This week we kicked off a brand-new teaching series called, Love Like Jesus. All this month we are talking about why love matters for followers of Jesus and just what it looks like when we get it right. You won’t want to miss a single part of this journey. In this first part we start off by clarifying why loving one another is such a big deal for Jesus followers. The truth is that it’s far more foundational even than we often understand it to be. Keep reading to understand why.
Think for a minute about the last time you did something you knew you should be doing, but it really just felt like a chore. What kinds of things have fit into this category for you? Perhaps doing the dishes? Maybe fixing a meal for your family? If you have an exercise routine, I suspect it’s felt like more of a chore than a benefit on more than one occasion (although that does not mean you’re better off not having one so you can avoid the guilt of doing it inconsistently). Do you know what else can sometimes fall on that list? I know this is something you’re probably not expecting the preacher to say, but I’m just being real with you this morning. Sometimes being a Christian can go on that list.
You’ve experienced that too, right? Following Jesus can feel difficult at times. It certainly looks awfully burdensome from the outside looking in. Just look at all those rules. Look at all the things they are expected to do. Look at how often they fail to live up to their claims. Look at all the things we have to give up to do it. I mean, sure, there’s the whole joy and abundant life part, but getting up and doing it again and again every single day can sometimes feel like a chore.
But is that really the case? Is Christianity complex and difficult? It sure looks like it sometimes, doesn’t it? But is it really? Well, it’s certainly not easy. But if you were ever sold this line that it is complex, you were sold a false bill of goods. The truth is that following Jesus is simple. I’d even go so far as to say it’s offensively simple. Deep down, we secretly want it to be complex. Don’t believe me? Look at how complex every other religion in the world is. When we create…well, anything…we make it complex. Then we see this new kid on the block coming along and proclaiming that it is pristinely simple, and we don’t know what to do with it. Actually, that’s not quite true. What we know to do with it is make it complex like everything else in our lives. That’s just what sin does. But that’s not following Jesus. The truth is that following Jesus boils down to one simple idea. That idea is what I’d like to spend the next few weeks talking about with you.
This morning we are kicking off a brand-new teaching series for the month of February called Love Like Jesus. As we gear up to celebrate our love holiday this month—a day on which we’ll celebrate Dana’s ministry and legacy—I think we can perhaps all agree that love is something our world could use just a little bit more of. It’s been a rough season and love has often been lacking. Oh, there’s been plenty of anger and angst and anguish, but love? Not so much. Furthermore, our culture has been steadily shifting away from the place where it had some kind of a reasonable understanding of just what Christianity is and how it’s supposed to work for a long time. A little reminder of exactly what it means to be a follower of Jesus seems due.
One more thing: Followers of Jesus once changed the world from inside a culture that neither understood nor liked them. They were able to do that because they got this one thing right. It was messy, but they got it. If we can get it too, there’s no reason to think we can’t see the world change again. So then, what does it look like to love like Jesus? On the last two Sundays of the month, we’re going to look at a couple of specific examples. This morning, though, we’re going to start with some basics. If we’re going to get our minds around what it looks like to love like Jesus did, we’ve got to understand just why that’s such a big deal in the first place. This morning, we are going to look at the command that changed the world.
Now, if you’ve been around the church for very long, you’ve probably heard something about the Great Commandment. There are two “greats” we often talk about when it comes to the teachings of Jesus: The Great Commission and the Great Commandment. The Great Commission was Jesus’ mission marching orders to His followers in the wake of the resurrection. We are to be making and training up new Jesus followers everywhere we go. The Great Commandment, on the other hand, was Jesus’ ethical marching orders for His followers—or so we’re told. We are to love God and love people is how it usually gets boiled down. Much ink has been spilled unpacking it in those very terms. But can I challenge your thinking just a bit this morning?
When Jesus gave the Great Commandment, what was happening? That matters, right? Every passage has a context and if we don’t give the context its due, we can inadvertently understand the passage to mean something it may have never meant. That’s Biblical Interpretation 101. Whether you are an old hat in this stuff or completely new to the faith, you need to understand this principle when you go to engaging with the Scriptures or your work will be made much more difficult.
