“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” (John 13:34–35, esv).
It turns out that loving Jesus is the easy part. And why shouldn’t it be? We who deserved so little have received so much. We who’ve earned nothing have been given everything. We who merit only judgment have been extended total forgiveness through Him. Instead of death, life. Instead of punishment, grace. Privilege. Status. Eternity.
What’s not to love here? What should be so hard about loving Jesus?
“Our love for each other is what will convince outsiders that we are Christ's followers.”
But then comes this “new commandment” that He left for His followers, less than twenty-four hours before He’d be hanging on a cross. And this commandment, oddly enough, would be the tougher one: “that you love one another.” Because what’s not to love here? In our Christian friends? In our Christian family?
Well, a lot of things.
But while loving Jesus is vitally, centrally important—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30)—our love for Jesus is not what creates the most lasting impression on the people around us. The thing that does the best job of helping people see and know what He can truly do to change a person’s life is our difficult obedience to this single, new commandment: “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
People in the world are accustomed to seeing relationships that don’t work. They see it at home. They see it on the job. They see it just about everywhere they go. But sadly, this same kind of breakdown occurs also among Christian believers and institutions. Often people have grown up in churches where they felt judged, inspected, measured, excluded—but not loved.
Just imagine, though, if people who almost never see actual demonstrations of sacrificial, forgiving, unselfish love could see it in real life—in us—as we relate to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Imagine what they would think. They’d started to wonder what this kind of community was rooted in. What would keep them from wanting to be part of a place where people genuinely love each other?
Outsiders are not as intrigued and impressed as we think by how well we do our worship, how well we teach our classes, or how well we proclaim the Word from our pulpits. But the assurance Jesus gives us, if we will faithfully develop and nurture this kind of love for one another, is that “by this all people will know that you are my disciples.” Our love for each other is what will convince them.
John the apostle, the same writer who captured these words of Jesus, would later say the same thing another way: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20–21).
That’s what people really want to see.
Father, forgive me for my lack of love toward others in Your family. You have not withheld from me the body and blood of Your own Son, yet I’ve been resistant toward loving certain people that You love with the same mercy and grace You’ve shown me. I humble myself before You today, asking for Your supernatural love to work through me in loving them better. And I pray that what You do in these situations will glorify Your name and inspire others because of what they’ll see of You through Your children. In Jesus’ name, amen.