During Jesus’ last Passover observance with His disciples, He made a profound announcement that is misinterpreted by many and not well appreciated by many others. In reality, it was revolutionary. Jesus said, “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” (John 13:34-35, New International Version).
A new commandment? An Eleventh Commandment? No, no need to add to the Perfect Ten.
A commandment to replace the Ten Commandments? No, very early in Jesus’ ministry, He emphasized that He would not “abolish… even the smallest detail of God’s law” (Matthew 5:17-20, NLT).
Jesus emphasized the two Great Commandments about love but Jesus was quoting the Old Testament (Mark 12:28-31). Deuteronomy 30:6 commands each of us “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Leviticus 19:18 says “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So what was new about the love Jesus taught and exemplified?
In every discussion about love in the Bible, keep in mind that the emphasis is on action, not feelings.
In the Bible, in general, to “love” a person means to treat him or her well.
Following are the three major lessons revealed in John 13:34-35.
A new commandment: Christ’s disciples should have a special love for one another
God and Jesus Christ love everyone (John 3:16). While They do have a special relationship with some because of their obedience, godly character, love for God and other people, etc., They are never influenced by partiality or favoritism (Romans 2:11.)
Lazarus, Mary and Martha were apparently Jesus’ best friends. Clearly Jesus regarded Peter, James and John as His three closest companions (Mark 9:2). And John was the disciple whom Jesus loved the most (John 13:23).
Jesus had a special love for His disciples (John 13:1). Likewise, His modern day disciples, the saints, should have a special love for one another. Jesus said His disciples were His “friends” with whom He openly confided (John 15:13-15). Likewise, we should cultivate true friendships with our fellow Church members.
Peter wrote: “You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart” (1 Peter 1:22, NLT). “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’” (1 Peter 4:8). To “cover sins” means to forgive them. Only God can give absolute forgiveness, but when you truly love someone, you are willing to forgive the hurts done to you.
Having the indwelling gift of God’s Holy Spirit enables us to have an intimate relationship with God and Jesus Christ. And when two people both have the Holy Spirit, they can and should have a very close and loving spiritual relationship.
In one sense, all human beings are God’s children. In a more powerful sense, converted Christians are God’s “sons and daughters” (2 Corinthians 6:18). One of the most important ways to love God is by loving His other children, our spiritual siblings (1 John 3:14, 17; 4:20-21).
Paul emphasizes this brotherly love for one another in Romans 12:10 and 13:8; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:12 and 4:9. John repeatedly urges God’s people to “love one another” (1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12, 20-21).
Galatians 6:10 gives a practical overview of this subject. It says: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
A new love: Love people in the humble, self-sacrificing ways Jesus demonstrated
Jesus said, “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you” (John 13:34, God’s Word. Jesus repeated this in John 15:12 and 15:17).
This is the highest possible standard of love—the Christ-like standard! Therefore, we need to study the life and teachings of Jesus Christ to learn how He loved people and then imitate those ways. Paul profoundly described godly love in the inspiring 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians.
As stated previously, love is taught in the Old Testament—the word “love” is in the New King James Version 147 times. Leviticus 19:18 tells us to “love your neighbor” but Jesus taught that we should regard everyone as our neighbor, such as through His parable of the good Samaritan. Regarding love, Jesus expounded on many things that are not specifically explained in the Old Testament.
Jesus taught the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12, CEV).
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). John wrote: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). To “lay down one’s life” can mean dying for someone, suffering for someone, or simply sacrificing one’s time to serve someone.
Jesus’ love extended well beyond “friends” and “brethren.” Jesus astounded the people of His day by regularly showing compassion, empathy and love for the “little” people who were neglected and rejected. He touched the “untouchables.” He respected those who were deemed less important or looked down upon in that society—foreigners, women, children, the sick and handicapped (even those afflicted with leprosy), the poor, people with bad reputations from their past, etc.! His ministry was a continual labor of love.
Philippians 2:1-8 refers to how our Savior sacrificed His incredible glory and power to come to earth to suffer humiliation, torture and death out of His love for every single human being. Verse 5 tells us the main lesson: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Likewise, for God the Father to sacrifice His Son brought Him suffering beyond our comprehension.
Jesus taught that a “great” person is a voluntary servant of others (Mark 10:42-45). “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (verse 45). After washing the feet of His disciples, Jesus said, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you (John 13:15). True love is humble, generous in giving and self-sacrificing.
What Jesus taught about love went even further! He said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).
Jesus’ enemies managed to get Him killed but godly love is very forgiving. As He was dying, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
A new sign: “By this all will know that you are My disciples...
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
This is a distinguishing mark of Christ’s followers! (1 John 3:11,14-18, 23; 4:7-8, 11-12, 19-21). This is a major way that God’s people should be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16). Being “religious” is not a distinguishing mark—there are many religious people who are selfish, self-righteous and despise others.
This point is remarkable! There have been many viewpoints regarding what are the main signs—the main beliefs, practices or characteristics—that identify the people of God who comprise the true Church of God. Sabbath observance is a sign. Jesus Himself told us another identifying sign!
This is certainly logical as well as biblical. Think of the factors that turn people off when they are contemplating attending a church. Newcomers probably know what are the main doctrines of the Church and are largely in agreement with them. But what are their first impressions when they first attend? Negative impressions result from a lack of being welcomed by several members, a lack of warm friendliness, being ignored, or being treated impolitely.
And after the newcomers have attended a few times, what are they experiencing? Do they see cliques and huddles of members who are not inviting others to join their conversations? Are they being subtly treated as outsiders? Do they see carnal gossiping? These observations show a serious lack of “love for one another.”
When Jesus said “love for one another,” He didn’t mean just “love for family members, close friends, and longtime members.” He meant for us to welcome, adopt, and embrace everyone as “part of the family.”
He meant for us to live by Romans 12 including: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another (verse 10), distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality (verse 13), Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (verse 15).
When people experience a congregation of Christians like that, they become convinced they are seeing part of the true Church of God.
In summary, let’s reflect on, deeply appreciate and live by the critically important instructions Jesus gave His disciples as recorded in John 13:34-35! He taught a new commandment, a significantly higher standard of love, and a primary sign that identifies Christ’s disciples!