John 13:31-35 (NKJV) 31 So, when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. 32 If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately. 33 Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
A recurring theme for me the last few years has been the need for and inevitability of a world changing move of God. There have been many in the history of the church and, indeed, in the history of the world. The last major move of God was the Charismatic renewal. I was a part of that move and I remember the impact it had on culture and society.
In today’s scripture, I believe we see something that is connected to God’s ability to do the things we know he wants to do in the earth today. I think it is interesting that this is happening right after Judas leaves on his mission to betray Jesus. As I read this I hear a calm in Jesus’ voice that I doubt I could have under the circumstances.
He reveals to the 11 remaining disciples that his time on earth is about to end. He says he is going to be glorified. By that he means crucified, buried and raised from the dead for our sins. He also tells them that he is going away and where he is going they cannot follow. They will be left behind.
In any age there are channels for the glory of God. For example, Moses was the channel God used to bring the Glory of God to Israel during their deliverance from Egypt. As time went on the nation of Israel itself as well as the various kings, priests and prophets within her became that channel. In Jesus day, he was the channel. People came to him for healing, deliverance and the impartation of the Word of God. What Jesus was saying to his disciples was that channel was about to come to an end.
What is the channel for the Glory of God today? Beginning on the day of Pentecost it has been the church. In the scripture we are looking at, the 11 men left to Jesus were the seed for what the church would become. They were about to take on the mantle that Jesus was leaving behind. What he tells them next is of paramount importance. They cannot be a clear channel for God’s glory if they do not hear and apply what he is telling them.
I like to look deep into the action of the scriptures. I believe it gives us a clearer picture of what God wants us to see. In this case it is important that we understand that Jesus is not, at this moment, speaking to the whole church. What he says must ultimately be applied by the whole church, but at the moment captured in time here, he is talking to 11 men. He looks them in the eye and says to 11 men, “I am giving a new commandment. It is not a suggestion. It is not something about which you have a choice.”
What, exactly, was this new commandment? He did not command them to love the world. He did not command them to love everyone in the church. He commanded them to love one another. He was talking to eleven men in a room. He was commanding John to love Peter. He was commanding Simon to love Thomas. He was commanding each of these eleven men individually to love the other ten in the room. He was not commanding them to love if they felt like it or if the other was deserving of their love.
When we see the love commandment in this light it makes it much more binding. Jesus’ commandment is also to us. However, we often think in terms of loving everyone in the Body of Christ. That is not the commandment. We are commanded to love those parts of the body we are with. We are commanded to love those in our church. We are commanded to love the body of Christ that lives in our home. We are commanded to love those in the body who wrong us or are difficult.
This is a personal commandment not a general one. It is easy to love without point of focus. I can say, “Yes, of course I love the members of the body.” If we have no one to focus our love on, it is not real. His commandment is to love one another, not love the body.
What is the nature of the love we must have for one another? He tells the disciples they must love each other as Jesus loved them. Jesus had not yet died for them. That was yet to come. Nevertheless, the love that led him to that action was there in how he dealt with them when they walked with him. Although there were times Jesus displayed righteous indignation to people like the Pharisees, can you even picture him being harsh with any of the eleven in that room.
Jesus loved them with the love of God. He was the personification of the love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. Read those powerful verses and put your name in where it says “love.” That is how Jesus loved them. The ultimate expression of that love was that Jesus laid down his life for them. Although he died for the whole world, he died for them. Do you see how understanding that changes everything?
One way I like to describe the love of God is that it is not driven by emotion. It is not emotionless but it is not based in emotion. What we normally think of as love, even Christian love, is driven or based in emotion. We feel something and therefore we love. Those feelings lead to decisions about how we will act. God’s love is just the opposite. It is driven and based in the decision. Emotions follow but they do not determine if we love or how we act.
Jesus loved them with a love of decision. In this chapter, Judas has just left to betray Jesus. Jesus loved Judas. He knew all along that Judas would betray him. Yet in John 13 he washed his feet just as he washed the others. He never stopped loving because the love, even for Judas, was a decision. That is how Jesus and the Father himself loves you and me.
The commandment is to love those in the body of Christ around us as Jesus loved us. What does this have to do with unity? It has everything to do with unity. We try to create unity with cooperative meetings, councils and dialogue. None of that is where we begin to create unity. We begin by taking this commandment seriously. We love one another as Jesus loved us. We love the pastor in our community who does not agree with us. We love the brother or sister who may be critical. The key is to apply this in our own sphere of relationship not “universally.”
This also relates to the move of God we so desperately need. Jesus said it is by this love that the world will know we are his disciples. It is not by our love for them that they will know. It is by what they see between us that will convince them. It is that love that turned the world upside down in the 1st century and that kind of love will work today. The devil has no answer for a people who love one another as Jesus loved them.
What could God do if we really obeyed this commandment. I believe he could do anything he needed to do. Why is he hindered. Why does the world reject the church as being irrelevant? It is because we have not obeyed Jesus’ commandment. This will work. If we love one another as he loved us the world will begin to see and hunger for that love. If we do not the world will continue to reject the idea that Christianity is something different and powerful. They will see no need to give up ungodliness for obedience to Christ.