“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind/strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22v37-40
“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. Jn 13v34
“My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no-one than this, that he lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15v12-14
Jesus summed up the law and prophets in the 2 great commandments. Then, apparently, just before His death He gave His disciples ‘a new commandment’ which went even further: it seems he introduced another level of love! This one goes beyond loving others in the same way that I love myself: it actually asks us to love each other more than we love ourselves!
He had just been washing their feet when He said it. “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power and that He had come from God and was returning to God, SO… He made them all get down on the floor in front of Him? He gave them a speech about how great He was? NO! He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing and wrapped a towel around His waist…” Completely secure in who He was He was able to put aside His own rights and clothe Himself with humility to perform the menial task allocated to servants. It was a deliberate prophetic demonstration of His intention for those who follow Him. “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is above his master, nor is the messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13v15-17.
To put aside our own rights and prefer one another, to be willing to humble ourselves and ‘wash each others feet’ and to ‘lay down our lives for our friends’ is the great calling upon all who claim to follow Jesus. It is not an option: this is Jesus’ clear command as He was going to His death! We are to follow His example of the greatest love of all – and by doing this we prove we are really His. This is what He meant when He said that the world would see: they will be amazed by a community of people who live for one another’s good, preferring one another’s interests, sacrificing ‘my will’ for ‘your will’. It is completely counter-culture, utterly different – selfless and supernatural.
This kind of love is going to cost us something – as it did Jesus. “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lays down his life for his friends.” John 15v13. For Him that was literal:“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5v7-8. He did that for all mankind. Is there anyone we would literally be prepared to give our lives for? ‘Take me instead’? Or more likely perhaps, who is the Lord asking me to put first, serve, ‘lay my life down’ for in the everyday of life? Its what the Celts called ‘green martyrdom’.
Paul puts this another way at the end of one of his letters: “Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially those who are of the household of faith” Galatians 6v10. We might think it was more important to good to ‘outsiders’ – after all they are often more needy. We might think it seems inward-looking or selfish to be giving to our own. But Paul says we should especially demonstrate the depth of our love for one another: Jesus’ final wishes were that He required us to ‘love one another’ in this way. As members of one body by doing good to one part we are actually doing good to the whole, including ourselves, and spiritually causing it ‘to grow and build itself up, as each part does its work’ (Ephesians 4v16) developing ‘the dwelling place of God by His Spirit’ among us (Ephesians 2v22). So, as I heard a friend of mine say, there are pretty good pragmatic reasons for building up the community of faith by doing it good, because as the world looks on and sees it will help to do our job of reaching them with the gospel as they see Jesus’ presence among us!
So – its back to the basics and down to the depths of love: wholeheartedness, service, compassion, meeting the needs of neighbours around me, washing the feet of fellow disciples and doing good to all, especially God’s family. Secure in the Father’s love and my identity in Him, I am going to continue to look for those friends Jesus is giving me, so that I can lay my life down for them.