31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31-35)
Previously Jesus had just sent out Judas to do quickly what he was going to do, all but the disciple whom Jesus loved were unaware that what Judas was about to do was betray Jesus. And upon the departure of Judas, Jesus says these words that are familiar to the gospel of John – this is the speaking of His mission of glorifying the Father, and the Father glorifying the Son. Thus we see that the departure of Judas is another time signal to Jesus that His hour of betrayal and arrest and trial and crucifixion is imminent upon them now. And as we have said on previous occasions in the passages with similar discussions as this, we recognize that Jesus is speaking of His crucifixion in this way. His being lifted up to die is His hour of glorification. Again, what a strange way to think about a gruesome and painful and humiliating death. How is that glory? It seems like the opposite to the flesh. And of course we know that His death by crucifixion was not the end, for it lead to His burial, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at the right hand of God. And yet Christ speaks chiefly of His death, as that hour of glorification. That is not to say those following things He does are not glorious, indeed they are. But it is to show that the glory of Jesus Christ is not something which the most humiliating death could, in the least bit, obscure. But in fact, it was there, that it was made clear. It tells us that His being lifted up on the cross is the pinnacle of who Christ is, and what He accomplishes. The volume of discussion that Jesus gives in the gospel of John on this subject of the Son of Man being glorified, gives us an insight into the mind, the mission, and the motivation that occupied Jesus during His public ministry. It was His purpose and desire to glorify the Father, and it was in His death that both He and the Father would be glorified.
I love what Calvin says here, “Christ concludes that he will obtain a glorious triumph by his death, because his sole design in it is, to glorify his Father, for the Father did not seek his glory from the death of his Son in such a manner as not to make the Son a partaker of that glory.”
So Jesus is not going to the cross out of some kind of forced and unhappy submission, but it was for His own gain, as well as the Godhead, and amazingly, us as well.
I love also what John Gill says here: “Christ removed the scandal of his death by observing that both he and his father would be glorified by it.”
This is indeed great encouragement that the disciples would need for the hour at hand. The humiliation of the cross was not to be seen as a mark against the Godhead or an embarrassment for the Son. For indeed any such thought is removed at the fact that it was glorious, and glory that was given to the Father and the Son.
So Jesus reminds His disciples of these things. He reminds His disciples of the glorious designs intended in what would be an awful and indeed extremely difficult sight for them to bear. And He reminds them of this, because, as He communicates to them in verse 33, in just a short while, He will be going where they will not be able to go with Him. The one whom they have spent many a waking hour with over the past 3 years or so, and had grown so dear to them, they would no longer be able to see Him. No longer would they be able to follow them, as they had so faithfully done. No doubt it would be a difficult thing. Some of us may have had some similar type goodbyes with friends, loved ones, others of similar relationships. But Jesus, not wanting His disciples to be given over to despair or sadness at such a thought and such a time that was increasingly near, He seeks to comfort them with reminders of His and His Father’s glory. And then as He tells them that they cannot go where He is going, He gives them a very important command. You see, when you are at such a critical point in a relationship, near the end of the time together, the last things that you say to someone are going to be what is of utmost importance. Of course Jesus will say a lot more by way of parting words before His betrayal and arrest in the following chapters, but what we have in verse 34-35 is indeed among, the last things He imparts to His disciples before that time. Indeed, it is a subject will be revisited even between this point and His arrest.
If you take a larger view of this section, you will see that in verse 36 Peter immediately skips over consideration of this “new command” Jesus gives them to inquire about where Jesus might be going that they cannot follow. Here we of course see Peter’s great passion and emotion, yet the Church has recognized these words in verse 34-35 are not to be so quickly skipped over.
