Is there something that we as a small congregation can do to make an impact on our community? How can we reach out effectively? Jesus, as recorded in John 13:31-38, gives you a simple yet powerful way of letting people know that you are his disciples. He commands you to love one another.
This is an old commandment, but it is also new. Leviticus 19:18 instructs you to love your neighbor as yourself, a commandment that Jesus repeated as part of the summary of the Law of God. Yet, what he commands his disciples and you is new. The standard is new. The measure is not just love as you love yourself, but love as Christ loved you. Further, in sending his Son, God enables you to obey. “The ‘newness’ in the commandment lies fundamentally in the new possibility that the commandment has acquired because God has, as it were, set the sending of his Son behind the commandment, thus making it fulfillable, as Paul puts it in Ro. 8:3ff.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, p. 477).
Not only is Christ’s love the measure for the love you are to show, but your ability to love grows out of his work. He loves to the uttermost, John 13:1. He was willing to wash feet. He is going to his Father. The glorification he speaks of is not only his ascension into heaven, but it includes his being lifted up on the cross. It is what Origen describes as a “humble glory.”
What marks you as Christ’s disciple? We might suggest right doctrine or strong faith. Both are important. But what Jesus points to is love. This is the standard that Christ gives, the mark by which the world will recognize that you belong to him. Love for your brothers and sisters is not first of all having warm, fuzzy feelings about them, but being willing to sacrifice for them, treating them as Christ would have. Even pagans noted the love that the early Christians showed, not only to one another, but even to them. When the world sees your life, does it see that love? Or do you hear a sarcastic, “And you call yourself a Christian!”? “There can be no mistake about these words. Love was to be the grand characteristic, the distinguishing mark of Christ’s disciples. Let us note that our Lord does not name gifts, or miracles, or intellectual attainments, but love, the simple grace of love, a grace within reach of the poorest, lowliest believer, as the evidence of discipleship. If we have no love, we have no grace, no regeneration, no true Christianity!” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, on John 13:35).
Jesus tenderly addresses the eleven disciples as “little children.” He speaks of his glorification and warns them that he is leaving. Then he gives the crucial instruction to love one another. What is Peter’s response? What is Peter’s response? A question that turns the discussion in another direction: Lord, where are you going?” Like Peter it is easy for us to over-estimate our commitment, our ability to follow Christ and stand for him. Jesus warns Peter bluntly that before the cock crows, Peter will have denied him three times. Pray for the grace to look away from your own strength to the love that Christ exercised as he laid down his life for Peter and for you.
Pray for wisdom to obey Christ’s command in the tension that characterizes the Christian life. Understand that there are times that error must be exposed and opposed, as Jesus did. Beware of sacrificing truth in the name of love. But also beware of the danger of losing love as you do battle for the truth. How can you show love for those with whom you worship? Can the world spot you as a Christian by the love you show?
As Jesus told the disciples, you cannot go where he is right now. But you can follow him. As you do, love one another.