The Mark of the Christian (John 13:31-38)
The text upon which this teaching outline is based is normally assigned to Maundy Thursday. The Latin word for commandment is mandatum.
This commandment that Jesus gave was the old commandment with which Moses himself summarized the whole law, but Jesus made it new by highlighting three things: He gave this old commandment a new scope (v.34), a new standard (v.34), and a new motive (v.35). Who are we to love? How are we to love? Why are we to love?
On June 25, 1967, the Beatles unveiled the hit song “All You Need is Love.” This was a popular saying in the ’60s anti-war movement. The Beatles wrote this in two weeks as a message to the world. It was written and released faster than any other Beatles song. Would Jesus agree with the message of the Beatles’ song? What would you say is the greatest obstacle for people coming to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the only Savior of sinners? Some intellectual problem or moral problem. For many, simply put it’s the church. The church should be “the safest place on earth,” a place of true spiritual community. The gospel creates a new community where love rules every relationship.
A New Scope (Limits) Who are we to love? Love one another (13:34)
The love of Christians for one another should be the distinguishing mark by which the world recognizes us as followers of Jesus. In striking historical confirmation of the words of Jesus recorded here in John 13, Tertullian, an early church pastor (about 200 A.D.) wrote:
“But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. ‘Behold,’ they say, ‘how they love one another.’ He claimed that “they themselves are animated by mutual hatred;” “Behold how they are ready even to die for one another,’ for they themselves would rather put to death” (Apology XXXIX).
A Command. “Keep on loving one another.” Here is the most important instruction that Jesus left for his followers. What Jesus says here is not a suggestion. It is a command: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Love is one of the key terms in John chapters 13–17, occurring thirty-one times in these five chapters as compared to only six times in chapters 1–12.
Illustration: The Apostle John was known in the ancient church for his concern for love. Jerome tells of John in his extreme old age saying, whenever he was carried into the assembly, “Little children, love one another.” When his disciples got tired of this, they asked, “Master, why do you always say this?” “It is the Lord’s command. If this alone be done, it is enough” (Jerome Commentary on Galatians – Galatians 6:10).
What is love? Agape is self-sacrificing love that serves the interests and needs of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Phileo is self-satisfying love that benefits the person expressing the love. Agape does not consider the worthiness or unworthiness of the one who is being loved. Phileo considers both.
C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves examined the four Greek words for love. He concludes that they come down to one seminal distinction: the difference between what he calls “need love” and “gift love.” Need love is always born of emptiness. It is basically inquisitive to the core. A need lover sees in every beloved object or person a value that he or she covets to possess. Need love moves out greedily to grasp and appropriate for itself. If one were to diagram it, need love is always circular, reaching out to the beloved to transfer value back to itself. In a popular image, need love sucks essence out of another and into itself. Many times when we say to another, “I love you,” what we are really meaning is, “I need you, I want you. You have a value that I very much desire to make my own.”
Now Lewis contends there is another reality which he calls gift love. Instead of being born of emptiness, this form of loving is born of fullness. The goal of gift love is to enrich and enhance the beloved. Gift love is like an arc, not a circle. It moves out to bless and to increase rather to acquire or to diminish. Gift love is more like a bountiful, artesian well that continues to overflow than a vacuum that sucks up everything with which it comes in contact. God’s love is gift love, not need love. And then he says, “We humans are made in the image of such everlasting and unconditional love.” This gift love describes the way Jesus loved. And the great good news for all of us today is not only that we are loved by God in this marvelous way, but also that this is the way we are to live our lives.
A New Command. How is this command new? “New” (kainen) implies freshness rather than simply “recent.” Kainos – denotes the new primarily in reference to quality, the fresh. Neos denotes the new primarily in reference to time – recent.
How are we to love? A new standard…(13:34b). Just as (even as) I have loved you. Encouragement and admonition.
The passage before traces two great movements of grace — ‘just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’
The newness of the precept stems from Jesus requiring that his disciples love one another just as he loved them! Jesus’ constant, sacrificial and unconditional love must be the pattern for their attitude and relationships with one another.
Why does Jesus raise the standard? We will never rise to fulfill our Lord’s mandate unless we grasp how much we are loved by him… unless we have experienced the cleansing, purifying love of Christ. Thus, at the outset we are told what this text is about: It is about being loved by Jesus.
If I am honest, I must admit that I prefer the dignity of self-reliance and the fantasy of being heroic for Jesus. I am prone to be self-serving like Judas and self-protecting like Peter.