A New Commandment
So here Jesus gives a command that He calls a “new commandment.” There have been different ways that people have understood the newness of this command. Certainly love is not a new thing. The Israelites of old were told all the way back in Leviticus 19:18 to love their neighbor as themselves. In Matthew 22 Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself. And then Jesus said that upon those two commands hang all the law and the prophets. Essentially, all of the law was instruction on how to love God and neighbor. So what is new about this command? I won’t get into the different ways others understand but just go right to where I land. The newness rests in the person and life of Jesus Christ. The newness is in the qualifier given in the command on how we are to love one another. How are we to love one another? Jesus says, “as I have loved you.” Some people would frame it as a new motivation. As a new motivation is really a good way to frame it, because we don’t want to say, that those in the Old Covenant could not really love their neighbor, and we don’t want to say that we can love one another without keeping God’s law for us. Love is always done in accordance with God’s laws on us, as love is always done in accordance with the truth. So the newness is that we are to love, as Jesus has loved us – this is a new motivation in that we love as we have been loved. Thus it is not only a new motivation, but a new power to obey! The power of Christ. We could also say we have a new example of love set before us in the life of Christ.
So loving one another is not a new commandment; loving one another “just as Jesus loved us” is. The command has a new motivation and a new shape. The shape of the command is the life of Jesus Christ, who is Himself the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets.
In other words, this command is based explicitly on Christ and His love toward us. Of course we know that all of the law has always been based on God and His holy and righteous character. But here it is based explicitly on the actions of love that the incarnate Christ displayed toward His disciples.
This is part of what means to do acts of love and service as a Christian and in a Christian way: to base them explicitly on Jesus Christ. Anybody can go out and do humanitarian deeds for other people, but Christians do it openly and explicitly based upon Christ and His love and work for us. And this means that we are doing them, not to seek to justify ourselves or to merit our salvation. Because there a many an unbeliever who do all kinds of good deeds in order to try earn their salvation, or ease their guilty conscience; but that is not how Christians do good to one another and love one another. We do it because the love of Christ has already justified us, it has already given us all that we need, our guilty consciences have already been cleansed. To love in a Christian way is to love not to seek justification, but because justification has already been granted to them in Christ.
Calvin suggests the command is new in the sense that it should be ever a novelty upon our minds, so that we do not slip in keeping it, or that we do not lose the wonder of such a command to love as Christ has loved us. Keep it new and fresh on our hearts and minds and in our lives. I think there is more to it than that, as I have just gone through, but I also think that this is a wonderful practice to employ – keeping such a command ever new upon our minds. Because that means that we are ever thinking of Christ’s love for us, and how He has loved us.
As I have loved you (How has Jesus loved us?)
So this leads us now to consider the question: how did Jesus love the disciples? There are many ways but I believe there are two main ways in view here based upon the surrounding context.
1) He loved them “to the end” (verse 1). This means that He loved them faithfully and with perseverance. If we are to love in this way it means that we are to forgive and forgive and forgive and don’t give up. There are of course good reasons to leave a church, but we don’t leave because our fellow members sin against us, or offend us. We forgive, and reconcile, and stay, and love. Not only must we love like this with our church family – our “one anothers” – but our church family most often begins with our spouse. We forgive even more and more and more. We stay. We don’t leave our spouse. Jesus loved His disciples to the end, despite their ignorance, their sin, their failures, He loved them.
2) He loved them with humble acts of service, such as the foot-washing we have just seen earlier. This means we humbly serve one another, doing the menial tasks of helping one another. Washing feet was not a big grand extravagant display. It was a lowly everyday normal job that had to be done. What kind of tasks would that be for us? We mentioned a couple when we talked about foot-washing a few weeks ago. But what about cleaning another person’s house or doing their laundry? I know some of you have done that at times for one another, when there was that need. I know when an outsider sees that, they are amazed. But why? There is nothing spectacular or extravagant about cleaning. It’s because that’s how Jesus loved His disciples. There are of course big things we can do in love for one another. Jesus laid down His very life, after all. But I’m telling you what, even just making meals for each other when someone has a baby, just really floors the outside world, because they don’t have that. Or how about helping me move, many of you, many times, this year. Many people don’t have a group of Christians that are always looking for ways to help and love one another.
