|Posted on September 10, 2020 at 1:50 PM|
For over forty years now I have known and taught that our loving others is the sure sign that we are followers of Jesus. At first, I did not really know what exactly that meant nor how to actually do it. Neither did I understand the difference between the divine love we are called to share with others and the natural human love we are used to. But I was sure that God wanted us to love each other regardless of the circumstance we find ourselves in. Slowly my confusion began to clear as I studied the context and specific words of Jesus new commandment to love in John 13: 34, 35, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have love you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
The first thing I discovered was that this command to love others was a “new commandment”. It was not to be taken simply as a continuation of the command under the old covenant to “love your neighbor as yourself”. What made this command new was Jesus’ explanation, “as I have loved you”. That little adverbial phrase describes the way we are to love as being just like Jesus loves. It tells us that our love for others is to be supernatural (just like Jesus) rather than in our own natural abilities. This new commandment calls us to a much higher level of divine love as opposed to the natural human love we can muster up in ourselves.
To love others with a divine love requires the power of the indwelling Spirit that Jesus went on to promise us in the same context as his new command. Through the work of the indwelling Comforter we can love like Jesus loves us. That means we can love with the divine love of God rather than rely on our natural human love. Instead of the natural conditional love (loving those who behave themselves) we can love unconditionally like God. With the comfort of the Spirit we can love sacrificially rather than only when it is convenient and even make the first move to love other just like God loved us first. In addition we can love consistently regardless of the circumstance we must face while doing so.
Perhaps the most important characteristic of divine love, however, is that it is intelligent and does what is best for the one loved. Rather than the simple romantic love that seeks to make others feel good, divine love does what is best regardless of the cost. It is this quality of God’s love (sometimes referred to as “tough love”) that keeps us from falling into co-dependency and simply enabling the dysfunction of those we seek to love. The intelligent nature of divine love demands the personal leadership and power of the indwelling Spirit more than any other. To say and do what is best for another in any given situation requires the insight and personal direction that can only come form Jesus himself.
To obey the new commandment of Jesus requires an intimate and ongoing relationship with him. It is not simply a matter of trying as hard as we can to live up to certain standards, but rather the spontaneous and effortless flow of the character of Christ to those around us. Through the power and direction of the indwelling Spirit of God we can display the love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control known as the “fruit of the Spirit” in all our relationships. It is this display of the character of Christ that tells others we are his disciples.