The title for my message comes from the Gospel of John. John was called the apostle of love. Even John calls himself the beloved disciple. John was close to the Lord at every meal. John was the one to lean up against Jesus. What we call a “bosom pal.” John was always number one.
As John got older, he became more and more emphatic about this word love. In fact as an old man, whenever he was asked to contribute on the Sabbath morning worship, he would say, “my little children, love one another.” They say he had many texts, but one sermon.
Love, love, love.
He was the apostle of love, and there are many scholars who feel that the apostle John brings Christianity to its peak. That his writings in the New Testament are the summit of New Testament Christianity. That his emphasis on love is the climax of the New Testament teaching. Of course, he was the one apostle who said, "God is love" (1 John 4:8), which is a sublime and profound statement about the Divine. So, John’s emphasis on love is considered the pinnacle of New Testament teaching.
A new commandment
Let's look at the passage that contains the title to this message. Jesus is speaking.
“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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).
The word new does not mean “new in time,” because love has been important to God's people even from the Old Testament times (see Leviticus 19:18). It means “new in experience, fresh.” It is the opposite of “worn out.” Love took on a new meaning and power through the death of Christ on the cross. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, love had a new power in their lives.
In the Old Testament, the commandment that God’s people love one another was one of many, but now this old commandment is lifted out and given a place of pre-eminence.
How is it possible for one commandment to stand head and shoulders above all others? This is explained by the fact that love is the fulfilment of God’s law (Romans 13:8–10).
Why do we obey?
There are three motives for obedience. We can obey because we have to, because we need to, or because we want to. Which reason does God want for you?
A slave obeys because he has to. If he doesn't obey he will be punished.
An employee obeys because he needs to. He may not enjoy his work, but he does enjoy getting his paycheck! He needs to obey because he has a family to feed and clothe.
A Christian is to obey his Heavenly Father because they want to—for the relationship between him and God is one of love. "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). So, willing obedience to God's Word is proof of our love for Him and for those around us.
Love cannot be compelled, love cannot be forced or threatened into being. Love is freely given and freely received, or it isn’t anything at all.
The commandment “Love one another” is the fulfilment of God’s law in the same way. When you love people, you do not lie about them or steal from them. Love for God and love for others motivates a person to obey God’s commandments without even thinking about them! When a person acts out of Christian love he obeys God and serves others, not because of fear, but because of his love.
Perfect love casts out fear
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).
A believer in Jesus Christ who is walking in light does not have to fear, for he has experienced the love of God and this love is being perfected in him day by day.
So what about the many phrases so often repeated in the Bible: “the fear of the Lord.” This phrase does not suggest that God’s children live in an atmosphere of terror or torment, “for God has not given us the spirit of fear”. Let’s have a look at a few verses that show this.
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7)
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15).
“The fear of the Lord,” rather indicates that God’s children hold their Father in reverence and will not deliberately disobey Him or try His patience.
Living in love
A group of teenagers were enjoying a party, and someone suggested that they go to a certain restaurant for a good time.
“I’d rather you took me home,” Jan said to her date. “My parents don’t approve of that place.”
“Afraid your father will hurt you?” one of the girls asked sarcastically.
“No,” Jan replied, “I’m not afraid my father will hurt me, but I am afraid I might hurt him.”
She understood the principle that a true child of God, who has experienced the love of God, has no desire to sin against that love. God wants His children to live in an atmosphere of love and confidence, not fear and torment. We need not fear life or death, for we are being perfected in the love of God. Therefore, our love for one another is being perfected as long as we continue to walk in the light. As long as we continue to abide in Christ by faith.
A new emphasis for an old commandment
Jesus says that “Love one another” is a “new commandment”. It is new in emphasis. It is no longer just one one of many commandments. No, it stands at the top of the list!
Jesus is our role model for love. “Love one another,” was first true in Christ, and now it is true in the lives of those who are trusting Christ. Jesus Himself is the greatest example of this commandment.
