Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
John 13:31-38; 1 John 5:18-21; Job 22:1-18; Ezekiel 46-47
John 13:31 begins what is called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. In this, Jesus gives his final instructions to his inner circle, the eleven remaining apostles. As such, we can imagine Jesus wanting to highlight the most important teachings he leaves with his disciples. Much of the Discourse is about reassuring the disciples that they will see him again even after his death. He calls them his children, a tender, emotional term. He then focuses on what he wants them to do while he is gone.
The ‘new commandment’ to love one another has become very familiar to many. We can easily read through it thinking, ‘Of course, that’s what I should be doing.’ Careful attention is needed, though. In some ways, it is strange to call this a new commandment. The Old Testament also commands the followers of God to love another (Leviticus 19:18). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus added that they were to love their enemies (Matthew 5:43-47). What is new here is that we are to love others with the same love we see in Jesus. This love emanates out of Jesus’ relationship with his Father (John 3:35; 14:31). This love is humble and sacrificial, as Jesus demonstrated by washing the disciples’ feet. This was one of the more demeaning tasks someone could do in the ancient world. To fulfil Jesus’ command, we must be prepared to drop our focus on ourselves and our rights.
At the same time, honest reflection should reveal how far short we fall of Jesus’ standard. None of us truly can love as he has loved us. Peter is the first to claim that he can and Jesus has to correct him. When we fail, as Peter did, we see the depth of our own selfishness. This should drive us deeper into the arms of the Lord for help. Our relationship with God empowers us to love others properly. John later notes that it is only because of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice that we can love others (1 John 4:10-11).
This new commandment to love is as much about what we do for others as it is about what God does for us and in us. As we seek to love others, we see our own failings and limitations. Instead of boasting like Peter that we are up to the task, we should acknowledge that we are not. Then we are open to God transforming our hearts and minds. God is not interested in a love that acts out of duty or compulsion. Jesus brings a new covenant where we are given a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-28). We will not only do the loving thing, but our hearts and minds will desire to love others, even those we find difficult to love. Because our needs are met by God, we will seek to meet others’ needs. Such a way of life goes against our sinful nature. Our selfishness is so powerful only the love of God can break through it. That is why the command to love is new, and why it is so powerful when obeyed. No wonder everyone will know that we are his disciples.