So Jesus loved His disciples in this way: by loving them to the end, and by performing humble acts of service, out of love. This of course, only scratches the surface. My friends, how has Jesus loved you? For many of us it began in a ditch, figuratively speaking, and some literally. There we were, strung out on sin and rebellion and vice, hating God and loving the world, yet destroying ourselves with sin. And yet there in the ditch, many of us can say, Jesus met me there. He took my hateful heart, and He loved me. He pulled me up out of the grave. I was dead, but He made me alive! Despite the despicable creature I had become wallowing in the mire of sin, Christ loved me, and came and cleansed me! How many of us know that love? That Jesus, the pure and spotless Son of God, laid down His life, and gave it up on the cross for sinners such as we. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. That’s how He loved us. He did not wait for us to earn His love. He did not wait for us to clean ourselves up, for we could never do that. He did it for us. He took all of our dirty and sin on Himself, and took His royal robe of righteousness, and placed it around our undeserving shoulders. He loved us with a love that is not conditioned upon us, or anything we have to offer. That’s how He has loved us.
And even after such a point of conversion, many of us have at times, even many times, gone off into sin and rebellion, spiting such a love that have experienced – doubting it, forgetting it, neglecting it – how could we? And yet, Christ continues to love us, patiently, enduringly, faithfully, unwaveringly, unswervingly, continuing to work on us, and call us to repentance, never forgetting or setting us His work that redeemed us. He finishes the work He began in us. This type of love would be amazing enough if Jesus loved just one person in this way, but He has and is doing this with scores and multitudes and nations and whole hosts of peoples far beyond what any many can number or count or see with the naked eye.
This is so unlike our human love. How often do we, after some amount of time of betrayal or backstabbing, or continual repeating of the same mistakes, decide that we have reached the limit of our love and forbearance toward someone we are called to love, and we stop trying, and stop loving, because they didn’t meet our standards. That is not how we are called to love one another. We are called to love as Christ has loved us. And that means that we can never stop loving, because we will never reach the limit of the love Christ has poured out upon us. The command to love one another as Christ has loved us is a command to never ever ever stop loving one another. It is a high calling, but it is the least we can do. And if Jesus has indeed loved us as His own, we will never run out of love, because our love comes from Him, and He always has more.
This is why I like Calvin’s consideration that part of the newness is in keeping it ever fresh on our minds, because if we have stopped loving one another, we have stopped considering Jesus Christ and we have stopped seeking a divine supply of love that flows from Him alone.
By this all people will know…
Finally, if this is command is not incredible enough in itself, we are told more in verse 35.
Jesus says, that if we love one another, all people who know that we are His disciples. This tells us that the love of Christ is so unique and divine above all human love, that when people see it, the only conclusion can be that it must come only from Christ. This is also implies to us that this kind of love that we are to display to one another does not come from any other source. The world isn’t going to look at the way we love one another and say, “well, this could be a group of Christians, or could be a group of Muslims, or a group of Buddhists, I can’t really tell.” No, Church, the love of Christ is distinguishable from all other loves. And it implies here that this type of love does not find its source in humanity. It’s not a type of love that other human communities can display outside of the Church. So this teaches us not to rely on our own strength to love one another. It teaches us to rely on Christ and go to Him for our source of love. And that when we do so it will be a divine and supernatural display of love. It will not be normal. It may work itself out in doing normal mundane tasks of humble service toward one another, but in such everyday love, it will yet be a supernatural love.
Now someone may object by saying they have met many an unbeliever who would never say that they know Christians are Christ’s disciples because of their love. Now it of course could be that the have only seen Christian communities who have failed in carrying out this command. Or it could be something else. “By this all people will know…” Let us note, that it doesn’t say that they will tell us they know, or that they will act like they know. But it is that when they see our love for one another in a Christlike way, they will know. Some people will see it, and know it, and hate it, and never want to say it. We are not told they will love it, but that they will know it. This is important to remember, because we don’t want to ever base our actions on how outsiders perceive us (at least ultimately), but we want to base them on God’s instructions.
Because of this, we must not worry so much about “hurting our witness” by doing things that the world does not approve of, like meeting together in a “pandemic.” They will still know, even if they act like they don’t and say they don’t, and even accuse us of selfishness, or stupidity, or hate – they still know. They may hate it, but they know.
