I recently attended an event held by the local historical society. I don’t typically go to those kinds of things, but I was invited by a friend who knew I would find it interesting. The speaker that night was the curator for the Minnesota Twins baseball team. (I am a huge Twins fan.) This man, named Clyde, had been with the team a long time, and he had some fascinating stories to tell about some of the players, owners, and managers he had gotten to know.
One thing he taught us as baseball fans was how to tell whether a signed baseball or jersey was authentic. He explained it would have certain marks that would tell the truth. He talked about hologram tags and other signs to look for. It was fascinating!
It got me thinking about the church. What would you say are the identifying marks – the hologram tags – of an authentic Christian? In today’s passage, Jesus tells us the answer to that question.
Jesus is in the Upper Room with His eleven disciples (Judas has gone off to betray Him). Jesus tells them He is about to be glorified. With Judas’s departure, events were set into motion. The cross and resurrection were Jesus’ glorification, and the glorifying of God the Father. His perfect obedience – carrying out the plan of salvation – was His glorification.
Jesus was also glorified at the resurrection. He was exalted by His Father, held up for all to believe and worship. This glorified Jesus.
Later on, after the resurrection, Jesus told His disciples, “I’ve been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go make disciples” (Matt. 28:18-19). Jesus is identifying Himself as the Glorified One, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One with authority. Jesus’ resurrection at Easter is the proof.
Since Jesus really is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He deserves my trust and my obedience. This Glorified One wants you and me, as His followers, to carry out a new command. “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another.”
The word “new” means literally fresh. Not that it’s absolutely new in time, but it’s fresh. What makes it fresh?
We’ve been taught by the Lord Jesus about loving God above all things – heart, soul, strength, and mind – loving neighbor, even loving enemies. Now we see Him talking about loving one another, meaning the Christian community. He’s talking to His disciples, the future Church. He knew the disciples very well – their selfish motivations, and their desire for personal status and greatness, their tendencies to live for themselves. In order to keep them together and carry out the Great Commission, they would need to truly work at loving one another first.
Jesus uses the word “Agape” for love in this commandment. (Greeks used three other kinds of words for love as well.) Agape is not about emotions and affections, but is an act of the mind. It requires a commitment. It is a decision and a verb: To love. It means to sacrificially give yourself away for the sake of someone else.
Upon closer examination, you will find all kinds of “one anothers” in the New Testament: Encourage one another; teach one another. They all stem from this new commandment: Love one another. But Jesus takes it a little further, which is what really makes it new.
Love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.
A pattern exists here for us – founded in Jesus. As Jesus has loved us, love one another. Jesus had just washed their feet. It was the act of a servant in those days, a menial task, a lowly servant’s job. Yet Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in the Upper Room prior to making this statement.
He also loved them in the everyday routine of life with His patience and His kindness. He shared all He had heard from His Father with them. He showed them the Father’s love.
His love also involved the heroic. He laid down His life in love for them. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. I call you my friend” (John 15:13-14). He laid down His life for us. So the love Jesus is commanding here encompasses everything from the lowly and the routine all the way to the heroic, and every self-giving act in between.
By the way, this love is not given on the basis of merit. Notice, Jesus also washed the feet of those who will fail Him miserably. First, we find Judas who will betray Him. Even while knowing what was ahead, Jesus washed Judas’ feet. If you believe yourself to have a valid excuse not to love a particular person in your church, just consider the context in which Jesus has spoken this command: He washed the feet of Judas!
We also find Peter who denied knowing Jesus three times and the others who failed to stand by Him in His hour of greatest distress. Yet Jesus washed their feet and laid down His life for them in order to pay for their sinfulness and everyone else’s at the cross. This is an amazing, gracious love!
Love one another as I have loved you.
This is His orders to those of us who call ourselves His followers.
This commandment is so simple to remember, but not always so easy to obey. We say, Sure, I can love. I can love! And it is easy to love people with whom we agree or are partial to. But what about the rest of the folks we come into contact with? What about the unlovable types, the odd ones, the quirky ones, the irritating ones, the trouble makers? It’s easier to love those who are lovable.
We are often drawn to make boundaries as to whom we will love. We find personal attacks, criticisms, and name-calling within the church. Our own selfish interests trump the common good of the Christian community and ruin the health of the church. People in need of compassion find judgment instead. Those in need of help find apathy or disregard as we reason, Let somebody else get involved and take care of them.
I have such pride and ego. (I imagine you do, too!) I can easily get involved with some very destructive “one another’s” in the community. It must break Jesus’ heart.
In an article I read, Pastor Ray Ortland identifies some of the “one anothers” you don’t find in the New Testament, but unfortunately are found in the church today.
