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. (John 13:34-35)
How could Jesus say to his disciples that “loving one another” was a “new” commandment? This commandment, after all, was firmly established in the Law of Moses:
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)
In fact, Jesus said in another place that the entire Law of Moses and the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament were summed up in loving God, and loving one another:
And He said to him, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)
So what was new? The new part of this commandment as Christ gave it, is the standard of love, or the quality of the love as it was demonstrated by Christ himself: “even as I have loved you…“
Jesus’ love for his disciples, and for the rest of the world, was something no one had ever seen before. It was (and still is today!) a love that prior to that time was not humanly possible. No human being born within the stream of human history had ever loved with the kind of love that Jesus did.
Jesus took the command of the “Golden Rule” to love someone as you love yourself to a whole new level. He loved others MORE than he loved his own life. He treated others as MORE important than himself. He gave up his very life for the sake of others – the most extreme expression of human love possible.
The apostle Paul wrote what are probably the most eloquent words ever penned describing this new standard of love in his letter to the Philippi church:
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8)
Jesus is the Creator of the world, and did not have to love or serve anyone. But he humbled himself and did anyway. That is a kind of love that the world just cannot understand.
This New Love is Available to All
But it doesn’t stop with Jesus’ new standard of love, and how he showed it to the world, and how he continues to love us today. This new standard of love is now available to us, to love others with the same standard of love that Jesus has loved us.
This standard of love, however, is NOT something someone can try to do in their own strength. It is impossible to follow a “law” of love and try to measure up to its standard, especially this new standard of love that Christ has demonstrated to us. To love others with this new standard of love, one must first receive that love from Jesus, through the rebirth process and receiving the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit in our lives. The presence of God’s Spirit in our life is the sign that God has adopted us as his children and made us members of his family and his kingdom.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12)
The evidence of that new birth experience and that God’s Spirit lives in us is NOT our agreement with some set of doctrines, laws, or moral practices. It is our love for one another. This is the evidence that we have left the kingdom of darkness that the rest of the world walks in, and have now begun to walk in the spiritual Kingdom of Light where Jesus rules:
Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.
The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:7-11)
A Power to Love that is Supernatural
As we learn to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit each day, we learn how to deny our own natural desires which are self-centered. We stop complaining about how terrible our life is because the world and the people around us do not meet our needs, and we stop trying to manipulate people and circumstances to please us.
Instead, we become so full of God’s unconditional love for us, that it overflows in our life and we want to share it with others. We see the world and the people around us with new eyes – we see their needs and we have a desire to help them also know the love of God. Instead of standing up and fighting for our own rights, we stop thinking so much about ourselves and start to consider others as more important than ourselves, with the same kind of standard of love that Jesus had.
So the evidence that the Spirit of God is living in someone and that they are walking in the Kingdom of Light is the observation of this kind of love. It is totally contrary to the ways of the world and their definition and standards of love.
Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:13-24)
So is there anything in life that is more valuable than knowing the love of God? No, nothing! If you are pursuing things that are centered around yourself, such as health, wealth, or other relationships, you are missing out on God’s ultimate purpose in your life, which is to know him and his love for you. Then once you know God’s perfect love and possess it, his Spirit will fill you and empower you to live by the new standard for love which considers others as more important than yourself.
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)