There is nothing quite like sermon prep to really push you deep into a passage of Scripture. Like most Christians I’ve known and memorized and quoted and written Jesus words in John 13 to the disciples (and to us): A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you. So shall all men know that you are my disciples.
It’s a powerful verse with wide-ranging implications. So powerful, we’re studying the immediate context, John 13:31-38, in two messages. I have four basic points: 1) The Source of Love 2) The Supernatural Nature of Love 3) The Mark of Love 4) The Secret of Love. I couldn’t find a word that means “mark” that starts with an “s” so I guess I failed basic homiletics. Oh well.
Here’s what really struck me about Jesus words. We often get them inside out. If I just love more, then people will want to know Jesus. But Jesus seems to say, “when you love, people will know you have been with me.” In other words, this is a love that isn’t self-generated. That’s why its a new and fresh commandment.
The commandment in the law was to love your neighbor as yourself. But Jesus said a follower of His will do more. Grace always goes above and beyond what is required. Phileo love, which is friendship love, love that is part of the natural give-and-take of human nature–this is all that was expected. Be fair, be equitable. Be as nice to your fellow Jewish person as you would want them to be to you.
What Jesus called the disciples to was much more radical. This is loving not just your fellow Jewish neighbor, but loving “one another.” Remember the disciples had just been arguing over who was the greatest. They had refused to wash each other’s feet in the the absence of a servant. They hailed from different backgrounds. There was both a right wing zealot, Simon, in their bunch as well as a sell-out government tax man, Matthew. Jesus said to them, “its not good enough to love the people who love you and love the people you like and who agree with you. You must love one another.”
Jesus was setting the tone for the new movement, the Church, where Jew, Greek, bond and free would unite in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
But how to love like Jesus with agape, supernatural love? This is not natural. So how could Jesus command they do this? Because Jesus also equipped them. Love as I love means not just to use Jesus as an example, but to literally love others as you are loved by Jesus. Jesus love for us empowers us to agape love others. Where God commands, God always equips.
This lines up with the rest of the New Testament. In Galatians 5, Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit. Guess which one occurs first? Love. Did you ever think of love as a fruit of the Spirit? I haven’t. I’ve usually just thought of love as this fuzzy, emotional thing we summon when we feel good. That’s regular, phileo, human love. The bottom-line, expected, fair love.
Everyone can show phileo love. You don’t have to be a Christian to exhibit this love. But, when you begin to demonstrate agape love, you will know the Spirit is working in your life. And people will know you are a disciple. You have been sitting at the foot of the Master.
So the key is not to go home and try really hard to agape love. This is a recipe for failure. Because we can’t agape love. It must be produced in us through the work of the Spirit.
What’s the key? The key is to know God deeper, fuller, richer. To dive into the Word and let the Word dive into us. To hear preaching, let it soak in and be changed. The more we understand and embrace God’s agape love for us, the more we’ll be able to demonstrate it to others.