There are some minority groups of professing Christians who reject the institutional church and neglect gathering together and recoil against having a lot of fellowship amongst believers because they think that such practices are too inwardly focused, and we should just be 100% about outward mission. There are a lot of things wrong with such a viewpoint, but of what concerns us today, such a viewpoint fails to realize Jesus’ teaching here that by loving one another we are witnessing to the world. Our fellowship is an outward, missional issue. No, it is of course not a valid replacement for preaching the gospel, but it is an important and necessary element of our witness. By loving one another, we are witnessing to the world that we are Christ’s disciples.
One thing this means is that Christians who reject the church, or do not attend, or do not love it like Jesus, are being bad witnesses at best, and are not showing the world that they are Christ’s disciples.
You see, while Jesus is not physically present in the world today, His body is (the Church). People can see that. As the church, we are the present body of Christ in the world.
Here at Hope, we have tried to talk about and remind us all that Jesus is truly present with us when we gather together, and partake of the Lord’s Supper. There is also a way in which we can say that Jesus is present in the Church, in our love for one another, because our love is Christ’s love. We love as He has loved us.
Now of course, our love for one another is not the gospel, but it is persuasive. It is not the gospel, we still have to preach and speak and shout it from the rooftops with words, but our love does point people to the gospel. It can convince people that we really do believe the gospel, or that the gospel is worth believing, or that it really does change people, or that it is real.
In certain generations of Christians who lived through plagues, such as the early centuries of the church, the Christians were known as those who disregarded their own lives by ministering to the sick and afflicted, despite the risk and danger. It was an incredible witness.
Part of loving one another so that the world sees it, is being with one another, meeting together. If we want to show the world our love for one another, we have to gather together. We cannot close our churches down, or meet online.
When churches do online services, the world only watches the pastor or a singer on the stage. They don’t see all the interaction and love and fellowship and service amongst God’s people.
So part of the world seeing our love for one another is making the world mad first – by meeting together. This reminds us that love is not about making other people feel good and being sensitive to unfounded emotions. It is founded in the truth, and some people don’t like the truth, and some people are not loving, and prefer hate. So, we will make people mad when we love each other by gathering together, and ultimately, it is because they hate Christ and they don’t want to see His love or be reminded of it by Christians getting together and being Christians.
Consider also this: we live in a day of revolutionary Marxist behaviors, where many in our society, and even within the visible church are attempting to erase or change history at worst, or at best, they are slandering history. I believe that one implication of Jesus’ teaching on love for one another is that we are to love Christ’s body, not just us here and now, but all of the body of Christ, in all of history. This means that we don’t trash our forefathers in the faith, or disrespect those faithful brothers and sisters that came before us in the Church. There are many people in evangelicalism who are slandering great theologians and pastors of our church history, that are part of the body of Christ. I believe it is a strong desire to be accepted by the world and to virtue signal to society when they say things like “I have more confidence that we will see Martin Luther King Jr. in heaven than confidence that I will see men like Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield in heaven, since they owned slaves.” That’s slander. When someone says things like that they are either virtue signaling or are incredibly embarrassed of their forefathers, and in so doing slander their forefathers, and in so doing they are not showing Christlike love to the world; instead they end up doing just the opposite. But we should not do that, if we are to follow Jesus’ command to love one another as He has loved us. We are to honor our fathers and mothers, those who came before us in the faith. This doesn’t mean that we white wash history, they were not perfect people, but we love them even with all their faults and sins, we still love and honor them.
If we are concerned with the glory of God in Jesus Christ, and that is what we seek, and if we have been loved by Jesus, then this is what we will strive for. We will be concerned with loving one another as Christ has loved us to the glory of God the Father, as a witness to the world. We cannot claim to be about the glory of God and the fame of Jesus Christ, if we neglect one of the very simple things that the world sees and concludes whether we are Christ’s or not.
As we strive toward this great endeavor, we must keep on the forefront of our minds the fact that loving one another is not what makes us Jesus’ disciples, it’s just how all people will know that we already are. Loving one another as Christ has loved us is something that only people who are already Christians can do. If we try to do it in order to make ourselves Christians, we can be sure we are not making ourselves into Christians. As John says in his first epistle, we love because He first loved us.
Christ has loved his people freely, notwithstanding all their unworthiness and sin. So also we should liberally love one another.