably and beautifully about that love, and the result of it, to the Philippian believers in Philippians 2:5-11. He there echoes Jesus’ command, saying that we need to have Jesus’ attitude, which is of course love itself. The only problem with this is that we aren’t capable of generating such love in ourselves; we need to receive it from God and allow it to flow through us. I bring that point up in my standard wedding sermon, because we get all confused between romantic love and God’s love. Romantic love, being emotional, can be ephemeral, changing with the breeze. As the song from Finian’s Rainbow says, “When I’m not near the girl I love, I love the girl I’m near.” Even between a husband and wife (and sometimes especially between a husband and wife) love needs to tap into God’s love or we are in deep trouble. After three years Jesus’ disciples had seen the character of His love for them, even though they hadn’t yet seen Him die for them. Just before this He had taken the most menial of positions and washed their feet, so that was fresh on their minds. (John 13:1-17) The thing is, God never asks anything of us that He doesn’t supply, so the fact that Jesus commands this should give us great hope. This means that it is possible for us to love one another as He loved us, and that love will be our most powerful witness to the world. A Roman historian, writing during the great persecutions of the era, said that the Christians knew how to love each other, and they knew how to die. He was confirming exactly what Jesus said here!
This naturally is as challenging to me as it is to anyone. However, I have a more immediate example as well. Several years ago while one of my distant cousins was in Japan she visited the home of a respected Japanese church leader, and saw a framed picture of my father, who had died some time before that. When she commented on it, she expected to hear something about how my father had been loved, but what she heard was, “Oh, how he loved us!” My father was known for many things, but I think he would have been happiest to know that was how he was remembered. For that matter, I can think of no greater legacy for myself, but it is clearly not something I can generate on my own. Just as in my relationship with my wife, I’ve got to let God’s love flow through me, in all purity and power. Jesus’ love is in no way weak. He spoke firmly to His disciples, and political correctness wasn’t His style in the least. I’ve got to love people enough to risk their not liking me! It is only when I operate in His love that I can lay any claim to being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Father, thank You for this strong reminder. Thank You for the various ways You enable and allow me to demonstrate Your love. I ask for Your anointing as we distribute Gideon Bibles this morning, and then as we go visit a friend in the hospital this afternoon. May every part of my life be a reflection of Your love, so that everyone who sees me may be drawn to You, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!