Just before Jesus was about to leave this world, he taught his disciples saying, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). By reading through the whole Bible, the command to love one another is not actually new. It goes back to the Old Testament. In fact, when Jesus was asked to cite the greatest commandment in the Law, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….and Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39). What then is the difference between Jesus’ new command and the command as prescribed in the Old Testament? The difference lies in the standard that is followed in loving one another. In Jesus’ new command, the standard is Jesus’ own love for us while the old command’s standard is our love for ourselves.
The way we practically live and apply the command to love our neighbors as ourselves does not measure up to the standard of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is because such love is very limited in that we only love our neighbors to the extent that we love ourselves. In fact, many do not even love themselves; hence they cannot be expected to love others fully. They are self centered and are not willing to make sacrifices for their neighbors. Their idea of love is not what we know as agape or sacrificial love. If at all, they have what we call eros (erotic love) which is sensual or romantic love, or phileo which is brotherly love. These kinds of love are less than perfect because they do not demand sacrifice; they are self-centered.
In his epistle, the apostle John emphasized that true love is active, when he said, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). It is not enough that we know that we love our neighbors or tell everybody else that we love them. We need to go beyond the words and actually demonstrate our love. It is not easy to love because it entails sacrifices. Most have been accustomed to erotic love and they tend to be very selfish and self-centered. No wonder the Lord Jesus had to give a new command to love – no longer the erotic love that we know, but agape love.
Because many do not actually have any idea of what true love is, the apostle John said, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Indeed, the Lord Jesus set the standard of love that we should have for one another by laying down his own life. It is no longer enough that we say we love our brothers and sisters. We have to be willing to actually sacrifice our own lives even to the point of death, just as Jesus did. It is like the agape love of God for us. When God said that he loves us, he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. It was a sacrificial giving but that is what love is all about. In turn, Jesus did not just come to earth to indulge himself in what this world can offer but he came to offer his life as a sacrifice because he, too, loves us.
To emphasize the sacrificial nature of love, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). No one can say that they truly love someone unless they are willing to lay down their own life for that person. This is particularly true in familial relationship where love is often taken for granted. Though they confess that they love their parents, children are not as loving as they ought to be. They are unwilling to lay down their own lives for their parents. They would rather pursue whatever they have set to pursue even if this means neglecting or abandoning their parents. It is more common to see parents manifesting sacrificial love for their children. The problem that we see in parental love is that some parents love their children so much that they are not willing to go to the extent of seeing their children disciplined. They have a wrong notion of discipline in that they consider it as not a part of love. However, the Bible clearly tells us that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:6).
A true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is known by the way he loves others. That love is not selfish or self-centered but agape love. He is willing to make the necessary sacrifices even to the point of laying down his own life. Jesus had set the example for us to follow and we must follow if indeed we are his disciples. Therefore, let us love one another just as Jesus has loved us. Hallelujah!