Read John 13
I will begin with the end of the chapter. Peter is pumped up. He doesn’t understand everything. In fact, Jesus really upset his apple cart when he washed his feet. Then there was this business about one of the them betraying him. Jesus told his followers where he was going they could not go, at least yet.
Peter asked, “Why can’t I go? I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus told him that he had some real experiences ahead of him. Some of them would seem unbelievable at this moment where Peter seemed so dedicated to following Jesus wherever that path led. Here’s the one that had to strike at Peter’s core.
Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
Ouch! There’s more on that story down the road, but let’s stay in the room with Jesus and the disciples for now.
His hour had come. Things intensified among the disciples even though they were gathered for a meal. It was time for Jesus to live out the glory appointed to him. That is, he would die for our sins and take his life up again. That still did not register with his closest friends.
Jesus told his followers that where he was going, they could not go—yet. There would be more on that in the chapters to come.
Jesus then gave his disciples some words that are very dear to us.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
We know the command. We repeat it frequently. If I say God loves you, I will surely get many responding Love one another. It’s a good antiphonal tool, but we need to understand the surrounding verbiage.
We know that we are to love the Lord our God with everything that we are and have. And we are to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
We all told that all of the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. Sometimes we cannot connect the horticultural directives with love, but we understand that every directive that God gave us is rooted in his love for us.
Love is important to God. It is so important that we are told that is his identity. God is love. God has many names that reflect his many attributes, but at the core of God's existence is love.
OK, we get that. Love God to the max and love my neighbor as much as I love myself. I get it.
So, why in the world would Jesus give us a new command that sounds a lot like the old ones? Love one another, yeah, we get that.
Jesus prefaced the command with as I have loved you. Jesus had just washed the feet of his disciples to demonstrate servanthood and was a very short time away from dying on the cross. Jesus had begun his ministry with the words follow me.
Follow me. These are words that only an infantryman can appreciate. It’s not, go take that hill. It’s follow me.
Follow me. There are some words that say skin in the game.
Jesus was not telling his disciples to love their neighbor as much as they loved themselves. He told them to love each other as much as he had loved them. They lived with Jesus for 3 years. They were with him when he was teaching and preaching, when he performed miracles, when he told the woman who was surely going to be stoned, that he did not condemn her.
They were with him when he loved those lumped into the general group labeled sinners and when he healed those pushed to the outermost parts of respectable society. They were with him when he confronted religious hypocrisy.
We have all heard the phrase, lead by example. Jesus just commanded those who followed him to love by example, by his example.
Before, people were commanded to love God with everything they had. Now Jesus is telling his followers to do the same with each other. That raised the bar. That raised the bar a whole bunch.
You have heard the Robert Browning saying that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. We as people who seek God and his Kingdom and his righteousness couldn’t even get the love your neighbor as much as you love yourself part accomplished. Now, we are to love each other as much as Christ loved his disciples, as much as he loved the world.
We must reach for more.
Look at it this way. Jesus said that he came not to do away with the Law and the prophets but to fulfill them—to complete them. He came to accomplish them.
Do you think that he did that or did he come up short? Did he fulfill the law or was he just spitballin’ a little after rattling off the Beatitudes with no intent on following through? I’m really hoping that he didn’t come up short. I’m counting on the fact that an unblemished Lamb went to the cross, not some Malachi era sacrifice.
Did his words, it is finished, mean he had accomplished what he was sent to do or that he threw in the towel and just said, get me out of here? I’m counting on the fact that he finished the work that he was sent to do.
The law did not go away. It was not abolished. None of us—ever—accomplished living by the law. Some lived in God’s favor and were after his own heart, but none could live faultlessly by the directives promulgated from Mount Sinai through Moses. Not one, save Jesus.
So, when Jesus completed a life that accomplished what the law and prophets had prescribed, surely there would be more. He did not do this just to say, the status quo is still in effect, there was more. There is more. That more is to love God and his creation—each other—with everything we have. In fact, our love for God is most often demonstrated by our love for each other.
We will fulfill the law. We will fulfill it through love that we know in Christ Jesus. Some people will think this a cop out. It’s too easy.
If that is your mindset, consider the example of Jesus. He could have remained in heaven and been obedient to this Father and righteously brought condemnation upon a sinful world, but he came to save not condemn. This was a tough road. Judging us on obedience would have been much easier, but his way was his Father’s way which is love.
Jesus has told us that his way must be our way and that way is love. He did what no other man had done—fulfilled the written law. Now he has placed a more challenging law on our hearts.
We have been graduated by Christ from that which works from the outside to that which emanates from within.
Salvation is here. Condemnation is gone. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus, but the bar on the metrics of our response has been raised.
We will continue to say God loves you and Love one another, but we must know that the second part aims higher than the original command which was to love our neighbor as ourselves. It does not do away with loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. That command has just become a mile marker that we pass on our way to loving as much as Christ loved us.
Just as the law did not go away but the glory of God shown in Christ Jesus surpassed it, so too does this command surpasses the first.
Remember our command is to love one another. That always applies. But remember that Jesus commands those of us who follow him to love each other as much as he loved us.
It may seem like trying to learn calculus and elementary analysis in the third grade, but that is our target. Surely, our reach exceeds our grasp, but we keep reaching nonetheless.
That is our command from our Master and he has not orphaned us. He is with us as we reach higher and love more.
As much as he loved us, so we must love each other.
I am reminded of a quote most frequently attributed to President John Kennedy, but he was quoting Reverend Phillip Brooks who had passed from this earth some 30 years before Kennedy was born. Brooks said:
Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.
Let me make corollary here. Don’t pray for God to lower the bar. Pray that he equips us to reach it exactly where he placed it.
That is our command from our Master. He is with us. His Spirit lives within us. Let’s see how far we can reach.
As much as he loved us, so we must love each other.
By way of encouragement, I add this. Sometimes people call and jumble the words Cumberland Presbyterian. Sometimes even Presbyterian is a mouthful. I smile and chuckle inside when someone on the phone can’t get the words right and just say, “Is this that love church?”
These are affirmations that we are headed the right direction. There’s heading the right direction and only going a few steps and there’s getting close to the mark.
How will we know when we are getting close to the mark? How will we know?
People will know us by our love. Not just when the name of the denomination is hard to pronounce and even more difficult to spell. They will know us by our love.
Not by our cars. Not by our tee shirts. Not by our worship attendance. Not by our memes and likes and shares. Not by our political pontifications. Not even by how much scripture we memorize, but by our love.
By our love!
People will know we belong to Christ Jesus by our love. They will know we are Christians by our love.