When one looks at Jesus Christ, one sees love embodied and exemplified. In commanding us to love, Jesus does not ask us to do something that he has not already done Himself. The four Gospel records are the account of a life lived in the spirit of love—and that life was lived under conditions far from ideal. Jesus says to us, “I lived by this great commandment, and I can enable you to follow My example.”
Jesus is the perfect Example
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
But Jesus died not only for his friends, but also for his enemies. And as they crucified Him, He prayed for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).
In his life, in His teachings, and in his death, Jesus is the perfect example of this new commandment, “Love one another”.
It is Jesus’ life that makes the commandment “new.” In Christ we have a new illustration of the old truth that God is love, and that the life of love is the life of joy and victory.
Following our Example
So how do we evidence this love?
Unless one is born again, he cannot have this love
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7–8).
“Hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
When a sinner trusts Christ, he receives a new life and a new nature. The Holy Sprit of God comes to live in him and the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Spirit. It is only as God’s Spirit floods our hearts with love, that we in turn, can love one another.
God does not have to give a new believer a long lecture about love! “For you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). A new believer discovers that he now hates what he used to love, and that he loves what he used to hate!
The commandment to love one another is in our hearts from the very beginning of our faith in Jesus Christ. If this were not so, John could not have written, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.” (1 John 3:14).
Unless one is walking in the light, he cannot love
“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11).
Two ways of life are contrasted: those who walk in the light practice love; those who walk in darkness practice hatred.
If a Christian walks in light and is in fellowship with God, he will also be in fellowship with others in God’s family. The Bible repeatedly emphasises this truth. It is easy to talk about Christian love, but much more difficult to practice it.
To walk in the light means to be honest with God, with ourselves, and with others. It means that when the light reveals our sin to us, we immediately confess it to God and claim His forgiveness. And if our sin injures another person we ask their forgiveness too. Walking in the light means obeying God's Word (1 John 2).
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).
To walk in the light means to spend time daily in God’s Word, discovering His will; and then obeying what he has told us.
It is impossible to be in fellowship with the Father and out of fellowship with another Christian at the same time.
Jesus deals with this matter in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-26). A gift on the altar was valueless as long as the worshiper had a dispute to settle with his brother. Note that Jesus does not say that the worshiper had something against his brother, but that the brother had something against the worshiper. But even when we have been offended we should not wait for the one who has offended us to come to us; we should go to them. If we do not, Jesus warns us that we will end up in a prison of spiritual judgement where we will have to pay the last penny (Matthew 5:21-35).
In other words, when we harbour an unforgiving, unloving spirit, we harm ourselves most, cutting ourselves off. So, if we say we are in the light, we will prove it by loving the brothers.
What does love look like?
When we practice Christian love, we find life getting brighter and brighter. Hatred is what darkens life! When true Christian love flows out of our hearts, we will have greater understanding and perception in spiritual things. This is why Paul prays that our love may grow in knowledge and discernment (Philippians 1:9).
A Christian who loves his brother is a Christian who sees more clearly.
Love is not a shallow emotion that Christians try to “work out” so they can get along with each other. It is a matter of the will rather than an emotion—an affection for and attraction to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is letting God’s love reach others through us. This is obedience to God.
The best description of Christian love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7).
Let’s consider the “one another” statements in the New Testament and you will see how practical it is to love one another. Here are just a few:
- Wash one another’s feet (John 13:14)
- Prefer one another (Romans 12:10)
- Be of the same mind one to another (Romans 12:16)
- Do not judge one another (Romans 14:13)
- Receive one another (Romans 15:17)
- Admonish one another (Romans 15:14)
- Build up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- Confess your faults to one another (James 5:16)
- Use hospitality one to another (Peter 4:9)
- Forgive one another (Colossians 3:13)
In short, to love other Christians means to treat them the way God treats them—and the way God treats us. Christian love that does not show itself in action and in attitude is false.
Do we have a forgiving heart?
Jesus was once invited to dinner by a Pharisee. During dinner, a woman who was well known as a sinner came in and started anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume. Standing behind him at his feet (in those days, people ate by reclining on a backless couch at the table, so their feet were directed away from the table), she wet his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.
