Tonight we are starting a new series of studies entitled MAKING THE CHURCH REAL. This time of year at JPC we always like to have a series in the evening on the Church or some aspect of Church life. So this year we are focusing on the One Another-s in the New Testament. There is a lot of teaching in the New Testament about how we should relate to one another. And my subject for tonight is Love one another. Nor is there any hidden agenda. It is not that we thought there was too little love in the fellowship here at Jesmond. So it was time we had some teaching to put things right! Can I say, that I praise God for the Christian love shown at this church. Many of us don't wear our hearts on our sleeves. So there may not be a great deal of gushing talk. But I thank God for the genuine concern I notice that many have for one another. I thank God for the love and concern shown to me over the years. Currently I have a problem with my right leg and shall be having a hip-replacement operation in June. But I have been touched by the genuine concern of so many folk in the congregation. [Incidentally, you may notice that I will be standing up less and walking around less in the next few weeks.]
And I thank God for the care that I see exercised in Home Groups and other smaller groups we encourage people to be in - these small groups form like a net for care and concern. Yes, some people do fall through the net. And some choose not to be in the net in the first place. We respect that. We appreciate that some of you choose not to be in a smaller group. So there are pastoral workers available to help you or link you up with someone who could help if you have a problem. At JPC we realize that perfection will only be reached in heaven. But I do thank God for the love, however imperfect, that is shown at this church among the members for "one another". However, even though there is evidence of love for one another, we need to remember Paul's words to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 4.10):
"you do love all the brothers ... Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more."
So there is no hidden agenda tonight. All I want to do is to think through what Jesus meant when he said, "love one another." So we will be looking tonight at John 13.31 - 14.4. I particularly want us to look tonight at verses 34 and 35:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
And my headings are first, A NEW COMMAND; secondly, ITS MEANING; and, thirdly, ITS RESULT.
First, A NEW COMMAND.
"A new command I give you: Love one another."
Let me put this into context. Jesus is celebrating what we now call the "Last Supper" with his disciples. Judas, the traitor, has just left the room. And Jesus, so to speak, now unburdens himself before the rest of the disciples. You know how it is - in a group when there is someone opposed to the group's objectives and goals, you have to measure your words. When they are gone, things are different. Look, then, at verse 31:
"When he [Judas] was gone, Jesus said, 'Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.'"
It probably was this that Judas could not cope with. Jesus is saying that his glory was not in his power or in his miracles, though they revealed his glory. No! His glory is in what is "now" (or, verse 32, "at once") about to happen - his death on the Cross. Judas probably was wanting Jesus to be glorified as a political revolutionary, freeing the Jews from the Romans. But Jesus says he will be glorified at Calvary. Then Jesus says, verse 33:
"My children, I will be with you only a little longer."
He warns them that physically he is soon going to leave them. Yes, the Holy Spirit will come in his place. But for now he will be with them "only a little longer". Then one day he will come again- John 14.3:
"if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."
But that raises a question. It is this. When he goes, and before he comes again, how are the disciples to live? Or what is to be the distinguishing mark of their lives in this period between the two comings of Christ? The answer is there for us in verses 34-35 and this New Command. The 17th century Bishop, Dr Ussher, a great Anglican Reformer, used to say there are eleven not ten commandments. For in addition to the 10 Old Testament commandments, he said, Jesus gave us this "new" commandment. Notice two things.
First, this is a command. It is not a piece of advice. It is like the command to repent and believe. We are commanded both to believe in Jesus Christ and to love one another. Listen to John in his first letter:
"And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us" (1 John 3:23).
So "loving one another" is not optional.
Secondly, this is a "new" command.
You say, "How is it a 'new' command?" Didn't we hear in our Old Testament reading those famous words in Leviticus 19.18:
"love your neighbour as yourself."
And doesn't John say, again in his first letter, when he is writing about brotherly love - 1 John 2:7:
"Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one."
Yes, the Biblical command to love is old and there in the Old Testament. But its newness can be seen in five clear ways. One, it is seen in the new and dramatic example of divine love on the Cross - that self-sacrificial love of Jesus. It is, verse 34, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Two, the newness is seen in the way Christ expounds the old command. You see that in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5.43-44 Jesus says:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
Christ's exposition certainly seemed new to the disciples. Three, the newness is seen in the heightening of love for those in the Christian fellowship and the wideness now of that fellowship. So Paul says in Galatians 6.10:
"as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."
And that family of believers is now not confined just to Jewish people but to all:
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3.28).
So there is to be love for one another across national, racial and colour distinctions. That is why the Globe is such an important part of our ministry here at JPC. Four, the newness is seen because of new needs. Christians will be attacked and opposed in the world as they seek to work for and witness to Jesus Christ. Jesus said to his disciples:
"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10.16).
Christians, therefore, need to be united in their love for one another. And, five, there are now new possibilities of loving one another. To those who trust in Christ, the Holy Spirit gives new power, new life and new strength. Oh, yes! This side of heaven no one will be perfect. But God, by his Spirit, helps you at least to move forward as you try to live according to his will. So this is a "renewed" command. It is a bit like an old book in a new edition. Jesus is not denying the old command. Rather he wants to fulfil it. He says:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them" (Matthew 5.17).
