"A NEW COMMANDMENT"
Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 19, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
John 13:34, 35 (ESV)
"Love" has become such a loaded word in our day and age. We tend to throw it around a lot, and we don't always mean the same thing every time that we use it. As a result, we have a concept of love that confuses more than it communicates. Love is a word used by some to describe loyalty and self sacrifice, but it is also used by others to justify adultery, fornication, and all kinds of sexual perversion. It is a word used by some to express what they want to give to someone else, but it is also used by others to make demands on someone else. I would suspect that nowadays when someone tells you that he or she loves you, that statement is more likely to raise questions than it is to answer them.
With the willing aid of self-appointed authorities and the general mindset of our culture, we have deluded ourselves into thinking that love is nothing more than a "safe" and harmless feeling of goodwill. But according to God's Word, love is much more than that. If we can come to understand love as dealing with others in the way in which God has dealt with us, we will come to understand that love is much more than just a feeling; it is a way of speaking and doing and being in relationship to others. Therefore love is deliberate. It's not something that we fall into or fall out of, but rather something that we choose to do. In a sense Jesus' "new commandment" is not new at all, because "love" is the one word that summarizes the content of the Ten Commandments: the first three tell us to love God, and the rest tell us to love our neighbor. With the wisdom of the Word of God, let's seek to discover this morning how we are to love one another and why we are to love one another.
Jesus tells His disciples (and us) in the passage before us that we are to love one another "just as [He has] loved" us. What do you suppose He means by that? First of all we need to understand that we are only capable of genuine love by the power of Jesus Christ. Love that is strictly human has its limits. What humans call "love" is not unconditional. We soon stop loving people who refuse to love us back. Also, human "love" is always looking for the bare minimum. One day Simon Peter approached the Lord with a question that is typically human: "Lord," he asked, "how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" (Matthew 18:21). Genuine love doesn't ask a question like that. Instead, it motivates the lover to seek more and more opportunities to serve the one who is loved. In His life and death Jesus showed us an altogether different kind of love. His love sought us out and redeemed us from our own sin. Because we have been loved by Jesus Christ, and because He is God, we have been touched by the love of God. This is the love that makes it possible for us to love, as John makes clear in his First Letter, when he writes: "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the Propitiation for our sins. . . We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:10, 19).
Loving one another as Jesus has loved us also involves following the example of love that He has set for us. Just before giving this commandment, Jesus demonstrated what He was talking about by washing the feet of His disciples. Foot washing in New Testament times was an unpleasant and humiliating task--usually assigned to the lowliest slave. The point in all of this is that Jesus didn't just talk about love; He loved. His love isn't a love of mere words; it is active. As we look over the entire earthly ministry of our Savior, we see Him forever going out of His way to find the lost, to free the captive, to save the condemned. He wasn't one to make excuses like we so often do. When He encountered a need, He met it. He was never too busy. Nothing was ever too much of an inconvenience for Him. In His farewell discourse with His disciples, Jesus defined His love for them and for us--the love that He was about to demonstrate at the cross, when He said: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). That's the kind of love that He shows us when He tells us to love one another as He has loved us. It's a love that is pure and self-sacrificing--a love that never quits--a love that is willing to get its hands dirty and actually do something for those He loves.
Why should we love one another as Christ has loved us? First of all we should do this because we are His disciples. A disciple is a student of sorts--one who learns from the master to whom he is committed. If we are committed to Jesus Christ, we will want to be like Him, learning the lesson of love that He has taught both in His words and in His actions. This is part of what discipleship is. In Him we have seen and experienced the love of God, which has redeemed us from our sin and the judgment that it deserves and has given us the sure and certain hope of everlasting life. Now that that redeeming love of God in Jesus Christ has touched our lives, it has become a part of us. It ought to be our nature to love one another simply because we have been claimed by God through the love of Christ. No one is loyal to a teacher whose teaching he despises. Neither should we despise Jesus' teaching about love if we claim to be His.
Not only are we disciples of Jesus Christ; we are also His witnesses. This means that we are to let others know what Jesus is all about. I don't think many of us realize the great responsibility that this places on us who call ourselves Christians. It means that the people who we encounter ought to be able to see Christ in us. Now if Jesus loved us with an everlasting love and taught us to love one another as He has loved us, how can we possibly be witnesses of Jesus unless we show the world that this love of Jesus has indeed touched us, redeemed us, and motivated us to reflect that love of God in Jesus Christ? During the time of persecution--the first three centuries of the Christian Church--many of the persecutors of the Church, no matter how antagonistic they may have been toward Jesus and His teaching, were nevertheless impressed about one thing: the dying Christians' steadfast love--for one another and even for their tormentors. That kind of love--the kind of love that we have received from our Lord--can and has melted hearts and opened doors through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus' command to love is nothing new. The Ten Commandments tell us to love. But Jesus alone makes it possible for us to love. He has fulfilled for us the command to love, and He has shown us what love really is. In Him we have both the motivation and the strength to love one another as He has loved us. The Holy Spirit Himself, who comes to us in the Gospel, empowers us to have the same attitude toward each other that Jesus has toward us: "No longer do I call you servants," He told His disciples, "for the servant does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends, for all that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). This is especially true of the divine love that has redeemed us and claimed us as God's own dear children.
May the God of peace, who brought again from the dead that great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, by the blood of the everlasting covenant equip you thoroughly for the doing of His will. May He work in you everything which is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom be honor and glory forever and ever. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.