Look: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13)
These words are part of Jesus’ farewell discourse in John’s gospel.
They encompass the new and higher command that Jesus gives to His disciples. Jesus’ new command sets a higher standard than does the great commandment, Jesus’ summary of the two tables of the ten commandments. That commandment, given in Matthew 22:37-39, is: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Jesus tells His Church that our command is to love each other as Christ has loved us.
And how did and does Jesus Christ love us?
He died on the cross for us.
He gave up on the easy path in order to follow the hard path for our sakes.
He died to Himself in order to liberate us and claim new, everlasting lives for all who believe in Him.
This is how Christians are called to love each other: to willingly give up our lives for the sake of others’ eternal salvation.
This isn’t to say that our lives can redeem sinners; Christ’s death alone accomplishes this.
But Christians are called to so die to self--our desires, our preferences, our orientations to our own individual inborn preferred sins, our own advantages or comforts--for the sake of others’ salvation.
A neighbor of my brother lived this call out in a truly heroic way. The neighbor was gay and he worked daily on an AIDs hotline. He also was celibate, explaining to my brother, that he knew it was God’s will that sexual intimacy be confined to marriages between women and men. That man died to himself in order to follow Christ and to help others know life with Christ.
This loving others as Christ has loved us, of course, is impossible for us to do in our own power. In the command to love each other with such self-denial and self-sacrifice is another one of those acts of righteousness Paul was referring to when he wrote: “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) After this, Paul throws up his hands and asks: “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24)
And this is exactly where the commands and laws of God leave us: They point us to the right and show us that we are incapable of doing it.
And this is where Jesus comes in. Paul answers his own question: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)
Jesus delivers the same answer in John 15, when He says: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
Through faith, inspired and maintained by God through our daily repentance and renewal, Christ’s obedience works righteousness in us, declaring us righteous for the sake of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and making us righteous--sanctifying us--by the power of the Holy Spirit working in those whose belief causes them to daily surrender self again and again. God truly treats repentant believers with amazing grace! And I am thankful!
Listen: But I must not fail to hear God’s law. I must hear it, not because it can save me, but because it’s God’s declaration of His will and because it’s so easy, in the rush of everyday events, for me to wander away from Christ (like a lost sheep) and try to live life in my own power.
I need to know how God’s law judges me so that God can lead me back to Jesus, God in the flesh. That’s why I always think of the prayer in Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Jesus’ command that I love others in the same self-sacrificing and self-denying way raises the question in me: Do I love others in the way Christ loves me? The answer, of course, is no...and not just because I haven’t given up my physical life for another’s salvation.
This leads to another question: In practical terms, how can I die to self in order to help others to know Jesus and have life in His name? What am I willing to sacrifice in order to help others have salvation in Christ?
And there’s another question: What sins have I indulged in my own life that have led others not to Christ, but to sin, because I was looking out for my desires rather than dying to myself?
All of this can be distilled to a single question, really: What do I love more: The God known in Christ, my fellow disciples, and other people or my sins?
Because Christ loves me, died for me, rose for me, and saved a place for me in eternity (John 14:2-3), I am set free to live with the same selflessness with which Christ lived and still lives.[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]
Respond: Father, help me to discern practical ways in which I can love others as Christ loves me, including ways to avoid leading people away from you.
1. Let my ears, in Luther’s phrase, be a tomb to gossip.
2. Help me to live modestly, including refraining from the overconsumption of food and of food not good for me, a sin to which I am prone. Overindulgence in food is a sure sign of being tied more to the world and the gratification of desires more than I am to Christ. (Philippians 3:19) I really need to attend to this, Lord. I pray Your Holy Spirit's help in doing so.
3. Grant that my conversations will only honor You. I don’t mean that I should spout religious cliches in my interactions with others; that wouldn’t honor You. Help me to remember what Paul says in Ephesians 4:29 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11.
4. Help me to look for ways to be helpful to others, to not be so caught up in my “to do list” that I don’t have time for others.
5. Help me not to brag. Jeremiah 9:24 and 1 Corinthians 1:31 say: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Show me other ways today, Lord, and root loving others as Christ has loved me, along with repentance and renewal, into my daily habits. In Jesus’ name. Amen