(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.”
In the early days of Christianity, a deadly sickness broke out in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. The sickness spread so easily that being in the same room with one of the sick meant you too would probably become ill, touching a victim meant almost certain death. Everyone in Alexandria was so afraid of the sickness that if someone in their house showed even the slightest signs of the sickness, they threw them out on the street to die – they didn’t even bury the dead for fear that they too would contract the disease.
But when a Christian became sick, the other Christians in the city would come and visit and care for their brother or sister who was sick. No Christian died without a fellow Christian being by their side caring for them. Even though the Christians knew that because they were in contact with those who were sick, that they too would most likely become sick, they continued to care for their sick and dying. So well did the Christians in Alexandria care for each other that outside the city were all the dead were being thrown, not one dead Christian could be found, for their fellow Christians took care of them even in their death, burying them, exposing themselves to the disease, rather than just throwing them in with the piles of other human corpses.
All the non-Christians in the city who had seen what these “Christians” were doing started asking each other – “What is the meaning of this?”
The answer went throughout all of Egypt, “They are of the Religion of Jesus of Nazareth, for these Christians love each other”
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The love that the Christians in Alexandria had so many years ago – that is the love that Christ commands us to have – and by it, the world will know that we follow Christ.
This is the clearest way to know whether you are a disciple of Christ – if you love as He loved. Are you in Christ this morning? Do you love your Christian brothers and sisters as Christ loved you? Think on that as we look more closely at this new command together.
Jesus says, that this is a new commandment – that it is not the same as what had been given in the law before He came. But is it really all that different?
We know the ten commandments:
I am the Lord thy God and you shall not have other gods besides me.
You shall not make for yourself any graven images.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor your Father and Mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet.
And the greatest commandment, what is that?
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
And the second?
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
But, on the night Jesus has His last supper with the disciples, as a parents on their death bead gives their last words to their children, He gives them this new commandment – a commandment that is different in at least three ways from the Old Testament law.
It is different in degree, different in motive, and different in example.
It is different in degree – we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as Christ loved us – which is way more than any of us love ourselves. The love of Christ surpasses all knowledge – it is a love that is so great that we cannot even comprehend it. It is a love that suffers everything for the sake of the one it loves. It is a love that dies, that the beloved might live.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
It is different in motive – the command in the Old Testament is backed by the statement, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exo. 20:2). Israelites were to follow the commandments of God because God had freed them from bondage in Egypt, but we are to follow this new command because Christ has redeemed us from eternal punishment in hell. The salvation granted to the people of Israel at the Red Sea did not continue after they died, it was a temporal salvation – but the salvation that Christ has brought us is eternal. Nothing can separate us from the love of God for we have been saved by Christ, once for all time.
It is different in example – the commandment in the Old Testament told us to look at how we love ourselves as the example of how we should love our neighbor, but this new command tells us to look Christ as the example of how to love our brothers and sisters.
There is no longer any excuse, for the example of Christ is clear – there is no room for, “But so and so is so hard to love!” or, “They don’t love me back, so why should I continue to love them?”.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Before I close I want to show you a simple application from Scripture. It happened the same night that Jesus gave this command, but is not mentioned in the Gospel of John. Turn with me to Matthew 26 verses 21 and 22.
And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?”
They thought they were all brothers in that room that night. No one pointed a finger at anyone, but automatically assumed that it must be themselves because they believed with all their heart that one of the other twelve would never do such a thing.
No one suggested, “Ah, it must be Peter, he’s always been hot headed and not thinking about what he does before he does it.” Or “It must be Judas, he’s always been a little sneaky with the money bag, in fact, I think I saw him stealing money out of it the other day!”
No, there was none of that.
There was only, “It couldn’t be me – could it? Could it be? Surely it is not me – Lord, is it?”
They expected evil more from themselves than from others. They believed the word of Christ, that one of them would betray Him, and so, one by one, they asked, “Lord, is it I?”
Then Judas, trying to keep up his deception says almost exactly the same thing, but exchanges the word “Lord” for Rabbi or Teacher – giving himself away as the betrayer and hypocrite –for the word “Lord” he could not bear to say can only be said in truth of Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).
But even after all this – the disciples still suspected no one. Even after Jesus ordered Judas “to do what he was going to do quickly” they did not know.
Being with Jesus they had learned to love one another. And soon the whole world would “recognize that they had been with Jesus”.
So where are you this morning? How’s your love? Do you love your brothers and sisters as Christ loved you?
This is the love that the Spirit of Christ grants all those who believe, to those who are His own:
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant
or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
At the beginning of Chapter 13, there is a perfect summation to all of this – a summation of the example of Christ that He is calling us to follow:
“Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)