May 2, 2010
John 13:31-35

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

An ancient parchment records the remark of a pagan man by the name of Minucius Felix. He said of the Christians of his day, “They love each other before they know each other.” Another first-century pagan exclaimed with astonishment: “Behold how these Christians love one another.” If there is one thing that epitomizes the nature of God and His relationship to us, His creation, it is that one word love. If there is one thing above all others that Christ would have us show to each other it is love. What is new about this commandment?

I. A New Mandate to Love. Jesus our Master gave us this commandment; that makes it a new mandate. “A new commandment I give you.” Jesus knew quite well that the law of love was not new. Remember when a lawyer came to Him with a test question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law” (Matthew 22:36)? Jesus quoted the commandment to love God with all one’s heart, soul and mind, and labeled this the first and great commandment. Then because they are so vitally bound together, He added, “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). It is an old law, but Jesus gives it anew.

So, what is new about this commandment? The old covenant demanded “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The Lord enjoined Israel to “love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). One thing new is that this mandate comes from our Lord Jesus.

II. A New Motive Power for Love. While the law is as old as Moses, Jesus gave this and all the commandments a new motive power. The law of Moses was engraved on two tablets of stone. The first tablet may be summarized “Love God.” The second may be summarized, “Love your neighbor.” We do not keep the law for fear of the fires of hell but for love of the Son of God. What a great power to motivate is love, and when the command is itself to love, how much greater that power.

III. A New Model for Love. This is the most important. The essence of this command is not that Jesus commands love but that Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us! That is what is really new about it. Who of us has not played the game with our children at 4 or 5 years old? “Do you love me? How much do you love me?” The little toddler will stretch out both hands as far as they will reach and say, “I love you this much.”

Someone suggested this is what Jesus did for us when He went to Calvary. He let the heartless Roman soldiers strip Him of His seamless robe and stretch Him on the cross. There He spread wide His arms to say: “I love you this much!” Now the Lord adds, “This is how much I want you to love one another.” The love of Jesus was utterly self-giving, agape love.

When John wrote his gospel, it seems he wanted it to be a supplement to the synoptic gospels. He began the chapter on the upper room experience with the love of Jesus for His disciples as the keynote of the whole story. The Lord knew His hour had come to leave this world and return to the Father. “He now showed them the full extent of His love” (John 13:1).

How did Jesus demonstrate this love at the Last Supper? He interrupted the Passover meal by getting up from the table, shedding His seamless robe in favor of a towel. Then, taking a basin of water, He washed the feet of each disciple. I think Alexander Maclaren is right in seeing all this as a parable of Jesus leaving His place in the bosom of the Father in heaven to stoop down to earth. When Jesus again pulled His own robe about Him and returned to His place at the table, He applied His living parable. “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).

A businessman stooped to help a little boy pick up some toys that he had dropped. Looking up with grateful admiration, the little fellow asked, “Mister, are you Jesus?” I don’t know what the man said, but he might have answered, “No, but I am one of His disciples.”

Share This On: