“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” (Jn.13:34-35).
Good news: If you have read your Bible much before today, you can skip today’s devotional.
You probably already know the foundational role of love in our Christian lives. Perhaps you have it on a t-shirt or a mug. It’s woven throughout the story of Scripture. It’s found in Leviticus, “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD,” (Lev. 19:18). It’s found in the teaching of Jesus when he asserts that all the law and the prophets hang on loving God and loving our neighbor (Mt. 22:40). It’s in 1 John 4:8, “He who does not love, does not know God.”
As a matter of fact, this is such a basic truth, Jesus says the whole world will be able to identify us by the extraordinary love we show to one another. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples…”
Anyone in the world who has access to Christ’s people can testify to “love” being the first adjective that comes to mind when describing them, right?
“Wait just a second,” you say. You and I both know this is not always the case.
What’s up with the disconnect between this passage and what we see around us in the world, in the church, and in our own lives? We all know we are called to love, yet, for some reason it can seem so very hard—even to love those closest to us like a spouse, sibling, or friend.
A New Command
Jesus entrusts these words to his disciples in the upper room as he prepares to leave them via the cross. “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.”
This “new” commandment isn’t entirely new, but Jesus deepens our understanding by giving us the how: “…as I have loved you.”
Have you been following along in the earlier parts of John 13—and even farther back to John 1? Not only has the Word become flesh and dwelt among us—talk about leaving your comfort zone in order to love another!—but earlier in John 13, God in the flesh knelt down to perform the lowest job in the ancient world, washing his disciples’ feet. He did this to foreshadow the infinitely more-costly way he would serve and cleanse them—and us as well—in washing our filth away by His death on the cross.
There are times when loving feels fun, and I really like to love in those situations. But this passage demands something more, doesn’t it? This passage demands I stop and prayerfully ask, “When is the last time exercising love cost me?” If love never costs me anything, am I loving as Christ commands me?
But love that costs is hard. Really hard.
Loving as Jesus Loves
How do we love those who hurt us or make us feel unsafe? How do we love those outside our theological, cultural, or partisan camps? What do we do when a church member harms us, a spouse betrays, or when loving an immigrant is complicated? Or, even more commonly, what do we do when the call to love simply puts an inconvenient speedbump in our well-laid daily plans? Are we asking God to show us where he wants us to love each day using questions like these?
When God answers our prayers with a person who is oh-so-hard to love, what then? I’m not God in the flesh. How do I “love as Jesus loved”?
Jesus knows our struggles, and he has already made provision. Read on in John, and you see, “My dear little children…if you love me, you will keep my commandments, and I will ask my Father, and He will give you another Helper…I will not leave you as orphans,” (John 13:33 NLT, 14:15, 16, 18, ESV). We don’t have the power in our own strength to love as Jesus loves, but he promised to send us a helper. As you pray, don’t only ask how to love, pray specifically about how you have been loved, as a dear child and not an orphan.
When we love like Jesus, the attention of the world is captured by the astonishing beauty. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples.”
If you kept reading today, perhaps you were right. Maybe we didn’t need to skip John 13:34-35 after all. Maybe we still have something to learn here.
As we begin our day, may we begin as dearly loved children, praying with open hands that God would guide, strengthen, and empower us to obey this “new” command. I encourage you to pray with your Bible open using specific verses from John 13. Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before Him. We might be surprised what we find as we follow.
About the Author:
Tara Gibbs is a wife, mother, and writer. She spent 19 years in San Antonio, Texas ministering alongside her husband Tom to the city of San Antonio at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Tara has authored Bible studies and taught internationally on women’s ministry. Tara and Tom recently moved to St. Louis, Missouri to serve Covenant Theological Seminary where Tom currently serves as president. Tara has parented four children, led Bible studies, practiced hospitality, worked with the San Antonio area public schools, worked in water conservation, and served as Director of Redeemer’s women’s ministry. Tara loves running, reading, everything outdoors, Tex-Mex food, and fall in St. Louis.