Loyal to the death—John 13:34-35

When Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us, why does he call this a “new” commandment (13:34)? Did not God command all believers to love one another already in the Old Testament (Lev 19:18). What makes this commandment a new commandment is the new example set by the Lord Jesus.

The immediate context makes this example clearer. Jesus takes the role of a humble servant by washing his disciples’ feet (13:1-11)—a role normally performed by servants or those adopting their posture. Then Jesus calls on his disciples to imitate his servanthood (13:12-17). In the same context, we understand the degree to which he became a servant for us by noting what he would suffer: Jesus and the narrator keep talking about Jesus’ impending betrayal (13:11, 18-30). Jesus explains that he is being “glorified” (13:31-32), i.e., killed (12:23-24); he is about to leave the disciples (13:33), and Peter is not yet spiritually prepared to follow Jesus in martyrdom (13:36-38).

This is the context of loving one another “as” Jesus loved us. We are called to sacrifice even our lives for one another! As 1 John 3:16 puts it explicitly (my paraphrase), “This is how we recognize love: He laid down his life on our behalf. [In the same way], we also owe it to him to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters in Christ.” The next verse (1 John 3:17) suggests that if we can lay down our lives for one another, certainly we can seek to meet one another’s needs in less demanding ways.

The rest of the Gospel of John illustrates more fully Jesus’ example of love and servanthood, which culminate in the cross.

In many places in the world our brothers and sisters are suffering. Indeed, many even near us may be hurting. What would Jesus do? Now that his Spirit is active within us (John 14:23), what would he have us do?

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