How does Jesus love his disciples? How does he love us? He had loved them without reservation and without limit (13:1 – He showed them the full extent of his love.”) He loved them to the end.
Sacrificially – laying down one’s life (twice – vv.37&38) … His love was to be shown in his death for others. He ‘laid down His life for us’ (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16). 1 John 3:16, 4:16 and the interpretation of Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet). John 15:12-13 – My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Unconditionally – Naturally, we love those we find attractive. But who is Jesus loving here in this text?
How are we to love one another? Persistent, sacrificial, and unconditional love for one another is the distinguishing trait of the Christian. Imitate Christ in loving, humble service. QUESTION: Where am I sacrificing time, talent, and treasure to care for the physical, moral and spiritual well-being of others? Such self-sacrificing love shown by his followers would be the witness to the world of true discipleship.
Illustration: Karl Barth, the famous Swiss theologian of the last century, was a great thinker, a prolific writer, and a professor at several leading European universities. On one occasion he was asked by a reporter for a brief summary of his twelve thick volumes on church dogmatics. Barth could have given an impressive intellectual reply or a profound theological dissertation. He didn’t. Quoting from the popular children’s hymn, he simply replied, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Personally experiencing the love of Christ transforms us into loving people. When we experience the cleansing, sacrificial love of Jesus ourselves, we extend the sacrificial love of Jesus to others. A community founded on cleansing love has no other purpose for existence that to extend it to others.
Why are we to love? A new motive…(13:35) What incentive do we have to love others well? Several reasons …
The obvious reason is that the Lord commands it. Verse 35…
“All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”
Loving others well will show the world that we indeed are Christians – by our love. Here is what Francis Schaeffer referred to as “the final apologetic.” The love of Christians for one another should be the distinguishing mark by which the world recognizes us as followers of Jesus. Such mutual interest in and concern for each other will arrest the attention of unbelievers. This recognition from the world will both honor the name of Jesus Christ and incline people to listen to the gospel message. We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of Christ’s love in us.
Loving others well curtails a spirit of envy and rivalry that would disrupt our fellowship and hinder our mission to extend Christ’s kingdom. What were the disciples doing in the Upper Room? Eating the Passover seder. Yes, but what else were they doing? They were quarreling concerning which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24 – a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest).
“The gospel creates a new community where love rules every relationship. The gospel completely transforms our human relationships. The gospel energizes our friendships, our marriages, our relationships with parents and children, with our peers as well as those who are older and younger. Without the gospel, we will either “provoke” those we feel superior to or we will “envy” those we feel inferior to. But since the gospel has both humbled us and yet has assured us of our lovedness, we are now free from envy and pride, inferiority and superiority.”
– Adapted from Tim Keller
Left to our natural selves we either provoke those to whom we feel superior or envy those to whom we feel inferior.
A Few More Implications of This Passage
Adoration: Relish the persistent, sacrificial, and unconditional love of Christ for you. 1 John 3:1 – Little children – diminutive form.
Confession: Recognize that the seeds of the failure to love Christ and others lie deeply embedded in your own heart. Dark forces are afoot that would annihilate our love for Christ and others. We must repent of all the ways that we have failed to show the beauty of love and the beauty of Christ. One of the primary ways that the Evil One deceives us is by causing us to focus on that which is mysterious rather than that which is challenging.
So Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” What happened to the self-reliant, ever-confident Peter? At the end of the night, he was a broken, Christ-denying failure. Even then, as one of Christ’s sheep, he was not snatched from the grasp of His loving shepherd (John 10:28).
Gospel Thanks: This new commandment is the whole gospel story. Love is cruciform, downward for us and outward through us. In the cross, divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice. Isaac Watts: Love so amazing so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all…
Aspiration: Poem “The Christ in the Christian.”
“How can you lead to Christ your boy; Unless Christ’s method you employ?
There’s just one thing that you can do; It’s let that boy see Christ in you.
“Have you a husband fond and true? A wife who’s blind to all but you?
If each would win the other one, That life must speak of God’s dear Son.
“There is but one successful plan; By which to win a fellow man;
Have you a neighbor old or new? Just let that man see Christ in you.
“The Church that hopes to win the lost; Must pay the one unchanging cost;
She must compel the world to see; In her the Christ of Calvary.”
It is humanly impossible to love like this. However, II Tim. 1:7 reminds us that we have been given a Spirit of love to empower us to delight to do that which Jesus commands!