By: Mike Newkirk
Recently, in an adult Sunday class at our church, Tim Philips was leading a teaching series on Worship in which he asked the question “Why does the New Testament talk so much about loving one another?” In the context of the discussion, we were looking at Paul writing in Romans 12:9-11 in particular:
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”
Immediately, my mind went to the Jesus saying in 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.”
This was a big deal at the time. Think of the original audience, tribalistic, mainly Jewish (12 tribes there) and they have been called out to be separate from the cultures around them by Yahweh. How dissonant Jesus’ saying must have sounded to them!
But what about the law as elucidated in Leviticus 19:18b?
“..you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord”
It is clear that this was a new commandment as recorded by John. A radically new commandment.
Jesus extended the Leviticus passage in two significant ways.
1. Jesus modified “love your neighbor” to “love one another”. Who was he speaking to? All those who are His followers. Regardless of their tribes and tongues, we are to love each other who claim Jesus as who he claimed to be. It’s no longer your tribe, your clan but all people, in all places, in all times. In their mind, my neighbor is my tribe, namely, other Jews. Thus, he is saying the New Covenant community is radically inclusive. No longer are we talking about neighbors as our kinsmen or clans, but all who believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior, as God incarnate. In our modern context you can’t get any more inclusive than this. All are welcome and invited.
2. Jesus modified from loving “your neighbor as yourself” to “love as I have loved you”. The standard of love has been adjusted from how we love of ourselves to how Jesus has loved us. Given that Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet and that this foot washing points to his death the implication is that we are willing to lay down our lives for one another in the family of God.
Thus, Jesus’ marching orders to his disciples on the night before he gives his life for them calls them to imitate his sacrificial love and to love each other across national, cultural and racial boundaries to the point of laying down their lives for one another. In this sense, He was calling for a profound change in their thinking that should be seen as a most radical shift in culture in their day and especially, even now in our day. The defining characteristic of our Christian witness, of our following Jesus, would be our love for each other. Jesus states this unequivocally in verse 35 immediately following:
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
As a brief aside, we should note that the call to love one another as followers of Jesus does not harm any of Jesus’ teaching that calls his disciples to love those who are not committed to following him. Jesus calls his followers to love our enemies even as the Father actively loves his own enemies (Matthew 5:44-45). This teaching has a different focus and purpose. It’s not that we are to love those who don’t follow Jesus less, it’s that there is a call within the Christian community to love one another more.
Our love for one another in the community of Jesus followers is paramount for our witness to this world. What would it say to a watching world if those who claim to love Jesus didn’t love and care for one another. Consider then also what it says to those outside the church when they see inside the church a deep and abiding sacrificial love for one another across racial, cultural, and national boundaries. My prayer is that Redeemer Raleigh would be a place that radically loves. That we are willing to extend ourselves and push our comfort zones to extend the radical love of Jesus to one another. This is a worthy goal. A goal that our King has set for us. And that makes all the difference, because he loves us and prays for us constantly.