As we embark for a couple of week’s on looking at the “one another” commandments in the New Testament I thought it best to begin with the quintessential example, the one that provides the basis for all the others, John 13:34-35. But let us think for a minute about what “one another” refers to and suggests.
First, these words are directed to the church, to professed followers of Jesus Christ, to Jesus’ disciples. It is a special commandment just for them. It has overlap with the more general commandment to love thy neighbor, but it is more particular, and it speaks specifically to the disciples of Jesus. Apart from highly exceptional cases, there is no such thing as being a Christian in isolation. How many people talk about their relationship with the “man upstairs,” but they avoid the church. How many people are so critical of the church that they think themselves too good for it? How many people fall prey to the Gnostic notion that true spirituality is about the hidden, secret “thing” we have going with the deity, and does not of necessity translate into how we act and how we behave in and through these bodies and these relationships. This is one of the most insidious, the most nefarious of lies.
The root of this new thing that God was bringing about through Jesus, the “joy” that was set before Jesus, was this community of his followers that would draw life from Him and that would be truly different in a fallen world. Yes, they would be different morally. We’re getting to that too. But even morality is to be understood within the context of love. The specific commandments from which we derive our moral bearings themselves are simply detailed insights as to what love of God and love of neighbor look like. And now in the new commandment, given by Jesus in the last hours with his disciples, these words give meaning and continuity to all the other commandments. “Do not lie” and “love one another” are absolutely related. We’ll have time to work that out. For now, please let this verse and its meaning work deeply into your souls.
Second, these words connect the person and work of Jesus – “as I have loved you” – with the fundamental calling of his disciples. They are to be like Him. They are to live lives of self-sacrificial love one to another. Jesus’ disciples are to be like Jesus.
Third, the disciples’ credibility depends upon this, and thus the credibility of their witness to Jesus depends on this. “By this the world may know that you are my disciples.” The world is watching. How do we treat each other? Is there something truly different about our community than what characterizes the world around us? Despite all the trendy yackity-yack about love and acceptance and diversity and such, we live in a hate-filled world, even especially in the world of the yackity yack peace and love pundits. Jesus is calling for something truly deeper and more profound. It is love and truth wedded together. It is justice and acceptance reaching out and joining hands. It is holiness and peace kissing. This is a miraculous work of One more powerful, the Holy Spirit who was to come, and who has come. Only He can keep these dual realities coexisting. And love can only be known in the wedding of these opposites, as we see so vividly upon the cross of Jesus Christ. This will come out as we go along.
This mutual love, as Schaeffer rightly said, is indeed the “mark” of the church. May it be the mark of our church. May it be the mark of our relationships. The viability of our witness depends upon it: John 13:34-35:
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.”