“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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
(John 13:34 ESV)
We live in a time where love is defined primarily by emotion. Our sense of love is based purely on feelings or on our emotional attachment to another. This is true of friendships as well as marriage.
However, as we see in the above text, Jesus gives us a different standard of love. He tells us that we’re to love one another as he’s loved us. And there are a couple of things to consider as we think about Jesus’ love.
First of all, we must recognize that Jesus loves us even when we’re not all that lovable. We tend to think that we’re good people, deserving of his love. But the opposite is actually true. We’re not good people. We aren’t deserving of his love. He loves us in spite of our continual sin and rebellion against him.
If we measure our love by this standard, we fail miserably. When people are unlovable, our sense of love for them all but disappears. When they hurt us, whether it be intentional or not, it often creates within us an unwillingness to love them. We love others only when we feel they’re deserving of it. We’re unwilling to give to others the grace that God has given us.
The second thing we must recognize, when it comes to the love of Christ, is the sacrificial nature of this love. His love is a giving of himself to us. And we all know the great length he went to in showing his love. He sacrificed his very life for us.
And we see that his love is not conditional in any way. It’s not something that wavers depending on the love he’s receiving in return. In fact, according to Scripture, while we were still sinners, while we were still his enemies, he gave himself for us.
Once again, our love pales in comparison. We are often willing to give of ourselves for those we love. But it’s very conditional. We’ll love, we’ll give of ourselves, if we’re receiving love in return. And if we’re not receiving, we often cease to give.
When it comes to those who hate us, when it comes to those who possess no love for us, we are typically unwilling to love them. We tend to hate those who hate us. At best, we’re willing to ignore them or tolerate them.
Here’s where it gets really challenging. Jesus tells us that people will know we’re his disciples if we have love for one another. What, then, does our life demonstrate? What does our love demonstrate?
When people look at us, when they look at the love we have for one another, is it clear to them that we are followers of Christ? Is our love so much like that of his that they can conclude nothing else? I think that, if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer to this is a resounding “no.”
What must we do then? The first thing we must do is recognize our failure. We must recognize our sin and confess it to the Lord, seeking his forgiveness. And we must ask him to work in our heart. We must ask that he’ll instill in us the same love for others that he has for us. This isn’t something we’ll attain on our own, or by our own effort. It’s only as the Spirit of God works in us that this is possible. It’s only as we submit to his leading that this is possible.