“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.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)
This 13th chapter of John’s Gospel has been one of contrasts. We’ve seen a distinct contrast drawn between Judas and Peter and their subsequent responses to personal failures. Now John begins to draw a distinction between past expectations and obedience and post-crucifixion/post-resurrection expectations and obedience. He introduces us to a “new commandment” given to us by our Lord.
Now, some might say this isn’t really a new commandment because we’ve been told from ancient times by the Scriptures to “love our neighbors” (see Lev. 19:18). But Jesus does specifically say, “a new commandment I give to you…” So, how is this different from previous teachings? Why the emphasis on something we assume is just a restatement of the second of the great commandments? (See Mark 12:29-31)
Jesus draws specific attention to the way in which love is defined and expressed. Previously, the commandment was to love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself. Treat others the way you want to be treated. We all know and, generally, express the Golden Rule accurately and as a worthy goal. Admittedly, we sometimes want to express it inaccurately as “treat others the way we’ve been treated,” but most of us recognize the difference. The measure of love’s expression, up to this point, was self-love. However, that measure is about to be elevated beyond belief and personal achievement.
The “new” element in this old commandment is Jesus and his expression of divine love. What’s compelling is that in no other religious expression (outside of the ancient or modern Judeo-Christian tradition) will you find that the deity or, more likely, deities expressed any concept of love at or towards men or the creation. In fact, Larry Hurtado, retired Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology at the University of Edinburgh and an expert in New Testament and Christian Origins, says that he cannot find a single reference in Roman-era pagan religious texts to the “gods” loving people or the world. In fact, quite the opposite was true. Man spent his time trying to “appease or placate” the gods to keep them from expressing anger or other negative emotions towards man. So, this idea of “God loving us so much” that he is willing to die as our substitute is a radical shift in religious belief.
Now, Jesus is not only going to demonstrate this radical shift in religious beliefs, he also calls upon his disciples to emulate his actions among themselves. It is this very idea of radical, transforming love that Jesus says will identify and define his followers. Up to this point, Jesus disciples have been identified by their relationship with him. They have walked with him, been taught by him, followed him, been amazed by him, and been humbled by him. Yet, it is this radical idea of sacrificial love that is to define them from this point forward. He is leaving them and they will no longer be identified simply by their physical and philosophical association with him as their teacher. They will, from this point forward, be known by the radical, sacrificial, self-giving love they have for one another.
Thirty nine years ago, I made a promise to a beautiful young lady. I promised to love, cherish, share, care and protect her. Today, I wear a ring as a symbol of that promise. But, that ring is not an expression of my love but simply a reminder of my promise to express my love in those ways. Taking off that ring doesn’t negate or temporarily suspend my responsibility or fulfillment of that promise. Faithfully wearing that ring every day is not fulfillment of that promise. It is only when I fulfill those vows, remain chaste and true to her, love and care for her, protect and provide for her throughout the circumstances and years of life that I truly express my love for her.
I’ve heard someone say, I told my wife I love her when we married and if that ever changes then I’ll let her know. But, God expects more from us as believers. It isn’t enough to tell God once of our love, it must be expressed daily in our love for each other. So, I want to conclude today with three very direct, but necessary, expressions of this commandment for our church…
First, we MUST express this radical love of God in a radical view of Christian marriage. Scripture is emphatic that marriage is an earthly expression of a heavenly reality. In other words, God uses the uniqueness of Christian marriage to demonstrate and illustrate the love of God for man.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:22, 25, 31-32 ESV)
Please, please hear me clearly on this matter… the ultimate purpose of your marriage is NOT personal satisfaction and fulfillment. The ultimate purpose of your marriage is to proclaim the uniqueness and truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to physically demonstrate, in a culture that has lost and abandoned the biblical concept of marriage, that God loves you in a way that defies human logic or understanding.
Will a biblical marriage bring personal satisfaction and fulfillment? Absolutely, but not in the way our modern culture expects or even desires. That is a part of the mystery that Paul references. As we are consumed by this radical Love of God we are transformed in our thinking and our desires. The ultimate goal of our lives begins to shift away from personal achievement and needs and begins to focus on kingdom fulfillment and obedience. Does your marriage reflect that purpose? It can…
Second, this radical demonstration of God’s love is expressed through believers in a radically new view of family. In ancient times, especially the first century Roman-era culture in which these disciples lived, the love of children was not what you might expect. In fact, in many ways it echoes some of our modern views of the inconvenient pregnancy. In ancient times, if a child was unwanted or the wrong gender then he/she might literally be discarded like trash or, perhaps, sacrificed to a pagan god.
The Judeo-Christian worldview, however, radically challenged that practice. It is a fact that one of the things the early church was known for in the Roman-era culture was the rescue of these children from the trash heaps. The early church became an advocate for and a rescuer of these abandoned children. The families of many early churches were recipients of these “adoptions” and the children found life, hope and transforming faith in their homes.
While this radical view of family among Jesus followers has continued it is in need of an infusion of grace, today. We respond well to some of the obvious needs, such as the Crisis Pregnancy Centers or Baptist Homes for Children. But, we falter when it comes to less obvious needs like broken and single parent homes, children living in poverty and hunger, or foster care and adoption.
Finally, all of these things combined will lead to a stronger and culture challenging fellowship of believers. Undoubtedly, the true focus of Jesus command was towards the community of faith we know as the church. When the church begins to live out the principles of Christ’s radical love towards each other then it will have an impact on the culture in which it lives.
There’s no question the church impacted the culture of Rome and the entire world. In fact, it has so impacted western culture that we often overlook its influence because it has become normal and expected. We often miss the tremendous moral impact Christianity has had on western culture. Are there abuses that can be cited? Of course, there are. There are many who claim faith without a transformation or shift in allegiance. Fakes exist in the church just like they exist elsewhere. They are evident by their lack of obedience to the very principles we proclaim.
How do we make this radical, life altering, sacrificial love the focus of the church? By loving one another in the same manner Christ loved us. That’s the heart of his command, “just as I have loved you, love one another.” Is it hard? It is impossible, without Christ transforming us. That’s kinda the point. If anyone could do it, Jesus crucifixion and resurrection would be unnecessary and irrelevant. But, with His Spirit transforming our hearts and desires then it not only becomes possible, it becomes purposeful.
That’s where I want to end today… it is this radical love that gives evidence and power to the Gospel. “By THIS will men know…” is it evident in your life?
What if we applied the for Better or Worse commitment to our church relationship? Click this link to read…