Love is in the air! It’s Valentine’s Day and everyone (well most people) is talking about it, trying to show their love and affection through gifts, romantic acts, fancy dinners, flowers, cards, etc. My wife and I have romantic plans as well. It’s Valentine’s Day and everyone is thinking about love.
As I was contemplating love, I remember a discussion that I’ve been having with a friend of mine who is also a fellow teacher of my bible study class. He has been working on a study of John 13:34-35. These verses say:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Recently Nathan (my fellow teacher) and I were discussing the issue of this commandment’s “newness.” What exactly makes it a “new” commandment. That’s what I want to write about here today.
You see, this is not the first time that Jesus has talked about commandments that involve loving. In fact, He quotes the Greatest Commandment and the second in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 10). The Greatest Commandment, Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel is “”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
These commandments are not new; in fact, they are old ones. So what is different about the new commandment Jesus gives? We were already told to love God. That commandment is not affected. The old commandment to love others as ourselves is affected by the new command.
The way we were to love before –the way of the Golden Rule — is good. This command compels us to act as the Good Samaritan acted (Luke 10), caring for others just as we would care for ourselves. Those who follow this command are truly good people. However, Jesus raises the bar. He commands His disciples not only to love others as they love themselves, but even to love others as He loves them.
Here’s the difference: I can love others as myself without too much difficulty most times. Loving others this way involves giving, being considerate, generous, kind, etc. However, under this command, if my own interests come into conflict with those of my neighbor I can still put me first. For instance, if I have a choice between providing for myself or someone else, I can come first because the standard for my love for others is based upon my own love for myself (which is assumed). The new commandment goes beyond that. Christ’s love is a love that sacrifices. He loves us enough that He gave up His own life! He now calls upon His followers to love others in the same way. This kind of love is described in John 15:13:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
In the next few verses He goes on to say that we (His followers) are His friends. So to love like Jesus now involves sacrifice. No longer do we get to put ourselves first. Now when our interests come into conflict with those of others, they come first because the basis is Christ’s example. This means that even (or especially) when it hurts us to love others, that is what we are called to do. That’s a big calling. Don’t you think so?