When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 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.”
This sermon is a bridge.
- It’s a bridge from Summer to Fall.
- It’s a bridge from a year of topical messages on marriage and regeneration and spectacular sins to a new extended exposition of the Gospel of John.
- It’s a bridge from the fruit of relational servanthood to the root of the Servant himself who modeled servanthood for us and made it possible by his blood.
- It’s a bridge from a Summer break from small groups to a new and stronger involvement in small groups at Bethlehem.
Let me make a comment about this bridge before we turn to our text. Since we finished Romans at the end of 2006, we have focused mainly on crucial topics that the Elders considered important for us as a church. Now it’s time to turn again to a season of sustained exposition. I wrote the Taste & See article this past week about why that way of preaching is important and why we are turning our attention to the Gospel of John. I’ll have more to say about that next week when we start at the beginning of the book.
Relational Culture and John’s Gospel
Today we jump into the middle of John at chapter 13 because this text is a bridge from what we have been talking about in the relational culture of Philippians 2:4—have the mind in you that is humble and counts others more significant than yourselves and looks not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others—a bridge from that fruit of love to the root of Love himself, Jesus Christ, who modeled it and made it possible by laying his life down for his sheep. If I understand John’s Gospel correctly, we will never be far in this new series from the issue of how we love each other.
John 13:34 is a bridge from focusing on the relational culture of loving each other into the Gospel of John. It gives us a golden opportunity as we begin the Fall together, to wave the banner of small-group life at Bethlehem. If Bethlehem is your home church, you need to know that we who are responsible for your souls believe that God has led us to shepherd you largely through your involvement in small groups.
Small Groups: Part of Our Organic Life
Small groups are not autonomous creations at Bethlehem. They are part of an organic life that moves from Elders and pastoral staff to trained and accountable small-group leaders to the people. Some shepherding happens in large groups like this, and in classes that are offered, and in ministry efforts that people join, and in spontaneous friendships. But the plan of your leaders is that you be cared for and accountable mainly through the organic flow of shepherding in small groups.
That’s why we do all we can to help you get connected in such a group, and it’s why we devote this Sunday every Fall to that effort. This is how a large church becomes small. This is how an impersonal church becomes personal. This is how a point of proclamation becomes a web of relationships.
Not a New Idea
It has always been this way. Small groups are not a new idea. When 3,000 people were added to the church in Acts 2, they attended the temple and broke bread in their homes. Soon that number in the church was 10,000-plus (5,000 men, plus women and children, in Acts 4:4). The key from the beginning was a combination of large assemblies and small fellowships. There are crucial aspects of Christian obedience that correspond to each of those. I pray that you will be responsive to our leadership and help us care for you in this way.
“A New Commandment I Give You”
The verse that I want to focus on is John 13:34: “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.” There are glorious things in verses 31–35 that I am passing by. We will be back, Lord willing. Today there is only time for one verse and one question: What’s new about the commandment to love each other?
I pray that Jesus himself will speak in this message concerning his commandment to Bethlehem that we love each other. Immerse your mind now in this text with me, and let the mind of Jesus saturate your mind. That is how we are changed. The word of God reveals the Son of God and the glory of God by the Spirit of God, and we are changed (2 Corinthians 3:18). This a miracle. If I did not believe in it, I would not be a preacher of this word. It has power far beyond mine.
Christians Are Under Authority
John 13:34: “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.” If you are a follower of Jesus, a Christian, a child of God through faith in Christ, you are a person under authority. You are not your own. You do not call the shots any more. Jesus is more to you than Master of your life, but he is not less. He comes to you with more than commandments, but not less. You are a person whose life is defined by the will of another, namely, Jesus. What he wills you want.
And what he wills and commands in this verse is that we love each other—that his followers love each other. “A new commandment I give you”—not a new suggestion, or a new idea, or a new possibility, or a new life-option, but a new commandment.
What’s New About Jesus’ New Commandment?
The question that has guided all my focus in this message is What’s new about the commandment to love each other? “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” I see two answers implied in this verse. The key to the answers is found in the words in the second half of the verse: “. . . just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” The newness of the command to love each other is found in the words “as I have loved you.”
I see two ways that the commandment to love each other is new in those words. First, the command is new because it is a command to live out the love of Jesus. Second, the command is new because it is a command to live on the love of Jesus. The words “as I have loved you” contain a pattern for our love for each other, and they contain a power for our love for each other.
Loving each other is not a new command per se. It was already there in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”). What’s new is that Jesus is now the pattern we live by and the power we live on. Let’s look at these two kinds of newness.
