John 13:34–35 (NASB95)
"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.”
I, for one, cannot believe it is now the year 2019. This century just seems to have flown by. According to the movie “Back to the Future: Part II”, which mostly takes place in 2015, we were supposed to have skateboards that could hover, flying cars, self-lacing shoes, and controlled weather patterns. I was 11 when that movie came out in 1989, and I was certain at the time that these things were going to become a reality by now. We’ll it is four years late, but last week, a man named Franky Zapata flew the first working hoverboard prototype over the English Channel. Yes…self-lacing shoes here we come!
As I am coming to grips with reality of this brand new invention that fulfills some of my childhood dreams, I was thinking that it is appropriate to bring us a brand new teaching from our Lord, something that is radical and earthshaking. Love one another! I know, I know…I’m sure that you have never heard of such a thing, yet isn’t it a great idea?! But seriously, Jesus is speaking here, 2000 years ago, to his disciples. He calls it a new instruction, but it was really quite old even at that time. In fact, God had instructed his people many hundreds of years before to love one another. The whole system of law that was setup by Yahweh for the nation of Israel was based on them loving each other and their God.
Yet, Jesus calls it ‘new’. Why would he do that? Well, it is not a new instruction, but a new frame of reference. You see, these disciples had been with Jesus day after day observing the way He loved others and experiencing His love for them. He now wants them to love each other as He had loved them. Why? Because it is so radically different from the way the world loves each other.
The world is built on mutually beneficial relationships. Friendships, business networking, and family bonds are built on this idea of mutual benefit. When a relationship costs you too much or doesn’t seem to bring the proper return, we complain about that person, avoid them, and even try to find ways to end the relationship. Christ’s love stands in stark contrast to this. It was a love that consistently looked for the others’ benefit. His love was built on self-sacrifice. His actions were not based on how it would affect His image, how it would make Him feel, or even if the other person liked how they were being loved. In fact, His love was so singular that He said it was absolutely the most noticeable way to stand out as a follower of Christ.
Our love for other believers should be so unique that they would have to know something is different about this group of people. The world should be so shocked by the love we have for each other that they would be certain that we are disciples of Him. Instead, so many churches today are known far more for their disputing and divisions rather than their love. We make excuses for our lack of love: ‘Well, we’re just a bunch of imperfect people’. In fact, many churches use that as a tagline putting up signs like ‘For Imperfect People Only’ or ‘God always uses imperfect people in imperfect situations to accomplish His will.’
While I get the idea that God has not yet completed His work in us, I find this to be more of a cop out. It would be like the disciples responding to Christ’s instruction to love each other as He loved them with ‘Well, we can only love like other imperfect, non-Son-of-God humans, so…uh…we’ll do our best (wink, wink)!’ No, instead they receive His instruction, and we see them in the book of Acts loving in eerily similar ways to how Christ was loving people during His ministry.
May we stop making excuses for our lack of love and instead, in repentance, each of us set our standard of love to Christ’s standard, and in so doing, blow our friends, families, and communities away with Christ’s unusual love displayed among us. Of course, this can only be truly achieved in dependence upon His Spirit living and loving from within us, but isn’t that what we were remade for?