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A New Commandment of Love

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 26:31–35; Mark 14:27–31; Luke 22:31–38; John 13:31–38

What do people see when they look at you? If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the one thing they should see is an undeniable love that reflects the love of your Savior.


Our study today reminds me of the stages of growth that occur in the life and development of a child.

Stage 1 is infancy. The principal statement here is, “Help me out!” The focus at this stage is survival.

Stage 2 is discovery. The principal statement is, “Tell me what to do!” The primary focus is learning—and a growing child learns everything from walking to talking.

Stage 3 moves from discovery to personalization. The primary statement is “Show me how to do it!” The focus is challenge.

Stage 4 is maturity. “Watch me take off on my own.” Here the focus is reproduction.

Here is the question: What stage are you living in as a disciple of the Lord?

Beloved, the mark of a mature disciple is not knowledge; it is reproduction. That is what makes Jesus’ comment here in the upper room so powerful. He says in John 13:34: “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.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “I want you, the disciple, to begin reproducing Me, the Discipler, in and through your life.”

Now, granted, as believers, we never completely leave each stage of development behind. In fact, God never intended us to get beyond the need for teaching and encouragement and challenges. We are always going to need someone to tell us, help us, and show us. Discipleship is a continual process of learning and doing and teaching—and sometimes failing.  

Before we move on, we should note that Satan entered Judas, according to John 13:27, and Judas has now left the upper room. It is then that Jesus speaks here verses 31-32:

“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.”

So, the possession of Judas by Satan and the departure of Judas commences the final steps in the process of Jesus’ glorification as the Messiah. In other words, His “hour” has finally come.

However, this is going to require some instruction, which Jesus begins to deliver here in verse 33:

“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’”

This is the only time in the Gospels Jesus calls His disciples “little children.” This is an affectionate term often used by Greeks to describe the relationship between a mother and her infant. As a mother would say, “My little sweet boy” or “girl,” Jesus is saying, “My dear little children, I am going to go away, and you can’t come with Me.” He is anticipating His death and return to the Father. This means the disciples will not be able to join Him immediately.[1]

Why does He use this affectionate term? I believe it is because He is preparing them for one of the most frightening things a child can experience—being alone. In a very real sense, the disciples, at this moment are experiencing childlike fear.

That fear is heard in what Peter says in verse 36: “Lord, where are you going?” He follows this in verse 37 with, “Why can I not follow you now?” And then the self-confident declaration, “I will lay down my life for you.”

The Lord says to Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (verse 38). We will see the fulfillment of this prophecy a little later in our Wisdom Journey. Matthew and Mark add that Jesus says all the disciples will abandon Him that night, fleeing like scattered sheep.

It seems like Peter and the others have not heard Jesus’ command in verse 34 at all. They are focused on dealing with the idea of His departure, but it is this overlooked command that is the answer to their fears. Listen to it again: “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.”

He is telling them they are not going to be alone. They have each other. They are going to have a spiritual family where the love of Christ is reproduced in them and through them.

In the next chapter, Jesus will tell them the Holy Spirit will come as a comforter. But beloved, He is not giving them the Holy Spirit so they won’t need each other! And that is true for us too.

In fact, His disciples’ remarkable love is going to be noticed. Jesus says in verse 35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” He is saying the world will know His disciples by this one badge, this one characteristic—love for one another.

But what is so new about this commandment? First, this is a new concept of love. The word for love here is agapē—agapaō is the verb form. It refers to a conscious choice to sacrifice, to commit, to give. With agapē love, you don’t fall in love; you choose to love. The word agapē was seldom used in the secular world—it was considered boring and bland. The Greek writers preferred other words for love like eros for erotic love, or epithumia for passionate love, or even storgē for family love. It is interesting that God chose to use agapē almost exclusively in references to the gospel, marriage and family, and the church.

Second, this is not just a new concept of love; there is now a new example of love: Jesus says here, “Just as I have loved you.” He is saying, “Move to the fourth stage here. I have showed you how; now reproduce this kind of love in your own lives.”

When Jesus says, “Love one another,” we tend to think of the whole body of Christ. But this command was initially given to eleven men. They looked around at each other with all their different personalities, backgrounds, and opinions. Jesus is not saying to them, “Try to love each other; give it your best shot.” No, He is saying, “Love each other like I have loved you!”

Now think about this: Jesus is actually giving the world the opportunity to test our authenticity. It is as if Jesus says to the world, “I am going to give you the measuring stick to test the authenticity of those who say they belong to Me. You decide for yourselves, based on what you see!” Beloved, what do they see in you?

After the U.S.S. Pueblo was captured by the North Koreans back in 1968, the surviving crew members were thrown into a brutal captivity. In one particular instance, thirteen of the men were required to sit in a rigid manner around a table for hours. Finally, the door was violently flung open and a guard brutally beat the man in the first chair with the butt of his rifle. The next day, as each man sat at his assigned place, again the door was thrown open, and the man in the first chair was brutally beaten. On the third day, it happened again to the same man. Knowing the man could not survive, another young sailor took his place. When the door was flung open, the guard automatically beat the new victim senseless. For weeks, each day a new man stepped forward to sit in that horrible chair, knowing what would happen. At last, the guards gave up in exasperation. They were simply unable to defeat the kind of love these men had for one another.

Let’s not forget that the world is watching us. So, let’s look for ways to show our world the love of Christ today.

[1] Homer A. Kent Jr., Light in the Darkness: Studies in the Gospel of John (Baker, 1974), 171.

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