John 13:34-35 “A new commandment 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.”
In what sense was Jesus’ commandment to love one another new? You remember the parable of the Good Samaritan. An expert in the law was testing Jesus. He summed up God’s law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus himself summarized the commandments this way at other times. It’s not hard to understand why. As far back as Moses, God had revealed that “love” was the heart and soul of his commandments.
“Love one another” was not a new commandment in time, but it is a commandment that constantly needs to be made new and fresh and alive for God’s people–today just as much as it did for the twelve disciples. It has a way of getting lost in our efforts to be “good” and live “moral” lives.
Sometimes we want to determine all the specific ways in which we can do God’s will in any given situation. We want to pick through the Bible in the hope that we will find some hidden command or principle to follow. Once we have found it we think, “Now I can make God happy. Now I can truly have a good relationship with him.” We end up making our own rule book, and the checklist for how to be a good Christian becomes longer and longer.
The Pharisees did much the same thing. To God’s Ten Commandments they had added over 600 applications of their own. Their additional rules were intended to make it possible to keep God’s ten. Somehow God’s desire for mercy and love got lost in the process.
Do you see the problem with this approach to doing good? We can make our checklists of rules for holy living as long as we like. But it may be possible to check off every item in the list without ever actually loving someone. God’s commandments must guide us, but we need to be reminded that love is the fulfillment of the Law. Only when we love are we truly taking our relationship with our neighbor seriously. When we sincerely seek to love one another like Jesus has loved us, we will find ourselves squarely in line with what God has commanded.
There is also a “new-in-time” feature of Jesus’ command: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” That is a humbling command. Who can claim that our love and self-sacrifice even approaches the love that Jesus has had for us? I am reminded of the closing words of a book by James Dobson: “If only we realized how brief is our time on earth, then most of the irritants and frustrations which drive us apart would seem terribly insignificant and petty. We have but one short life to live, yet we contaminate it with bickering and insults and angry words. If we fully comprehended the brevity of life, our greatest desire would be to please God and to serve one another. Instead, the illusion of permanence leads us to scrap and claw for power and demand the best for ourselves.”
But Jesus’ words are also a very comforting reminder: How Jesus has loved us! He has so loved and forgiven us in spite of our lack of love. And the Savior who loves us so has set us free to live lives that strive to love like he has loved.
Jesus concludes, “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Christian love has a way of being noticed, even by unbelievers. Julian, one of the anti-Christian emperors of Rome, had to admit, “Their master has implanted the belief in them that they are all brethren.” The importance of such recognitions is not so much the glory that it brings to us. It is the attention it brings to Jesus, whose love alone has the power to save.