At the time of the last supper Jesus spoke to the disciples saying that He would give them a new commandment. He charged them specifically and in this new commandment brought together all of the essence of His teachings into a single sentence.
In part this new commandment He gave was restating the great commandment of the law. For the basis of both the old commandments and this new commandment is love, that is, the love of God.
And yet also in this new commandment He is giving a new basis for us as Christians to understand His love and the relationships which set us apart from the rest of the world. This new commandment is powerful for when it is being applied, we will be seen for what we are, the true followers of Jesus Christ.
A New Commandment
In this scripture Jesus said in verse 34,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
His new commandment was that the disciples learn how to love one another as Jesus loved them. And as His disciples we too need to listen and follow the new commandment of love.
Yet this commandment to love one another exists in the old law as well. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest of all the old laws he said that it was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And then He added that a second commandment was like it, to “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
So if these attitudes of love existed in the old law, how are the words of Jesus “a new commandment?” Is this really a new commandment or simply a restating of an old commandment?
At a quick read it is easy to miss the key words in this scripture for we are not being told to love one another, but to love one another as Jesus loves us. The implications of this subtle change are enormous.
Commanded to Love like Jesus
Jesus told the disciples to love each other as HE loved them. So consider, how did Jesus love them (and us), and is this really any different to the “Love thy neighbour” law of the old testament law?
When you stop and think about it, it is very different.
To love your neighbour as yourself can be restated as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” which most people recognise as the “Golden Rule.” But the love of Jesus that He speaks of here in John 13:34 is not like the Golden Rule.
Jesus showed His love for mankind through abuse, affliction, persecution and in the end He lay down His life for us. His love for His people was so great that He died so that we may live. His love epitomised a life of sacrifice for His people. And the ultimate expression of His love in His disciples is that they should serve as He came to serve.
A leader in Christianity is not one who is served but the one who does the serving. And this is how the new commandment finds expression in our life. It was not a new commandment to love, for there were already many commandments to love each other. But it was a new commandment to love like He first loved. To love through service and sacrifice.
And as Jesus said shortly after this in John 15:12-14,
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
13 Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
The greatest love of all is to give yourself or to give your life and lay it down for the sake of your friends. Not that it means you HAVE to die for your friends, but to lay down your life also means to give your life to serve others rather than yourself. And that may mean to die for a friend in some cases too, depending on the circumstances and the will of God. He is in control.
A life of service is the definition of a true Christian life. To serve the church, the brothers and sisters and so prove that you are a disciple of the Lord. This is the embodiment of the new commandment Jesus gave, “…that you love one another as I have loved you.”
And in John 13:35 Jesus follows up the new commandment with this statement,
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The defining difference that separates Christians from all other people will be seen when we apply the new commandment of the Lord to love one another as He first loved us. When we practice the love of Christ and are guided by the love of Christ in our lives, then we will not be mistaken for anything else apart from being a true Christian.
How we do this and how we apply the love of Christ will be driven by situation and circumstance in many instances, but first and foremost is the developing of the love within us so that we are ready to follow the call of Jesus’ love in our lives and to serve as He served us.
And Jesus showed how great His love was in the ultimate sacrifice that cost Him his life here and yet gave us life and salvation at the same time. For not only did He just lay down His life for His friends, but for His enemies also. Many who stood as enemies of Christ subsequently became His friends when they realised what Jesus had down and came to a knowledge of the truth. And many follow the same path today.
Are we prepared to lay down our lives for an enemy? Fortunately that is not our calling, but we may need to be prepared to be called fools, be rejected, be scorned and ridiculed by our enemies at times until they see the light. Our role is not to fight and argue but to bring the word of the Lord to all people. And some of His enemies will listen when the Lord opens their eyes, just as Paul who was certainly an enemy of Christ until Jesus opened his eyes and revealed Himself to Paul.
Unselfish service to help others defines the truth of the Christian religion. As James wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)
The definition of Christian religion is service to those who are in need and to seek the truth, righteousness and the holiness that is found only in Jesus Christ and so keep yourself unstained from the world. This is a new commandment for it far supersedes and exceeds the commandments of the law.
(Photo sourced from stock.xchng taken by Niall Crotty)