“New Commandment” John 13:31-35

JOHN 1331 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.” (John 13:31-35)

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Grace and peace to you all from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

Love, love… let us love one another. ‘Love’ is so popular word, so often used, and, unfortunately, so often misused. Especially in our contemporary Western culture.

I would propose that today we look at the three things. First, let us try to recover what is the meaning of the word “love” in the Biblical context. Second, let us see how the contemporary culture has stolen and distorted the meaning of this word. Third, how we can love one another sacrificially as Christ loved us.

What is the true meaning, how culture has stolen and distorted it, and how we can love one another sacrificially

First. What is the meaning of the word “love”? Of course, no one has monopoly for the word “love” and it can be used differently in different contexts. We can say that we love our friends, we love food, we love sport, we love our children, we love our congregation. Obviously these are different types of love.

From 19th century movement called romanticism we inherited the understanding that the love among human being is mostly about feelings. These nice, warm feelings, which make your heart beat faster when you see your loved one, the person you adore, the person you want to be with.

When you have these feelings, you have the love, when you don’t have then, you don’t have the love. And, of course, we all are entitled to have love, right?! At least this is what our culture teaches us today. And if after few years with your spouse, or girlfriend, or boyfriend you don’t have these feelings, to which you are entitled to, then you go and seek for them somewhere else. So familiar story in our society.

Is this the same love which Jesus commanded?

Today’s Gospel reading helps us to understand what is meant by the word “love” in Biblical sense. Of course, this will be just a glimpse of it, as we cannot exhaust this topic in one sermon.

First thing that we need to remember – the Biblical love, the one that Jesus is talking about, is not about feelings, it is about doing. It is not an emotion, it is an action! The love is doing, the love is an action! This is the first thing we need to remember if we want to understand what Jesus is commanding us. His love is the action and so our love should be.

What is the context of today’s Gospel when Jesus commands us to love one another? A few weeks ago we discussed events of Maundy Thursday, when Jesus, having received from his Father the authority over all things, took off His upper garment and washed His disciples feet, thus humbling Himself to the extent which seemed almost offensive to His disciples.

As we know, this act of such humble service was just a step before He showed His ultimate love on the Cross, laying down His life, so that we can have ours.

Let me ask you this? When Jesus showed His love to His disciples, do you think He had these nice, romantic feelings? ‘O, these wonderful guys!’

Remember, He is God, He knows everything. He knows that one of them is going to betray Him, to deliver Him to torture and to extremely painful death. That all others are going to abandon Him, run away and to deny Him. He knows all of this – and, nevertheless, He washes His disciples’ feet.

When Christ loves us today, accepting us as we are, forgiving us, purifying us, restoring us back to life, do you think He has these romantic feelings? Don’t forget, He sees dark passions of our hearts, and our thoughts; till the last one.

I don’t know about your thoughts and passions, you know about them. But I know about mine. Seldom there is something Jesus would be happy about.

Despite of that, He still welcomes and loves us. As the apostle Paul put it – Christ died for us when we were still in our sins. Do you think God takes pleasure in the fact that we, as His creatures, ignore His will and act against it, harming ourselves and our neighbors? Do parents take pleasure when children disobey their good advices and destroy their life? No, of course, not.

But regardless of what we do, speak, think or covet … “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Mat 5:45)

The love of God is the action. His love comes and suffers with us, it serves us sacrificially, denying Himself for our sake. There is nothing too precious for Him, if only by loving us, He can gain us. Even His life He gives for us. For you and for me. Not because we are so good, but despite of what we are. He does it solely because of who He is… loving God, who shows His love in action. When we look to the love of God as revealed in Jesus, we can see what the true Biblical meaning of the word “love” is.

The second point was about the contemporary culture stealing the word “love” from Christianity. Sounds strange. Right? This is an interesting phenomenon. One may notice that our culture uses the word “love” quite often. We are supposed to be loving persons. Sounds so good.

Let me ask, where did our Western culture get this idea that we need to be loving persons? Because it is not something obvious. In case if we have secular evolutionist worldview, then this life is about the survival of the fittest. Where is there a place for the love? Instead of serving weakest, let strongest prevail!

If you look to other world religions, e.g. Hinduism… don’t even try to love someone! With your loving actions you can corrupt their karma and they will have to return back again in the next life to suffer, what they were supposed to suffer in this life. Or look to Buddhism – all the problems come from our attachment. The love, this is attachment into the highest extent. Do anything, just don’t love!

Where from has our society got this idea that we need to love one another? They may not know the answer, but we do. We know who is the author of these words: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

So, our culture has borrowed or inherited the concept of “loving” from Jesus, but what has it done with it? We can hear everywhere that people need to be loving. Yes. Often by “being loving” in understood acceptance of others as they are. Other religions, other orientations, other values, etc. We can also hear that: “You know – Jesus accepted everyone – how could you dare not to accept someone who is different?”

Often we as Christians are caught by this demand to love, with a meaning to accept people of other faiths and behavior, accept everyone regardless what kind of people they are. And who would be ready to say that ‘I don’t want to be a loving person.’ It’s difficult.

Then we can fall into one of two ditches. Forced to love, meaning – to accept, to tolerate without reservations, we sometimes are tempted to give in and say: “Yes, OK, if Jesus did, then we probably have to do the same.”

