#5 in the Series “All I have Commanded You”
John 13:34-35 (Jesus said) 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.”
During this current twelve-week period I am seeking to draw a mental image of the complete teaching of the Lord Jesus. The image is a wagon wheel in which the rim is “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.” The wagon wheel has ten spokes or commands, three of which we have already looked at: “You must be born again,” “Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” and “Forgive your brother from your heart.” As the commands have progressed from week to week they have been getting harder. Indeed, each one of these commands seem to underscore the impossibility of their being achieved at all, at least without supernatural assistance. This week we come to the most ambitious commandment in all of Scripture. It is the crowning commandment of Jesus’s teaching.
Normally, we think of the Great Commandment as the crown jewel of Scripture—“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might” and “You shall love your neighbor as youself.” But even the Great Commandment is not the most difficult one in Scripture; there is one that is more difficult. You might think of another commandment Jesus gave, which we know as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” That is certainly a great commandment, but even it is not the crown jewel of the Bible. It is possible to understand both the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule solely from the point of view of the Old Testament. When Jesus, however, lives out these commandments through His own words and actions, He transforms them.
Indeed, He transforms everything about the way we experience the faith as well as the way we understand Scripture. His touch is like the touch of Midas—everything Jesus touched spiritually became radically different. In John 13 Jesus proclaims “a new command I give unto you”; he is about to take the Old Testament love commandment and transform it. Jesus then offers the crown jewel of all the commandments of Scripture: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is the most ambitious commandment of the entire Bible. It sounds like the old commandment, but it changes everything.
Some years ago, my wife and I saw Fireproof, a movie about a struggling marriage. The husband is a firefighter by the name of Caleb. Caleb’s father comes for a visit and finds out that Caleb and his wife are on the brink of a divorce. The father, who has recently become a Christian, challenges Caleb to take the “love dare” by trying to follow a guidebook of loving things to do for his wife for forty days. Caleb makes that commitment, but it is a disaster. Twenty days into the dare, Caleb wants to quit, and the following conversation occurs between Caleb and his father. The setting is the campfire area of an old church camp near Caleb’s house.
Dad: Caleb, if I were to ask you why you’re so frustrated with Katherine, what would you say?
Caleb: She’s stubborn. She makes everything difficult for me. She’s ungrateful. She’s constantly griping about something.
Dad: Has she thanked you for anything you’ve done the last 20 days?
Caleb: No! And you’d think that after I had washed the car, changed the oil, done the dishes, cleaned the house, that she would try to show me a little bit of gratitude—but she doesn’t. In fact, when I come home she makes me feel like I’m an enemy. I’m not even welcome in my own home, Dad—that is what really ticks me off.
Dad, for the last three weeks, I have bent over backwards for her. I have tried to demonstrate that I still care about this relationship. I bought her flowers, which she threw away, I have taken her insults and her sarcasm, but last night was it. I made dinner for her; I did everything I could to demonstrate that I care about her, to show value for her, and she spat in my face. She does not deserve this, Dad. I am not doing it anymore.
How am I supposed to show love to somebody, over and over and over, who constantly rejects me?
(During this speech Dad has been listening carefully while he wanders over to the cross at the rear of the campfire area. Before he responds to Caleb, Dad puts one arm around the base of the cross and looks up.)
Dad: That’s a good question.
Caleb (also looking up to the cross): Dad, that is not what I’m doing.
Dad: Isn’t it?
Caleb: This is not what this is about.
Dad: Son, you asked me how can someone show love, over and over, when they are constantly rejected. Caleb, the answer is—you can’t love her because you can’t give what you don’t have.
What makes the commandment new is the example of Jesus, who loved us over and over and over even when we rejected Him violently.
The example of Jesus entails four specific expressions of love:
1. A willingness to sacrifice for others: Jesus said, “No greater love has anyone than this, that he sacrifice his life for his friends.” I might go so far as to say that this is not merely a willingness but actually a joy. Occasionally, in a great flight of love a young man or woman may be called upon to sacrifice something for their lover, and they will see it not as a sacrifice but as a privilege.
2. Joy in offering humble service: Jesus said, “For the son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus enjoyed feeding people, healing people, touching people. In the culminating act of his ministry, he took off his suit, rolled up his sleeves, and washed the feet of his disciples, an act that only a slave should have done. He didn’t do this out of a sense of obligation, but for love and joy.
3. Love with No Strings attached—Jesus did not seek relationships to have his own needs or desires met. Those were met only by his Father. This aspect of His love was most apparent in the relationships the Bible records Jesus having with women. Jesus was indeed a sexual being, subject to temptation as we are, but he never related to women sexually. We do not know from Him which of the women in his life were attractive and which were not, because young or old, rich or poor, fair or plain, they all received nonsexually loving treatment from Him. Women evidently felt safe with him, and were able to show him significant affection, knowing that he would never take advantage of that affection—knowing that he would keep the relationship where it needed to be. Jesus never sought to fulfil his own needs or desires at the expense of another.
4. Telling the truth—Blaise Pascal says that human society is based on deceit. This is because none of us wants to be told that we are sinful or deficient. None of us wants to tell others unpleasant truths about themselves. Jesus, however, had a wonderful way of lovingly telling people the truth. He would not allow others to flatter Him with words that they did not mean (“Why do you call me good. Only God is truly good.”). When Jesus offered a compliment, it was completely authentic and heartfelt (“woman, great is your faith!”) and his rebukes were not meant to put people down but to tear out hypocrisy (he called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs”).
The love that Jesus showed was a love that joyfully transcended any previous human conception of love. This is the way that Jesus invites us to love: By gladly making the most incredible sacrifices, by happily serving others in the most humble ways, by refusing to expect others to fulfill one’s own needs and desires, and by kindly speaking only the truth to others. This is not something we can do on our own—no human effort can achieve this kind of love because none of us have this kind of love in us to give. Before this new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you,” we have no choice but to pray the prayer of St. Augustine: “Lord, command anything you want to command, as long as you give us what you command.” Amen, Father, give us the love of Jesus.