“Little children, 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” (Jn 13:34-35).
On the evening before His crucifixion, Jesus delivered a last message to His disciples that is saturated with meaning, direction, and hope. It is recorded for us in the gospel of John, chapters 13 through 17. Jesus starts the conversation with “a new commandment” to love one another. What makes this kind of love such a “new” commandment?
Previously in the gospels, Jesus had emphasized the two-part love of the greatest commandment; love God and love your neighbor. And to explain who is our “neighbor”, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan. So to summarize, we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and love the neighbor/stranger that God brings into our lives.
But here in John 13, we have a third group of people to love. In this preview of His coming church, the body of Christ on earth, we are called to love each other in a deep and special way. The church, and the “one anothers” that we are to practice in the church, led by “love one another”, are a whole new ballgame. “Love one another” is a brand new command, because it applies to a brand new entity; the church that is yet to come.
Jesus is giving us a preview of life in the Father’s love by appealing to us to love our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Three times in just these two verses, Jesus says, “Love one another.”
What this love looks like in practice is further explained by the apostles in their New Testament letters. In them, we learn how to serve one another in love, encourage our weaker brother, preserve the unity of the body, and a hundred other ways to show love in the body of Christ.
Loving one another also demonstrates to the world our allegiance to Christ. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). Love is the mark of a follower of Jesus. We can wear a cross around our neck, we can get a scripture tattoo, we can belong to a certain church denomination; but the true mark of a believer – a mark that Jesus gives the world the right to judge our allegiance by – is the mark of love.
“Love one another” is not only a new commandment for Jesus’ disciples. It is the over-arching attitude that energizes all of our relationships in the body of Christ. Let us truly love one another.