In any event, what was happening when Jesus gave the Great Commandment? He was being asked by a lawyer what the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses was. Jesus’ summary response was so on point that even this lawyer who was really just trying to trick Him into saying something embarrassing was impressed. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Those two ideas forming one single command summarize the entire Mosaic Law Jesus said.
Good stuff, right? Of course it is. But here’s the thing: While that summary of the Law was important for His audience to have in that it pointed them forward toward what God’s intentions for His people have always been, as followers of Jesus, we’re not liable to the Law of Moses any longer. That was the major structure of the old covenant God made with the people of Israel. In Christ, God made a new covenant built on different—and better—promises. With the new covenant now in place, the old covenant is now obsolete. And that’s not me saying that. That’s the writer of Hebrews: “By saying a new covenant, he has declared that the first is obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old is about to pass away.” In other words, a summary of that old law is good to have so we can better understand what God’s fundamental intentions for His people were in the past, but it doesn’t necessarily do us any good as followers of Jesus now.
Have I lost you? This is may be pushing the boundaries of how you have been taught to think about this passage. Hear me well: I’m not saying the Great Commandment doesn’t matter or isn’t important. It is. I’m saying Jesus said something else that for His followers was even more important than the Great Commandment. We find that in John 13.
If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy, find your way with me to John 13. You’re going to want to see this for yourself. You’re going to want to mark this so you can find it later. What we’re going to look at here has the power to completely change your life and the lives of everyone around you if you’ll commit to putting it into practice as Jesus intended. If you want to put a name on this, if Jesus’ summary of the Law was the Great Commandment, this could be called the Greater Commandment. For followers of Jesus, this is the only command that really matters. Everything else is merely an application of it.
Are you ready for this? Look with me at John 13:34. This all comes in the context of Jesus’ final night with the disciples before He went to the cross. The whole evening was really a study in their ability to completely miss the most important things for the ones that didn’t matter as much. He has just finished washing their feet—something we’ll come back to in a couple of weeks. They didn’t really understand that at all. He had announced Judas’ forthcoming betrayal (albeit not by name). That so shocked them that none of them picked up on the conspicuous timing when he soon thereafter left the meeting unexpectedly. He had just told them He was about to go somewhere they couldn’t follow. That shook them up so badly they hardly seemed to notice what was arguably the most important thing He would say that night. That’s what we find here in v. 34.
Look at this: “I give you a new command.” Now, this wasn’t new in terms of being something to add to the 613 they were already trying to live by. This was new in terms of being a replacement for them. That old covenant was being fulfilled and this was the central command—really, the only command—of the new covenant. This new command was going to provide the basic operating instructions for His followers from this point forward. In other words, they were to do this instead of worrying about all the rest any longer.
And what was this new command? “Love one another.” That’s it. Simple. Yeah, but that’s a pretty big idea. I mean, what does it look like to love one another? Sure, they had plenty of examples in His parables. They had heard the story about the unforgiving servant. That wasn’t love. On the other hand, the prodigal son’s father demonstrated incredible love and forgiveness for his son. The good Samaritan showed what love of neighbor was intended to be. They’d seen Jesus love people who weren’t anything like Him and who didn’t like Him. But what would it actually look like for them to love one another?
Fortunately, Jesus told them. Keep going in v. 34: “Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.” In other words—and this is way more important than we realize—their primary example of love was not a story or a teaching, it was Jesus Himself. They were to do for others what He had done for them. And what had He done for them? Well, most recently He had washed their feet. He had taken up the position usually reserved for the lowest servant in the house and performed that servant’s duties for the disciples. He had done this in spite of the fact that He was their teacher. They were subject to Him. But His desire to see them become more fully who God had designed them to be was so great that He was willing to stoop to any level necessary—how low it was did not matter—in order to see it happen. In other words, the kind of love He had for them was not some academic exercise. It was not a mere expression of emotion. It was something active and intentional. It elevated their needs above His own. It treated them as of the utmost of importance regardless of the position He held. And soon, in a move that would completely break their understanding of exactly who He was and how they should respond to that fact, He would give up His life on a cross for them—for all of us. Jesus’ love was intentional, meaningful, and sacrificial. They’d already experienced that without the cross having happened.