Scrutinize one another
Pressure one another
Embarrass one another
Corner one another
Interrupt one another
Sacrifice one another
Defeat one another
Shame one another
Judge one another
Run one another’s lives
Confess one another’s sins
Intensify one another’s sufferings
Point out one another’s failings
This commandment to love is difficult. Yet, it is doable. This is good news! For while it is impossible to follow this command perfectly (for we are both saints and sinners), it is possible to obey this concept of love. While we may not feel a certain affection for some people, we can step up and help them out of obedience to Christ, whether we feel like it or not! The emphasis is not on feeling the emotion of love, but acting on it. This is what Jesus is asking of us.
We can truly obey this command, then, when Christ enters into our lives. When “it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me,” as the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:20, I am empowered. Jesus promises to work in us producing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, generosity.
As with all the commandments, this one ultimately requires us to rely on God’s grace. We cannot do it by our own abilities. We pray for grace to keep it and for grace when we fail. But we still work to carry it out for our King of Kings and our Lord of Lords who has done so much for us!
Why is this commandment to love one another as He has loved us so important for us to keep? Jesus explains: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples . . .” The word “love” is the mark, the badge, the hologram tag, the defining characteristic of an authentic believer in Christ. John Piper has written, “. . . if you declare yourself openly to be a disciple of Jesus . . . then your love for others will be decisive in showing that you are real.” Love confirms your profession of faith in Jesus is real.
Jesus is quite clear on this. It’s not our theological correctness; it’s not by our moral purity, or by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know we are His disciples. It is quite simply by our acts of love, service, and sacrifice. These acts point others to the love of God for the world, which is made known in Jesus.
Maybe you have heard this statement from an unbeliever, Who you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you’re saying. How true it is!
Following Jesus’ commandment to love one another also serves as an attraction, a light to those around us. We live in a polarized, individualized, broken, hurting, lonely world. Loving one another is an opportunity to shine for Christ, attract others to Him. Let us not contribute to the polarization in this world, but be a light and a refuge in the name of Jesus Christ as we love one another. This is what Jesus had in mind for His Church.
A great theologian once said, The Church exists to be a provisional display of God’s original intentions for his world. Loving God and loving one another is His original intention. Some people in this world around us may never open or read the Bible. Yet, they are reading us, and so we need to ask ourselves if they are able to see the love of Christ in us. Do we let our light so shine that people see Jesus and give glory to the Father in heaven? Loving one another as Christ has loved us is the real litmus test.
Finally, it’s important to love one another as Christ has loved us because together we stand strong as the Church of Jesus Christ. We need each other in order to grow and thrive in our relationship with Jesus and in our service to Jesus in the world.
In her book, Grapes of Wrath or Grace, Barbara Brokhoff tells the story of a group of American tourists who were taking a bus tour in Rome. Their first stop was at a basilica in the Piazza, which was surrounded by several lanes of relentless Roman traffic. After they were all safely dropped off, the group climbed the steps and took a tour of the church. Then they spread out to board the bus, which was now parked across the street from the church. The frantic guide shouted for the group, “Stay together! You cross one by one, they hit you one by one. But if you cross together, they think you’ll hurt their car, and they won’t hit you.” Much can be said for the strength of unity – especially unity in Jesus Christ.
Some people wonder if Jesus’ disciples followed through and obeyed the commandment Jesus gave them. My answer is found in the first few chapters of the book of Acts and the letters of Peter, Paul, and John. There is a strong emphasis on taking care of one another and loving one another. It is what they strove to do. They held it up as a value and taught others to do the same.
Later on, even after the disciples were gone, Tertullian, a Christian leader, wrote, “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of our opponents. ‘Look!’ they say, ‘how they love one another. Look at how they are prepared to even die for one another!’”
More importantly than the disciples in the early Church is a question for you and me. We know they obeyed and they worked at loving one another as Christ loved them. But after having studied these words of Jesus today, what about you? If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? What does this kind of love look like?
Take Sunday morning worship for instance. Julie and I visited an area church lately, and from the moment we stepped inside the door until we left, people were embracing and offering handshakes, welcomes, and smiles. People were praying for one another and offering to pray for us. It was heavenly. It was love as Christ describes it.
In day-to-day life, the church shows love by taking care of one another. A wife and mother died leaving behind two boys and a grieving husband. The congregation delivered food every day for many, many, many weeks.
There’s the card sent or phone call made saying, I’m thinking about you and praying for you. Know you’re loved.
I think of a family whose house burned down. A couple in our congregation had a large house and offered to let them move in until they were back on their feet. “Consider our home, your own.” This is what Jesus had in mind when He talked about loving one another as He has loved us.
My dear friends in Christ, it’s just as the old song says:
♪”They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”♬
Love one another as Christ has loved us. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer