“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
Jesus isn’t talking to a large crowd of curious followers. He’s sitting at a table in a quiet room talking to the twelve men who had been walking with him, spending the last three years or so in intimate relationship with him. His friends. His disciples.
They’d just finished their last meal together. The last meal before every one of his friends abandoned him and he was handed over to be flogged and crucified. Jesus had just finished washing the disciples feet and he sat down to share some things with them. Imagine the anticipation rising in his chest, the love pouring out of his eyes knowing what was to come.
He only had a few hours left and a lot of things to say to his friends before he went to the cross. Indeed, the next several chapters of John, chapters thirteen to seventeen, is a monologue from Jesus to his followers before he goes to the garden of Gethsemane.
I find it interesting one of the first things Jesus says to them after Judas leaves the table to betray him (v. 33) is a command, a plea even, to love one another. I can only imagine the finger pointing and blame shifting that went on in the upper room after Jesus died:
“I knew Judas was no good.”
“Then why didn’t you say something? You could have stopped this!”
“You denied him three times Peter; how could you? Some disciple you are.”
“I was the only one at the cross with his mother when he died; where were all of you? Why didn’t any of you come to show him you cared?”
Yes, I imagine Jesus anticipated the enemy’s tactics of dividing the disciples after his death and before his resurrection. So he gives them a command that is just as relevant today as it was then.
He repeats his command three times. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples… if you love one another.
That was the foundation of his entire ministry: love. Love one another. Don’t just love the poor, the wealthy, the sick, the kind, the demonized or the lost. First love one another.
Everything they were going to do, everything they were going to face, could be endured on the foundation of love for one another, with the love of Christ as the cornerstone of that foundation (Ephesians 2:20).
We can spend so much time doing things for God and getting upset at others who get in our way that we forget the primary reason of doing any ministry at all: love. God’s love for His children, the love He wants us to receive from Him and extend to one another. Then, and only then, will those we seek to serve will see the God we long for them to see.
It’s in our love for one another, only after receiving that love from Christ, that others will know to whom we belong. We, as his harvesters, are called to demonstrate His love first and foremost to one another, not to those we serve.
How can we love those steeped in their sin if we can’t even love those who are in Christ? We deceive ourselves if we think it’s possible. God’s Word is ripe with scriptures about the necessity of unity and reconciliation for this purpose. We have to love one another, and we’re going to fall short so we need to know how to make things right when we do.
Several years after writing the gospel of John, the author pens three more letters. In the first letter he writes, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil; whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:10-11).
He isn’t talking about a physical brother, but a brother (or sister) in Christ. Every person that is part of the family of believers. Every believer, regardless of whether or not you’re on a payroll, is in ministry. Every believer’s ministry is to spread the love and gospel of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:14-18).
We’re in ministry when we go to the grocery store, when we discipline our children, when we serve our spouse, when we clock in at work, and when we walk through the doors of our church building.
The message heard from the very beginning is to love one another. Believer to believer. This isn’t easy, because the saved in spirit can still be lost in soul. The righteous in Christ can still be ugly in their flesh. The one the Father sees perfectly we see only imperfectly.
None of us can love perfectly, and yet we’re commanded to love one another in the new covenant Jesus Christ died to give us. We cannot do ministry, loving those we serve, if we are unwilling to first love one another.
This is the constant thread connecting all of Jesus’ teachings and miracles. Love motivated him to create the earth and everything and everyone in it. Love sent him to the earth in humble circumstances and love sent him to the cross to die for our sake so we could be reunited with him. Love brought us to him, and only love can keep us there.
Who are you struggling to love? Who in your ministry, your church body, your family or even in your workplace are you finding it difficult to love? Love is not condoning sin, nor does it involve lying or avoiding or hiding. Love is intertwined with truth and finding that balance is a lifelong journey.
We’d like to believe that it’s enough to be polite to the person we dislike, or even hate, but this isn’t the case where Christ is concerned. He commanded love between his disciples, as demonstrated in 1 Corinthians 13.
This is a challenging passage, and yet it’s the goal we’re commanded to pursue. But first toward one another. Believer to believer. Disciple to disciple.
Usually when we struggle to love it’s because there has been harm done. Stop pretending it’s okay when your heart is telling you it’s not. Follow scripture’s guidance in how to resolve the conflict (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1-10).
If there hasn’t been conflict and you’ve simply never learned how to love, then start practicing with Jesus as your example. Let him love you. Let that love wash over you like a fresh spring rain in the sunshine. Then pour it out to your brothers and sisters in Christ the same way he did with his disciples.
If he can love the man who betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-15), which led to his flogging and crucifixion, we can love those who have harmed us, or whom haven’t done us any harm. We can, because it is Christ’s love through us, not love we’ve drummed up on our own.
It’s not easy, but it’s possible because all things are possible through Christ. Love one another as Christ loves you. This is how people will know you’re a disciple of Jesus - simply by your love for other believers.
Don’t over complicate it. Just start doing it, and praise God as he blesses your relationships, your ministry, your workplace and your dreams through it.