Or, if we clearly see that beliefs and behaviors which we are asked to accept are contrary to the Word of God, and we want to remain faithful, then we may reject those people representing those beliefs and behaviors.

Thus, on the one hand, we may uncritically accept what the culture demands us to accept, and, on the other hand, together with unacceptable believes and behaviors we may reject also peoples, still created in the image of God, and still redeemed by Christ blood.

Yes, Jesus accepted sinners, He ate with them, with tax collectors, with prostitutes, and other outcasts of society. Not with imaginary evildoers, but with very, very real ones. One can also say, that He even didn’t condemn adulterous woman. That’s also true. But one, very important point is often omitted.

One detail which totally changes the meaning of the word “love” as the culture often tries to enforce it. Jesus accepted all, for “He desired all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1Ti 2:4 ) He didn’t accept them so that they can remain in their sins.

No. His acceptance was just a beginning. He accepted adulterous women, but then said: “Go and sin no more.” He called tax collector Matthew and made him His disciple, and today we have the gospel according Matthew. First one in our New Testament. Jesus ate with the worst of tax collectors, Zacchaeus, and after that Zacchaeus gave half of his goods to poor, and all what he had defrauded he restored fourfold! Fourfold!

Jesus accepted everyone so that they can be saved. He accepted them so that, experiencing His love, they can be changed, transformed and restored to the life for which they were created. So that everyone can have a chance to learn the truth, to have the repentance and to experience the healing forgiveness of Jesus. He accepted them, but He also gave them the new life, the joyous life of forgiven sinners, the life in accord with God’s holy will.

We need to be cautious when society speaks about love; is this really love which Jesus commanded?

Finally, let us look how can we love sacrificially as Jesus did.

Here we are – this is the most difficult part. Do you think it is easy to love one another? You know, usually it is much easier to love those whom you don’t know. You just go, do some service, a mission work or whatever we call it, and we can feel good.

But how easy is to love these whom we know? Whom God has put in our life. Who have done a heap of injustice to us, who have offended, humiliated and treated us as badly as you can think of. And sometimes it happens even in congregations. Then Jesus says: “Love one another!” “No, I’d better die than love that person who did this to me…” Many of you will know from your experience how difficult sometimes it is – to love those whom we know too well.

But Jesus seems to have no limits. “Love your enemies, and pray for them and do good to those who hate you.” (Mt 5:44 / Luke 6:27) What? Does He really mean it? Yes, He does.

How contrary it is to the voice of our culture. Our culture says: “This is all about you. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to have everything. Think about yourself, care about yourself, love yourself!”

Suddenly. Love one another! Sacrificially. Not yourself, but people around you.

It is difficult task to love even those, whom we like a lot. Spouses, children, relatives, friends. Love often requires us to do what we actually don’t want to do.

But how can we love those, whom we dislike and who dislike us? We may have the same question even in the Church. Yes, we are holy community. But somehow there are so many sinners, which we may prefer to have in some other places. Without them any church would be better place. Sometimes we may think so.

How can we love one another? And, remember, this is not a suggestion! “May be… if you have nothing better to do, love them.” No, this is the command. This is God’s commandment. This is not an option. This is mandatory. On top of that: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples.” How do you feel about it? Heavy…  Don’t tell it me, tell is to your heavenly Father.

We cannot do what Jesus demands from us. Not on our own. We are not Him. We don’t have this sacrificial love within us. How can we obey His command? We cannot give what we haven’t first received. Such sacrificial love is not something we possess. This is something we need to receive from outside.

And you know what? John writes: “This is love […] that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1Jo 4:10-11) He loved us first. He gives His love to us first.

Because we have this incredible God, we have this unceasing source from which we can draw. “Love as I have loved you.” He has loved us first. He continues to love us first.

Jesus Christ knows our hearts; when we neglect Him, when we keep silent about Him, when we are ungrateful, unforgiving, when we cause pain to others and to ourselves. If someone is not good towards us, we turn around and look for a better company.

What would happen if Jesus would turn around when we deny Him, when we disobey Him, when we make Him sad? Jesus is faithful in His love. He gives rain and sun to both – the righteous and the wicked. He keeps loving us regardless of what we do. He doesn’t look for one who deserves His love, He looks for those whom His love is needed the most. He looks for us.

God has created us to live for others. That’s who we are. When we, empowered by Christ’s love, try to love one another, to act lovingly for the benefit of the people in our lives, caring about them, then we also have the true joy.

The true joy that comes from a good conscience that we have done God’s will, that the love which we so abundantly daily receive from Him, we have tried to give to others.

We can truly love one another only as long as we experience Christ’s love. His sacrificial love. When we experience His presence in the Divine service, when we remember His sacrificial death, and undeserved love to us, then we are empowered to love one another.

Then we can do it, not because this is the commandment of God, but because His love transforms our hearts and wills, it kindles fire, it kindles force inside of us and we burn to share with others in our life.

When Christ’s love is poured out over us, we cannot remain what we were, we are transformed to be a new creation. To love one another…   because Christ has loved us first. “By this all people will know that we are His disciples.”

Let this be our testimony!

Amen.

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