34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -John 13:34-35
By what measure, by what sign, do people recognize you as a disciple of Christ? Some might point to the cross necklace they wear or to the Bible they carry. Others might mention the Christian bumper stickers on the car. Still others might refer to their church membership or participation in Christian activities.
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus gave his disciples what he called “a new command.” That new command was that they love one another. That really doesn’t sound like anything new. The disciples knew well the summary commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, “ and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). What was new about this command was Jesus’ definition of love: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” You haven’t loved your neighbor unless and until you’ve loved him as Jesus has loved you.
Jesus said those words in the upper room, on the night he was betrayed. He had just finished washing the disciples’ feet, concluding, “What you have seen me do for you, do for one another.” Throughout his ministry Jesus had consistently demonstrated his love for people. He healed their diseases, expelled demons, raised the dead, and preached the good news of the Kingdom to them. But his greatest demonstration of love was on the cross. There he suffered unto death for all mankind. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus sacrificed himself during his three-year ministry. He constantly set aside his own wants and needs in order to help others. He lived a pauper’s life in order to enrich the lives of others. On the cross he sacrificed all that he had- his own innocent life- that we might not be lost eternally, that we might have a place in the Father’s house in heaven.
It is that kind of sacrificial love, after the example of Christ, that ultimately identifies us as his disciples. Without love toward unlovable people, all our crosses and Bibles and bumper stickers fail. So what do you sacrifice? Whatever you have. Time, treasure, talents, opinions, aspirations, personal goals and plans. All these we set aside in order to help and serve our neighbors. We do this not in order to earn God’s grace and favor, but we do it because we already have God’s grace and favor through the merits of Jesus Christ. What can you do for Christ in thanksgiving for all he has done for you? Worship? Contribute? Participate in your church? All of these. But more than these, love, serve, help your unlovable neighbors.
“ But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. …10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:9-10).