Recovering Biblical Sanity - John 13:21-37

This entire section of Scripture is so profound and deep. Meditating on each idea is a worthy use of our time. Today, though, I can't help but zero in on v. 34-35.

"A new commandment I give 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."

Let's take it by each phrase...

"A new commandment I give you..."

Jesus isn't making a suggestion. This isn't something that we should take under advaisement and consider to what degree we will take it seriously and implement it. This is a command. This is Jesus, clothed with authority from on high, the King of Glory himself, having taken the form of servant for our sake, telling us to follow his example.

If we are followers of Jesus, this is non-negotiable and non-optional. Jesus isn't a ranting and raving parent insisting on our obedience with threats. But he is to be taken infinitely more seriously. This is not a game or a joke. This is not sentimentalism. This is life and death. Jesus is telling us how to love him and how lead others into life with him.

"that you love one another..."

Jesus is talking about loving other disciples of Jesus. Loving those around us who love Jesus like us is how we most obviously obey Jesus. God's commands are always given to us, not to rob us of life, but to lead us into the fullness of life. So Jesus is telling us here that our fullness of life now will be discovered and experienced through our loving relationships with one another. Life with God is by extension life with the people of God in loving fellowship.

"just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another..."

Things get real here. Without v. 35 we can think of loving each other in ambiguous terms. Apart from v. 35 we can be vaguely well-wishing toward each other and think we check the box. But v. 35 is there. And presses the point. Jesus is taking us beyond any natural conception of love. He's taking us beyond any natural desire to love. And he's certainly taking us beyond any natural capacity to love. He's commanding us to love each other, using his loving heart toward those who are his as the standard by which we measure that love.

This is problematic for us because it expands our minimized ideas of love well beyond the limitations we imagine. Jesus left the glory of heaven - a place of comfort, familiarity, status, belonging, love, privilege, peace, wholeness and beauty - to experience life among us on earth - a place of brokenness, displacement, alienation, rejection, hostility, injustice, disorientation, fragmentation, vulnerability, and exploitation. And that's just the beginning of loving "as I have loved you."

Jesus was willing to lay down his rights for our sake. Most us are moved by the thought and probably even desire at some level to follow that example. But Jesus did not do this theoretically, he did it concretely. He didn't just risk experiencing the worst here, and somehow avoid it. He willingly gave himself over the worst here, and endured every bit of it.

Jesus loved us to such a degree and at such a cost that he took on our weakness, our temptation, our shame, our guilt, our punishment, our suffering, to spare us from that which we deserved, and in order to give us himself and the status he has with the Father by virtue of his perfections. And he did so with no resentment, no hostility, no limits, no lines, and no exceptions.

"As I have loved you," therefore, means we move toward our enemies; see worth in the overlooked; takes seriously the marginalized; give selflessly to the entitled; respect those who offend us; sacrifice for those who take advantage of us; enter into the world of the "foreigner"; invite into our world the "other"; give up our comfortability for the possibility of restoring another's humanity and dignity; take responsibility to fix things we didn't necessarily break; and lay down our rights for the good of our brother rather than assert our rights at the expense of our brother.
Loving each other as Jesus loved us means nurturing emotional connectedness; bringing light-heartedness to heaviness; gentleness in place of abrasiveness; lowliness instead of arrogance; humaneness instead of callousness; attentiveness instead of dismissiveness; and kindness as much as correctness.

Jesus' example has us looking for how I can go further raather than why I shouldn't; exploring how I can give more rather than explaining why I give less; finding ways to heal others' wounds rather than nursing our own grievances; telling the truth with my words to you, but also upholding and honoring the truth with my treatment of you; holding to sound doctrinal positions without ever abandoning a humble disposition; and winning people without having to win arguments.

Loving as we have been loved means refusing to alienate; resisting the urge to write off; rejecting the instinct to set boundaries; risking the chance to be misunderstood; resolving to suffer for the benefit of another; rencouncing any claim of comfort and ease; relieving pressure wherever possible; wrecking the status quo; ruining cultural norms and societal expectations; resigning to lose face; and rejoicing in the aliveness of others.

These are some of the implications of what Jesus is saying when he says "as I have loved you..." Jesus is telling here, that we have not yet gone far enough. We have not come close as of yet to the limits of Jesus' love for us, therefore, we have work to do.

Here's what is at stake.

"By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Jesus is saying that when his disciples love each other in a way that reflects his love, it will be obvious to the world that we are of him. That doesn't mean the world will like us. They certainly didn't like him. Even if we do this perfectly some in the world will hate us as they hated Jesus. But, at least the world will hate us for being like Jesus, and not because we bear no resemblance to the Jesus we profess.

Jesus is giving the world permission to judge us on the quality of our love for one another. He is saying that the world has every right to think we're liars if our love for each other doesn't go far beyond the love of ordinary people for their friends. The love of Jesus and the reality of Jesus is most clearly displayed in the world by the love which Christians have among themselves. Which means that the gospel is most powerfully undermined where such love for one another is absent. We need to think about that.

The truth of the gospel holds regardless of our faithfulness to obey Jesus here. But the believability of the gospel is powerfully enhanced when we to obey Jesus in this way. This means that our witness to the world is communal by nature. Evangelism was never meant to be individualistic. We declare the truth of the gospel with our words, but we demonstrate the reality of the gospel by the beauty of loving community that goes way beyond anything the world has to offer or point to.
Beloved, we haven't gone nearly far enough yet in this. And the world needs to see the beauty of Christianity right now more than ever. We all have a meaningful contribution to make toward that end.

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