1) Jesus, Our Pattern: Living Out His Love
The basis of the first kind of newness (Jesus as our pattern) is found earlier in John 13. Look at what Jesus does at the very beginning of this chapter to provide the example of what he means when he says, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:1 and following:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when 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. . . . [Jesus’ love for us is about to be demonstrated]. 4b He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. [This is Philippians 2:3, counting others more significant than himself as he takes the role of a slave] . . . 12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
So here we have Jesus giving us an acted out pattern of love. So when we get to verse 34 and he says, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another,” we don’t have to go guessing what he means by “as.” As I have loved you in the pattern I just gave you a few moments ago. Verse 15 says, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” And verse 34 says, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” So the pattern of love to be followed is clear.
a) Laying Aside Status and Becoming a Servant
This is how we are to love each other at Bethlehem. It involves at least two things. One is that we lay aside status and rank and prestige and privilege and take the form of a servant—that’s what Philippians 2:7 said, and that’s what Jesus does here. Verse 14: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” By virtue of my status and rank and privilege as our Lord and Teacher, I am not obliged to wash your feet. But I “count you as more significant than myself” and serve you.
b) Engaging in Practical Deeds of Helpfulness
So the first part of Jesus’ pattern is that it lays aside rank and privilege to serve others. The second part of the pattern is that this love involves practical deeds of helpfulness. In those days, almost everyone walked. The roads and paths were dirt. There were probably no socks and no sidewalks. Everyone’s feet were more or less caked with dirt. The dirty work had to be done. Jesus did it for those who should have been doing it for him. He laid down a sense of entitlement. And served.
The new commandment is that we look at this pattern, that we watch our Lord and Teacher and Savior do this, and follow him in it. We live out the love that we see in Jesus.
2) Jesus, Our Power: Living On His Love
That leaves one more angle on the newness of this command to love each other. I called it, not living out, but living on the love of Jesus. When Jesus says that the new commandment to love each other is a commandment to love as I have loved you, he draws attention not only to the pattern of love we follow, but the power to love that we need.
Here’s where I get this idea. If you search the Gospel of John for the closest verbal parallel to the words of verse 34 (“Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”), the closest parallel is John 15:12: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” But here, instead of acting out a pattern to follow, Jesus describes a connection with himself that gives the power to love.
So the newness of the command to love like Jesus is not only the pattern of his behavior but his connection to vital power—our connection to that power by being connected to him. Look three verses earlier at John 15:9–10: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
The Key to Jesus’ Love
Jesus said the key to his love was his relationship with God the Father: “I abide in his love” (verse 10). Jesus lives in constant and perfect union with the Father. The effect is that the Father’s love moves into Jesus and lives there as a divine power to love. Then Jesus says at the end of verse 9, “Abide in my love.” So he abides in his Father's love, and we are to abide in his love.
That’s how we are able to love each other “as he loves us.” He loves us by abiding in the love of the Father. We love each other by abiding in the love of the Son—which is the love of the Father.
Abiding in Jesus
We can see the picture Jesus has in his mind in verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” There’s where I get the power idea. “Apart from me,” Jesus says, “you have no power to do anything.” You cannot love each other as I command you to love, if you do not abide in me as I abide in my Father.
So the newness of Jesus’ commandment is not only that Jesus has become our pattern for love by taking the role of a servant, but also that Jesus has become our power for love by himself abiding in the Father so that as we abide in him we are given the very love of the Father with which to love each other.
Trusting and Treasuring Jesus
And if you wonder what hour-by-hour abiding in Jesus means, it means hour-by-hour trusting him to meet all our needs and be our supreme treasure. And when we are confident that he will meet all our needs and be our treasure, we are freed and empowered to humble ourselves and meet the needs of others.
Which leaves one last question: How can we trust him to meet all our needs and be our treasure if we are sinners and deserve only wrath from God and not love?
Jesus, Our Propitiation: Laying Down His Life for Us
The answer is given in this very context. Right after saying in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” he says in verse 13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus could not leave us with only a pattern and only a power through union with him by faith. He had to go deeper and solve the problem of John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
Our problem is not mainly that we don’t love like we should. Our problem is mainly that because of our sin, God’s wrath remains on us. How is it removed? Why does God cease to be angry with us and instead pour love into our lives through Jesus and empower us to love? The answer is John 15:13: Jesus laid down his life for his friends. Jesus died in our place. Jesus endured the wrath of God that we deserved so that God’s justice would be satisfied and his love could flow unhindered through Christ to us and through us to each other.
The commandment to love each other is new because Jesus is the pattern and the power of that love. And he can be those for us, even though we are sinners, because he removed the wrath of God by laying down his life for us.
Together into Small Groups and John’s Gospel
I pray that we will move together into the Gospel of John and small groups this Fall. There are glories of Christ to be seen here that we have never seen before. And there is love to be lived here in small groups that some have never tasted before. The union of life in small groups and life in the Gospel of John will be a good marriage. I hope you come.