What is the distinguishing characteristic of a disciple of Jesus? Your initial response may be to consider their spiritual life. How many verses have they memorized? How involved are they in Christian work? Although these are good practices, Jesus revealed the fundamental characteristic of a disciple to His followers,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
You may thinking, “How is this a new commandment?” Jesus had taught about love many times. Many people are familiar with the Golden Rule, that teaches we are to treat others as we wish to be treated.
In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
As you consider the Golden Rule, you discover that your preferences are the standard for how you should treat others – you treat people the same way that you would like to be treated. This usually works out well; however, we are also flawed human beings and our standard is fallible.
The word that Jesus uses for a “new” commandment does not mean recent in time, but qualitatively different. The new commandment that Jesus gives changes the criterion from us to Jesus. We are to love others, not simply as we would like to be loved, but as Jesus loved. This significantly changes the standard because Jesus’ love for us is now the benchmark for how we should treat others – this is the titanium rule! The love that is commanded is agápē (ἀγάπη) love. This type of love is:
Volitional – it’s a decision of the will and not based upon feelings
Unconditional – this love seeks to give rather to get
Sacrificial – Jesus demonstrated this love when He gave His life for us
You may be thinking, “How can I do this?” This type of love seems beyond our ability. The Gospel writer John gives us the secret in a later epistle,
We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
We are able to love like Jesus because we have experienced His love. When you have been apprehended by God’s love, you can’t help but love other people. You must see that God’s love is the root and your love for others is the fruit. That’s why the Apostle Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know the fullness of God’s love,
and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:19)
Do you know the fullness of God’s love? Victor Hugo reminds us, “The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.” May you love others with the fullness of God’s love for us.
Associate Pastor – Discipleship. The Church at LifePark
Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University
Follow me on twitter: rickhiggins5