So, that was their command and model. But then Jesus went a step further. This further step was intended to help them understand just how big of a deal it was for them—and us—to get this right. After giving them this new command to love one another after the pattern He had—and soon would—set, Jesus revealed that this was to be their name tag as one of His followers. Look at this: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Just let that one sit on you for a minute. In the whole of the Scriptures, this is the only time we are told directly that something is a marker of an identity in Christ. Think about all the things we use as markers of Christian faith today and have across the last 2,000 years of history. Baptism has always been a big one, but while there is no apparent concept of an un-baptized believer in the New Testament, that’s not a marker of fidelity to Christ we find in the Scriptures. We use church attendance and program faithfulness and giving consistency and orthodox theological acknowledgement and things like that, but none of those warrant even a mention by Paul or Peter or John or James or any of the other guys who contributed to the New Testament. The only sure way we know someone is a follower of Jesus is this one, single thing: loving like Jesus. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples. In other words, love is foundational. The rest is commentary.
Okay, but what about all the other things we use as external markers of Christian faithfulness? Are we wrong to do those? Not necessarily. But they can all be faked. Loving like Jesus can’t be. Oh, it can be mimicked. But it can’t be faked. That’s part of the Gospel message: You and I can’t do this on our own. On our own our love is ultimately selfish. Only when it is undergirded and enabled by the Holy Spirit through a union with Christ can we truly love like Him. And His love stands out. Everyone recognizes it. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. To put that even more simply: Jesus followers are to be known by love alone. This one command Jesus gave for His followers to keep marks out the one thing that identifies them. Jesus followers are to be known by love alone.
Now, this means two different things for two different groups of people. Both of these are absolutely vital to understand. First, if you would not count yourself a follower of Jesus, this is for you. You have perhaps resisted making that realignment of your life because you’ve been led to believe by well-meaning, but incorrect followers of Jesus that being a Christian is just a bunch of rules and regulations to start following that don’t honestly seem all that much fun from the outside looking in. Who wants to give their life to something that would be that much work and mean you can’t do some of the things you like doing for fun now any longer? The truth, though, is that following Jesus is really simple. There’s just one command to learn: love one another. That’s it. You can work out what exactly that means between you and Jesus, but for an invitation to eternal life to consist of so little structure is pretty remarkable, you’ve got to admit. Just give your life to Jesus—something you can do this very day if you’re willing—love one another, and the rest will fall into place. There’s really not a good reason you shouldn’t be signing up for this.
This command from Jesus, however, is also for His followers. Your journey after Jesus is far simpler than you have been tempted or taught to make it. Where you have felt it was a burden, you or someone who didn’t understand the faith as well as they let on to you had put something on your shoulders Jesus never intended for you to bear. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. All the hoops and hoopla you’ve thought were associated with it aren’t really. There’s just one thing: love one another. Jesus followers are to be known by love alone.
This fact brings both relief and challenge. The relief is that you don’t have to worry about keeping a bunch of rules. In fact, if you’re going through your life asking the question, “Is this sin?” you’re missing the big picture and the most important details. You’re focused on the wrong things. Following Jesus is not complex. It is wonderfully, beautifully simple. Love one another.
There is a challenge here as well, though. It’s challenging because living without rules is scary. Rules act like guardrails to keep us from danger. And, if you need to put some personal rules in place for the sake of keeping yourself on the straight and narrow path, that’s okay. When you learn how to ride a bike, you start with training wheels. They keep you upright, but they limit the freedom a bicycle can really bring. Eventually you have to take them off and learn to balance and ride without them. The same is true here. The rules may be necessary early on in your faith, but if you don’t learn to live with the full freedom of the love of Jesus, you’ll be like an adult riding down the street with training wheels. For a kid, nobody thinks twice about it. For an adult to be doing that is weird. Well, there are a lot of adults in our churches with a kid-sized faith. Rules like that don’t come from Jesus. They aren’t required for following Him. Following Jesus is marked out by one thing: Love one another. Jesus followers are to be known by love alone. This is messier to be sure, but it’s also a whole lot more attractive to a world that has heard of Jesus’ love, but doesn’t see it nearly often enough from His followers. Jesus followers are to be known by love alone.
That’s really important for us to know, but it doesn’t tell us what it looks like. Come back in a couple of weeks as we look at two really important pictures from Jesus’ life so we can better love like Jesus.