Shortly before His death, Jesus told the Apostles “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” (John 13:34) It may seem odd that Jesus describes loving others as “new” since God had already said “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) He did this by Moses, as recorded in the book of Leviticus, where He also forbade several hurtful deeds we sometimes do. (Lev. 19:11-18) So loving and treating others right are not new or unique to Christianity. However, there has to be something new about the Lord’s command because He said it was new.
While love and decency are timeless, the truth is most do not practice these virtues the way God wants them to. The Jews, who received the command in Leviticus 19, did not always love one another. In fact, the twelve tribes divided and fought with each other, and even tried to destroy one another at times. God also accused the Jewish leaders of oppressing and mistreating the poor, widows and orphans. (Zach. 7:10-11) If you look at the Jew’s long biblical history, clearly they did not always love as God wanted them to.
Now if turn you attention to the pagans you will see they were worse than the Jews about loving others. Pharaoh was cruel to Israel, so God freed His people and punished Pharaoh. (Exodus 1) Because of Israel’s sin, God sent the Assyrians, a cruel and merciless people, to destroy them. (Jer. 6)
The love Jesus spoke of in John 13 was new in that it would permeate and rule His people forever. (1 Peter 4:8) Never before had a kingdom of people existed because of their love for God and each other. (1 John 4:7) Think about it for a moment, every faithful Child of Christ lives and serves in love. I know there are people who associate themselves with a local church who do not love as they should, but they are not God’s children. They cannot be a part of God’s family and kingdom without love. (1 John 4:20-21)
Read what John said about love and one’s union with God. 1 John 3:10 – In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. And again in 1 John 3:14 – We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Here is the deal, if you do not love as you should then you are not in His kingdom.
Another way in which the command to “love one another” is new comes from the qualifier Jesus adds to the verse. He says, “As I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) Until the life of Christ no one could fully understand the depth and meaning of love. However, in His life Jesus taught us what it means to love someone else.
First, He gave His love freely to all people in that He came into the world to save sinners. (1 Tim. 1:15) Jesus does not want anyone to perish, not even the ones who crucified Him. (2 Peter 3:9) He gave this love to people who would respond and to those who would not. (Acts 2 & 7) It was a love not seen before the life of Christ.
Second, giving His love cost Him something valuable in that He left His place in heaven and lived in the form or likeness of man. (Phil. 2:5-8) It also cost Jesus His life when the Jews crucified Him, and by it He paid the price for our sins. Never has someone given up so much to love others, and this is the example we must follow.
Next, the life of Christ shows us how actions bear out and prove love. When we rebelled, when we sinned, when we became lost God took action to save us. Please understand, it is not enough for us to say we love, we must prove it by our actions just as God did. (1 John 3:18)
Finally, His life demonstrates love in the way He cared for His disciples. Jesus spent time, day and night, teaching and encouraging His followers. Even when exhausted Jesus would turn no one down who wanted or needed help. How can we say we love God, Christ, and our fellow Christians if we do not give the time needed to show that love? (John 15:8-12)
So when Jesus said a “new command I give to you”, He spoke the truth because there had never been the depth of love shown by His life. It is not enough for to love as the world loves or to love as fitting our nature. We must rise man’s common love and reach toward the Divine love of Christ. (Matt. 5:43-48) I believe people can see the difference between the two, and that is why Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples.” (John 13:35)