As a new year begins, our thoughts naturally tend toward making a fresh start. As believers, we have already experienced the freshest start possible. Our sins have been wiped away completely, and we are a new creation. Paul says as much in 2 Corinthians 5:17. We have a new birth, new life, new position, new nature, new goals, new relationships, a new mission, a new purpose … and many more. But the key to all of this, we learned was God’s divine initiative. We also learned He manifested that initiative through covenants. In Jesus’s last night with His disciples, He issued a new charge that would forever mark them — and us — as His followers. We learn about it from the Apostle John.
The Charge to Love
That night in the Upper Room, before announcing He was leaving, or that He would be betrayed, even before the supper itself, Jesus gave His followers a new commandment.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35
The command to love wasn’t necessarily new. In Leviticus, God had instructed His people to love their neighbors and strangers as themselves (Lev. 19:18, 34). This charge is new for two key reasons.
“As I have loved you.”
Jesus commanded to love as He loved. That means we love sacrificially. Jesus made God’s love real and tangible. We are to do the same. People need to understand God loves them through the things we do, the ways we serve. It is a love not bound to emotions, but by commitment. It is the 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love. It is costly because it is deep and loyal but it is our highest calling.
“By this all men will know”
Loving like Christ loves is distinctive. In fact, it is THE distinctive of the new community of believers. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Jesus lays out the principles this new community would operate under.
The Motivation for Love
In Exodus 20, God began the Ten Commandments with the statement, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Exodus 20:2). Because of who God is and what He has done, He has a right to call for our obedience.
John expands on that, though, in his first epistle.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.1 John 4:10-11
That rescue from slavery was a prelude to the ultimate rescue – saving us from our sins. God did that out of His great love for us. Our proper response to His action (to His initiative) is love. We demonstrate our love for God by our love for one another.
The Charge Fulfilled
A principal established in the Old Testament is that obedience brings blessings, not in quid pro quo kind of way, but it is undeniable that living God’s way is best for us. John writes quite a bit about love, both God’s love for us and our charge to love others. If you read the Gospel of John and his epistles, especially 1 John, love is a major theme. I want to highlight three verses in particular.
The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 1 John 2:10 – It is evidence of a transformed life to love others the way Christ loved. Plus, if you think about it, there are a host of sins you will not commit if you love others like Christ. You won’t lie or cheat someone. You won’t commit sexual sins. You won’t be overcome with arrogance. Everything is different.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 1 John 3:14 – It is evidence and reassurance to us that we love others. If we ever have doubts about our salvation, we can always return to this checkpoint – do we love others?
No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:12 – Now don’t let the word perfected cause confusion. John doesn’t mean that God’s love is somehow lacking until we get involved. That’s not it at all. This draws on an older meaning of perfected. God’s love is completed when we love others. Think of it like this — God’s love began with God the Father, with His redemptive plan. His love was manifested, made evident in Jesus Christ. God’s love then reaches a final stage when His people demonstrate love toward others, imitating Him.
Of course, we’ll never be able to love perfectly as long as we are in our natural bodies. But that is a post for another day. We’ll wrap up next week when take a closer look at the time when all things, including all of creation, are made new.