The New Commandment
Jesus is leaving.
That’s the context of the new commandment Jesus gives His disciples in John 13:34-35.
He says in verse 33, “Where I am going you cannot come.” Their teacher and leader of the past three years, for whom they have left behind family, friends, and careers, is leaving them. What do they need to hear at a moment like this? Maybe a carefully crafted condolence? Or a promise of assurance to comfort them?
No — Jesus gives a command.
He says in verse 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.”
A new commandment?! The disciples have three years of teachings, parables and commandments to obey and ponder. Where are the words of comfort?
If we keep reading the gospel of John, we know that they are coming in just a few short chapters. We know Jesus will tell them this beautiful truth, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
But at this moment Jesus doesn’t say that, instead he chooses to give them a new commandment. Why?
Because Jesus’ departure is a commission for His disciples.
Jesus says in verse 35, “By this (new commandment) all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus is communicating to them that His physical departure is not an end to His presence and work in the world. His presence and work will continue through the disciples!
What this means for us is that, because Jesus has not yet returned and His work of redemption and restoration is not complete, this commission is extended to all of us today who are disciples of Jesus.
Jesus’ departure is a commission for all of us.
We are the physical representatives of Jesus that continue His redemptive work in our world today. Paul makes this commission clear in his second letter to the Corinthians when he writes, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul identifies as an ambassador or physical representative for Christ with the mission of Christ — calling people to be reconciled to God. We, like Paul, have the same calling on our lives as disciples of Jesus.
Jesus, knowing that we need guidance to live as His ambassadors, graciously gives us a helpful, new commandment: “You love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
As you read this commandment, you may notice that it doesn’t seem very new. After all, Leviticus 19:18 says “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The disciples would have been familiar with this command — love your neighbor as yourself. They would probably be able to recall in vivid detail the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus famously illustrated loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. So this new commandment would seem very old to them.
So what is new about this new commandment? Jesus.
Jesus said, “You love one another: just as I have loved you.” Jesus sets the standard of love through his own example toward them.
We find this example at the beginning of this chapter as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet — a traditional act of humility and service. Jesus had no obligation to wash His follower’s feet, but He lowered Himself and counted them as more significant than Himself and served them (Philippians 2). It wasn’t glamorous or fun service, but love isn’t concerned with itself — love is helpful. This example of Jesus shows us that our love for one another should be expressed through humility and helpfulness. We should be “foot washers” — humbling ourselves to serve others in meaningful ways.
When we do this, the world notices. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples.” This type of humility and service is peculiar in this world. It stands out. It stops you in your tracks. Because it’s not of this world. Because it’s light in the dark. Because it’s Jesus. So we will fulfill our commission when we obey this commandment.
As a church, if we are serious about helping people take their next step toward Christ, then we need to be serious foot washers. We need to be a church filled with people humbling themselves for the good of others. We need to be a church filled with people quick to give of their time and resources, not because they are prompted by a pastor, but because God let them see the need first. We need to be a church of people who really believe that the only way to find our life is by losing it. We must be foot washers.
Let’s love one another like Jesus.
This article was written by Winter Garden Pastor Grant Nixon and originally published in the Holiday 2017 issue of Grace Magazine.