Loving One Another
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).- John 13:31–35
Jesus taught that love for Him transcends familial ties so that those who are His family are those who love Him and show it by doing His will (Matt. 12:46–50). So too must love for Jesus knit His disciples together as true brothers and sisters. This is the point of today’s passage. In fact, love for our fellow Christians shows the world we are disciples of the Savior (John 13:35).
Jesus says the command for believers to love one another is a new command (v. 34), but we would be mistaken to think love between members of the covenant community was unknown prior to His incarnation. Any faithful Jew from the time of Moses onward knew he was obligated to refrain from vengeance and grudges, and to love his neighbor as himself (Lev. 19:18). Nevertheless, there are two aspects of the new covenant that make love different, or more clearly understood as the will of God for His people.
First, we must love other believers just as our Lord has loved us (John 13:34). Certainly, we cannot atone for the sins of others, and therefore we cannot love others in the exact same manner as Christ loves us. Still, like Him we can be willing to lay down our lives for our friends, which is the greatest love of all (John 15:13). We can also follow Jesus’ example and empathize with others in their weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). All of us must do whatever we can to make our local churches places of refuge for repentant sinners where they can find forgiveness, love, and encouragement. If a penitent believer who has sinned heinously cannot find any friends in the church, we are not keeping this commandment.
Second, our love for other Christians must mirror the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father (John 15:10). Living under the new covenant, we have a clearer revelation of our Triune God who encompasses within Himself diversity (three persons) and unity (one essence). Like the Father and Son, the diversity evident in the body of Christ must not abolish our unity of purpose nor separate us into factions who war over relatively minor differences of opinion. True love for other believers unifies the diverse church.
True Christian love will unify believers, but this unity will not be a unity that denies the truth. Christian love and truth are inseparable; thus, we do need to separate from those who have abandoned the fundamental tenets of the Gospel. Unfortunately, we all too often seek any excuse beyond this to break away from other believers. All of us ought to befriend fellow believers who affirm the fundamentals of the faith even if they are not from our denomination or tradition.
Passages for Further Study
1 John 4:19–21