Naturally, the Pharisee thought this intrusion irregular, but said nothing. He simply thought to himself: “Good grief. If Jesus were really a prophet, he would know what kind of big-league sinner this woman is.” The implication being, righteous men don’t truck with sinners, especially woman sinners.
Jesus knew his thoughts, though, and asked him this:
Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then Jesus turned to the woman and said to Simon: “Look, Simon. You didn’t show me any particular love when I got here, but this woman certainly did, and big time. Do you know why? Because she is a big-time sinner who needs her sins forgiven, and she trusts me to do it, so she loves me big time. But you? Well, Simon, you don’t think you need much in the way of forgiveness, at least not from me, so you don’t show me much love. It’s like that with people who think they are reasonably righteous—they don’t love much, but people who know they are sinners and want my forgiveness, well, my grace inspires them to great love.”
The more we understand how much we’ve been forgiven, the more we love God who forgives us. And the more we love God who forgives us, the more we love and forgive our neighbour who wrongs us. Forgiveness generates love, and love generates forgiveness.
When we practise Christian love we will be living in the light, living in fellowship with God and with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not stumble or become stumbling blocks to others. And we will grow spiritually and will progress towards Christ-likeness.
There is a great contrast between the ugly “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21) and the beautiful fruit of the Spirit—“Love, joy, peace, patients, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
When we are walking in the light, the “seed of the word” can take root and bear fruit. And the first cluster the Spirit produces is love! But love does not live alone. Love produces joy! Hatred makes a man miserable, but love always brings him joy.
A Christian couple came to see a pastor because their marriage was beginning to fall apart. “We’re both saved,” the discouraged husband said, “but were just aren’t happy together. There’s no joy in our home. “As the pastor talked with them and they considered together what the Bible has to say, one fact became clear: both the husband and wife were nursing grudges. Each recalled many annoying little things the other had done!
“If you really loved each other,” said the pastor, “you wouldn’t file these hurts away in your hearts.”
What about us?
- Do we file hurts in our hearts?
- Do we hold onto grudges?
- Do we back-bite one another?
- Do we speak spitefully or slanderously about one another?
If we really love one another, we wouldn’t file hurts, we wouldn’t backbite. An unforgiving spirit always breeds poison in our hearts. Grudges and backbiting fester in our hearts like infected sores, and choke our faith in Christ.
Love thinks no evil and thus speaks no evil. This means that love never keeps records of things others do that hurt us. When we truly love someone, our love covers their sins and helps to heal the wounds they cause (1 Peter 4:8).
My question to you this morning is: Do you love?
When a brother or sister is away from Church do you call them to see if they are okay? I know what our Lord and Saviour would do, he would go walking to seek your well-being, no matter how far you live. Do you even pick up the phone?
When a brother or sister is sick, do you visit them? Or has life become so busy that we neglect these small but most important things?
Do you get down on your knees and pray for me? What kind of love for each other do we have, if we don't pray for each other?
Are all the words that come out of your mouth pleasant and kind? James says bridle your tongue! I say that will go a long way to demonstrating Christ’s love to others.
Do you feed the poor and needy? Our Lord bought us with His blood, He gave His blood for us. When was the last time you filled the belly of someone who was starving, dying from hunger?
When was the last time you shared the Gospel with someone? When was the last time you shared your testimony with someone?
Are you selfish with the Gospel? If you love, you should have a heart for the lost souls of this world. You should have a desire from a pure heart to seek the lost. For the love of Christ compels us to share our faith. In Paul's words, “The love of Christ constrains us.” If you have experienced the love of the Lord Jesus, you will also want to introduce Him to others.
Sheep and goats
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).
The sheep show attachment to Christ, and love to his cause. By showing kindness to the poor, the needy, and the sick, they show that they possess His Spirit, for he did it when on earth. They manifest, they demonstrate, an attachment to Christ by the love they have, for he was poor and needy; and they show that they have the proper Spirit to outfit them for heaven.
I want to leave you with this verse:
“If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
Do you love?