Jesus, then, gives us this command which is a "new" command.
Secondly, ITS MEANING.
Its meaning is given us by Jesus in the second part of verse 34 - we have already referred to it:
"As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
Divine love is so different to human love. Let's go back to the Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5.43-46:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?"
Divine love (God's love - Christ's love) does not depend on the loveableness of the people to be loved, or their gifts or abilities or strength or goodness. No! It depends on God's love alone. He loves irrespective of human merit. This has always been God's way. So in Deuteronomy 7 verses 7 and 8 you read about God's love for the Jews:
"The LORD did not set his affection on you [i.e. the Children of Israel - the Jews] and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt."
That was the redemption from Egypt that pointed forward to the Cross. But at the Cross and that great redemption for the world it was just the same - Romans 5.8 says:
"God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
So Romans 5.10 says:
"when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son."
All this is what is fundamental to Christ's love. It is love that originates not in the likeableness or merit of you or me. It originates in the divine nature. God loves because he is love. And that is how you are to try to love as a Christian. And that is why this can be a command. You can't be commanded to "like" someone. But you can be commanded to seek the basic good of another. This love is more to do with the mind and will rather than the emotions. It is wanting the best for someone. It is wanting to help them. But practically what does all this mean?
Well, think of how Christ showed his love in his ministry to both the crowds and his disciples. He was kind. When it was right he brought healing. He was concerned for people's welfare (for food when it was lacking and for physical safety when that too was lacking). He taught when there was ignorance. He advised when advice was needed. And with regard to his disciples he prayed with them and for them. He stood up for them and treated them as close relatives:
"Pointing to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'" (Matthew 12.49-50).
However, when necessary he rebuked his disciples. And when necessary he protected them against opposition. His love for them meant he did not white-wash the false teaching of the religious establishment. When his disciples failed him, he bore with them and forgave them. With Jesus love was not just in word. It was also in deed. In fact he had just washed their feet in that upper room - a job in those days of a menial slave. How do you measure up to that sort of love as revealed in Jesus' life? Jesus says:
"As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
And then there was his self-sacrificial death on the Cross. Jesus was about to say, in John 15.13:
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
Would you be ready to do that as a Christian - either metaphorically or literally? How totally against the modern world all this is! The philosophy of modern secular humanism, the religion that is presupposed in much of the West today and not least in education, is diametrically opposed to Jesus' teaching. This secular humanism is hardly to do with "love" at all - loving God or loving others.
It is all to do with the "self" - with self-actualisation and self-expression. As one famous psychologist has recently written:
"The commandment 'Know and express thyself' has replaced the Judaeo-Christian commandment, 'Love God and love others.'"
How we all need to go back to the Bible and root ourselves in its assumptions and suggestions. Here is a famous suggestion of Paul to help us with loving one another:
(Phil 2:1-5) If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
All that is included in what it means to love as Christ has loved us. So what is the result of loving one another as Christ has loved us? That brings us to our third heading tonight .
Thirdly, ITS RESULT.
Look at verse 35:
" By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
First of all you yourself will be assured of your standing as a disciple of Christ. In that first epistle, John says in chapter 3 verse 14:
"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death."
Secondly, other Christians will recognize you are a brother or sister in Christ as you show them care and concern and help. But, thirdly, and this is the point Jesus is making, this will impact the non-Christian world. In the second century, the early Christian writer Tertullian explained how Christians in the local church would give money regularly to a common fund. This was then used, he said, not for their own personal pleasure but, I quote,
"to support and bury poor people, to supply the needs of boys and girls who lack means and parents; of old people confined now to their houses; and also of those who have suffered shipwreck. Then if there are any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or in prison for nothing but their faithfulness to the cause of God's Church, they are provided for by the fellowship. But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many [outside the church] to put a brand on us: 'See, they say, how they love one another ... how they are ready even to die for one another."
Christians "loving one another" impacts the non-Christian world. It is a witness to Christ. The Holy Spirit undoubtedly uses Christian love to draw men and women to Christ. Conversely the devil uses a lack of love in the church to tempt people away from Christ.
I must conclude. I do so with a simple question. Are you part of the family of believers in Jesus Christ? Do you have Christian brothers and sisters from all over the world, of very different sorts, but who are all at least aiming to "love one another" as Christ has loved them? It is sad if you are not in that family. For this is a family with its Lord and Master a loving Lord who so loved us that he died on the Cross to pay the penalty of our sins. And this is a family with its law of living a law of love and with its members marked by love - not a woozy, wordy and so worthless love, but a practical, patient and persistent love. And you are either in or out of this family of believers. You can't be both in and out at the same time! How do you get in?
By believing in Jesus Christ - admitting your need; admitting your failures - your sins; seeking his forgiveness and the new life he offers by his Holy Spirit; and then starting to love as he loved us.