I have come to realize the most powerful and most specific description of a follower of Jesus comes from the straightforward command he gave in John 13:
“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.” (John 13:34 ESV)
If you just look at it, you might say, “Yeah love. I get it. Sounds good.” But if you think about it and understand the ramifications of this command it will change your life.
What does this verse mean?
First, notice he says to love one another (twice actually). Who is he talking to? The 12 disciples less Judas (he had already left to betray Jesus which was not very loving) specifically and to all his disciples. What is he referring to? How disciples are to love other disciples.
The second thing to notice and I think the hardest words to understand is “just as I have loved you”! So how did he love them? That is a big question with some obvious answers (that is if you read the New Testament, especially the first four books). He said that he loved them as friends even as brothers. He shared life with them in some really dramatic ways – think about all the parties, teaching them about life, healing people, answering their often stupid questions, and never giving up on them (even after silly questions). He also said he would even die for them and he did, by the way.
So right before he is about to die here in this room where has gathered his best friends – people he shared three years of his life with and later his very life for – he tells them to love each other like I have loved you – yikes! I don’t know if I want to go as far as he did! I do want other people to love me that way but to do that myself may be difficult.
What is the big deal if we suck at this?
This next part is a big deal! He says other people will know about me and him and God and about “Christians” based on how I love other followers of Jesus.
“By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:35 ESV)
Ok, I want to be very honest and transparent here. I stink at this! I’m not just saying this for shock value or to seem all humble and stuff. I stink at this. I want to treat you based on how you treat me or based on how other people like you or not as you treated me earlier in life. I want to do the old eye-for-an-eye thing. If people are going to look at me to see what being a follower is about then I want to go into hiding or stand there and point at the guy beside me. It’s too much to ask.
And I won’t be able to fake it, at least not forever and for the big stuff. My pride just won’t let me. That’s why this is so scary when we read it. It means I actually am going to have to love people truly. People with whom I may disagree how they act and people who may believe differently than I do and people who maybe haven’t read this verse! Because Jesus made it a command, not a suggestion, and he said it would be our calling card. When we went out, and people looked at us (disciples, followers or whatever we call ourselves) we would be defined by how we treated other disciples, followers or whatever.
This is going to be hard!
He knew we would be changed by this. With this simple command, we would have to evaluate our entire understanding of love, pride and being a Christian! I believe that must be the point of the command. Love, true love, changes us and the people around us. What if people saw Christians acting this way?
If we read the letter that Paul wrote to a church in Corinth then we know that “love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1Cor 13:4-8)
- Read all of John 13. Then go to the chapter before it and read John 12.
- Read Bob Goffs book Loves Does