John 13:34 traces two great movements of grace — ‘just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ Jesus calls this his “new commandment.” What makes this commandment new? In a nutshell, “Just as I have loved you”
“New” (kainen) implies freshness rather than simply “recent.” The word in the original Koine Greek is ‘kainos.’ It denotes the new primarily in reference to quality, the fresh. Another Greek word ‘neos’ denotes the new primarily in reference to time – recent.
The newness of Jesus’ precept stems from his calling his disciples to love one another just as he loved them! Jesus’ constant, sacrificial and unconditional love must be the pattern for their attitude and relationships with one another.
Words like this from our Savior’s lips caused Albert Einstein to say: “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene… No man can read the Gospel without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. Jesus is the most merciful, self-giving, and loving person that you could ever meet and know.”
Why does Jesus raise the standard? He knows that we will never rise to fulfill our Lord’s mandate until we grasp how much we are loved by him. Thus, at the outset we are told what this text is about: It is about being loved by Jesus.
Jesus calls all of His disciples to love one another just as He loved them. Thus, a very pertinent question is how did our Savior love His disciples while on earth? How did Jesus love?
How does he love us? Persistently. He had loved them without reservation and without limit (13:1 – He loved them to the end. His love is a persistent love. He doesn’t give up on us.
Sacrificially – laying down one’s life (twice – vv.37&38) … He ‘laid down His life for us’ John 15:12-13 – My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Unconditionally – Naturally, we love those we find attractive. But who is Jesus loving here in this text? Who are the ones that Jesus is loving in this passage? This original band failed him. They were fickle and cowardly in their devotion to their Lord. This should greatly encourage us because reminds us that there is hope for us.
Thus, how are we to love one another? Persistent, sacrificial and unconditional love for one another is the distinguishing trait of the Christian.
QUESTION: Where am I sacrificing time, talent, and treasure to care for the physical, moral and spiritual well being of others? Such self-sacrificing love shown by his followers would be the witness to the world of true discipleship.
The adapted quote below from Matthew Henry takes this command of Jesus out of the realm of mere sentimentality and speaks of this command in a challenging, practical, and helpful way.
- He spoke kindly to them. Gentle answer…Patient and kind.
- He concerned himself diligently for them, and for their welfare,
- He instructed, counseled, and comforted them,
- He prayed with and for them…
- He vindicated them when they were accused…
- He publicly owned them to be dearer to him that his mother, or sister, or brothers.
- He reproved them for what was amiss…He truthed them in love.
- He compassionately bore with their failings. He doesn’t take into account a wrong suffered… A helpful illustration of this comes from the movie Invictus: The captain rugby player for South African’s spring box marvels that Nelson Mandela could be imprisoned for 30 years in a small cell and come out ready to forgive those who put him there and not be embittered.
- He believed the best about them,
- He passed by many an oversight. Love covers a multitude of sins.
- BUT the special instance of love for us which he was now about to give was when He laid down his life for us on Calvary’s cross.
Friends, we must all honestly admit that we cannot love one another in the way and manner that Jesus loved us. BUT, His Holy Spirit comes to empower us to do that which is humanly impossible… to love one another persistently, sacrificially, and unconditionally by faith.
Too often, I find that something else fuels and energizes us in our efforts to love our Savior and His people. Look again at Peter in vv.36-38. Peter was initially fueled and energized by a fleshly self-reliance rather than the Lord’s love for him. Like Peter, we are all prone to talk big about loving the Lord and one another. You can almost hear Jesus’ loving rebuke of Peter: Will you really lay down your life for me? You who trembled to walk upon the water to me. You who when I spoke of my sufferings cried out ‘far be it from you Lord!’ At the end of the night, Peter had failed at love. Even still, he was not snatched from the grasp of His loving shepherd (John 10:28) and neither will you!
The burden of Jesus in John 13:34 is that you personally experience His love. If you do, you will extend His love to others. A community founded on the love of Christ has no other purpose for existence that to extend His love to others.