Living Love, John 13:31-35
Today’s worship concludes a six-week series on how disciples of Jesus Christ are called to be the light of the world. The foundational scripture for our reflection on this calling is I Corinthians 13:13 – “Now these three abide – faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love.” Building on the foundation of this verse, during the past five weeks we have considered how followers of Jesus:
- Practice faith by trusting in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the midst of the uncertainties of life
- Proclaim hope by shaping the future through the transformation of the present
- Believe in the difference that God’s love makes
Today, we consider what it means to live God’s love as we hear the commandment Jesus gives to his disciples in John 13:31-35. The setting for this scripture is that Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, has left Jesus and the other disciples to arrange for Jesus’ arrest. Following Judas’ departure, John records these words from Jesus.
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
There are 57 times where the word, love, is recorded in the Gospel of John, more times than the other three gospels combined. Among these 57 instances where love is mentioned, Jesus teaches about God’s love, but there is only one instance where Jesus commands his followers to live God’s love. That instance is found in John 13:34 – “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
The New Interpreters Commentary on the Bible describes this unique commandment of Jesus by stating that the commandment to love is at the heart of the instructions of the Torah or religious law of Judaism. What is new in Jesus’ commandment is not Jesus’ instruction to love. What is new is that Jesus’ followers are being commanded to “enter into the love that marks the relationship of God and Jesus. Their participation in this relationship will be evidenced the same way that Jesus is: by acts of love that join the believer to God. Keeping this commandment is the identifying mark of discipleship because it is the tangible sign of the disciples’ abiding in Jesus.”
- 732-734, Abingdon Press, 1995
What makes this commandment different from the other 56 instances where love is cited in the Gospel of John is that Jesus is issuing a new call to follow him as his disciples see God’s love becoming real through the love that Jesus embraced and embodied. In this new call to follow, Jesus’ disciples have one commandment to obey – the commandment to love one another as God and Jesus love each other. If we are to be the light of the world, we have one commandment to obey. That commandment is to love one another with the same love that defined Jesus’ relationship with God. It is by obeying this commandment that we live love. It is by this commandment that everyone will know we are disciples of Jesus – the light of the world.
It has been 22 years since I participated in a school field trip that was composed of fifth-grade students at the elementary school where Beverly, my wife taught. I drove so one of the students Beverly taught could participate. This student was unable to attend classes at the school because he was battling bone cancer. Beverly would go to his home and instruct him. He had been through many treatments. Four months before the field trip, he had an artificial knee and thigh bone inserted into one of his legs. Prior to departing for the field day adventure, the principal and other school personnel spoke with him at the car and asked how he was doing. His response was the same to each one: “Any day you’re not in the hospital is a good day.”
Prior to his illness, he had been regular in attendance and had many friends at the school. A gifted athlete, he had learned to adjust to this new reality in his life. His family was open in their faith. In the midst of adversity, the courage with which he approached his illness was a witness to the three things that abide, faith, hope, and love. There was concern about him being in a confined space on a bus, so I drove him and two of his friends on the field trip. Part of the trip involved a lengthy walk that occurred near the end of the morning. As we walked down the street, he began to walk with a noticeable limp. It was obvious he was getting tired from so much activity. The two friends who rode in the car were walking on either side of him. Without saying a word, he reached out and put his arms around their shoulders. Without a word of instruction being given, they, in turn, put their arms around his shoulders. Together, they walked down the street helping each other to walk the path that was ahead. I asked if he would like to have some help to make it to the destination, but he declined and told me that with the help of his friends, he could walk the path that was ahead.
As I watched these three fifth-grade friends walk with them together, I understood what Jesus meant when he said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
Living love. It is our commandment as we walk with Jesus. May God bless us in the path that is ahead.
Pastor Marc Brown
January 31, 2021