John 13:31-38 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 65)
When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 36Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” 37Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
Does it seem strange to you that on the most important night in history, the night before the death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world, that Jesus chose to spend a great portion of time talking about how we should treat one another? From a purely human point of view, there are many things that Jesus could have spoken of that night; so many problems he could have solved; so many errors he could have eliminated. But the scary truth is: He didn’t. And on the night that he was betrayed, the night before his death for the sins of the world, Jesus the Messiah said: “Love one another. Love one another. Love one another.”
Jesus associated this ‘love one another’ with three different things. First, he said ‘a new command I give you: love one another.’ Then he said, “As I have loved you: Love one another.” Finally he said, “All men will know you are my disciples if you: Love one another.” Later in chapter 15 Jesus will say, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
This love that he calls us to practice—now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them—is radical to say the least. I can’t live up to it. I cannot even fathom it. I cannot, on the one hand, say ‘I am wrong’ with the understanding that this is required in order for me to ‘love one another’. I know that makes no sense, but it is true. There are plenty of occasions when we are simply required, by the very nature of love itself, to admit that we are wrong—mortifying pride—if we are going to love one another in obedience to the command of Jesus. But on the other hand I cannot say ‘You are right’ with the idea in mind that I am actually wrong. It is an irresolvable conundrum. How can I be both simultaneously right and wrong and still actually ‘love one another’? How can I eradicate the pride that needs to be right?
What I mean is this: there are times when the conflict inside must be laid to rest. What I have found in preaching is that people—and I am one too!—are unbelievable territorial, especially when it comes to what they believe. Once a person reaches a certain age it is nearly impossible for them to change their mind about any subject. Every now and again a cataclysm occurs and their mind is changed. Not too often, however. And so, “A new command I give you.” But how do we persuade folks to change their minds? How can we expect people who have been born into a spirit of hatred and lived in that spirit all their lives to change their minds? How can we, church folk, change our minds? How can we in the church love those with doctrinal differences, practical differences, liturgical differences, and so on and so forth? How can this love be manifested so that people not only see something I know but know of something I do?
Jesus also says we should love as he has loved us. Well what on earth does that mean? ‘As he has loved us’? What, by washing feet? “Now that I your Teacher and Lord have washed your feet you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” He did this to ‘demonstrate the full extent of his love.’ Well, we’re certainly not going to do that because that merely cultural! Let me translate: We’re not going to do anything that makes us uncomfortable or makes us get involved in other people’s lives.
Yet Jesus said: Love one another. I have to be honest. There are times when I am profoundly unloving towards brothers and sisters in Christ. There are times when I am just sickeningly condescending and mean towards people who wear the Name of Christ. I have no excuse except my own pride. I love a good spirited debate and conversation, but I also know that I want to be right! You know as well as I do that it is very, very difficult to confess to being wrong.
Jesus could have solved so many problems that night. He could have settled for us in ‘plain language’ the debates over the ‘millennial kingdom’ for example. He could have solved for us in ‘plain language’ the debates over election. He could have solved debates that have raged on in the church over baptism, communion, musical instruments—he could have said, “Evolution is a lie.” But the sad, scary truth is: He didn’t. He deliberately left those subjects vague enough that there would be ongoing debates and conversations and dialogues and schisms and Protestants and Catholics and Evangelicals the world over, from the day of Pentecost until today. Why do you suppose Jesus did that?
And in the midst of it all he says: Love one another.
By this, he said, all men will know you are my disciples: “If you love one another.” I wonder what the church has shown the world? I wonder who the world really thinks we belong to? If our love for one another shows us to belong to Jesus Christ, then who does our hatred of one another show us to be disciples of? I have thought that for some time now because hatred is entirely too easy. You know, that is exactly why I think Jesus did not answer all of the questions that we bring to the text, and why, I think, certain doctrines, while patently present, are purposely ambiguous or at least open to different interpretations. For example, I just finished reading a book titled Perspectives on Election: 5 Views. I cannot believe how arrogant, condescending, and unloving Robert L Reymond is towards those with whom he disagrees: As if his supralapsarian Calvinism is entirely without flaw! I wouldn’t be a supralapsarian if that were the only choice and Reymond were only one advocate of it precisely because of his unloving attitude towards others with whom he disagrees. (At one point Reymond refers to someone he disagrees with in these words, “I feel much like CH Spurgeon apparently did, who, when commenting for his students and for ‘ministers of average attainments,’…I almost despair in thinking that anything I say will persuade him and his Arminian friends of their error, but I will try to make Paul’s intention in Romans 9 plain to them!” (138))
I use this as a mere example to illustrate the sort of unloving attitudes that people have towards one another in the church. It is the same in my own tradition where those who worship without pianos have traditionally un-loved those of us with pianos (or any musical instrument) straight to hell. We in the church love to major in minors. Why do you think Jesus didn’t explain everything to us? I think it was precisely so that he could test us and see if we really love each other or if we love ourselves or if we love our interpretations and ideas concerning Scripture more than our brothers. I hate to be the one to criticize the church, because I love the church—and so does Jesus!—but don’t you think that the time has come for the church to organize itself around Jesus Christ and love as he loved, show the world to whom we belong because of our love, and follow the new command he gave that we love one another? Don’t you think it is time for the church to rise up and declare that the very Christ Jesus whom we serve is the very reason why we love people who view certain aspects of the faith differently than we? (This is not a declaration that we will tolerate sin in the church. And this is not to say that doctrine doesn’t matter.)
But you know as well as I do what happened right after Jesus said ‘love one another three times’ right? Well, I’ll remind you. Here’s what Peter said right after Jesus said three times we are to love one another. Are you ready? “Lord, where are you going?” It’s almost like Peter didn’t even hear what Jesus said. Peter was stuck on what Jesus said in verse 33 and zoned out when Jesus spoke verses 34-35 (not that Jesus spoke in verses). Well that had to be somewhat embarrassing. But aren’t we like that too? The preacher will say: “Love one another, follow Jesus, take up your cross.” And the people will say: “Don’t forget about the pot-luck dinner next week.” We all zone out when it comes to the majors.
But what matters most? Does it matter really if we have the information about when Jesus is coming back (which is big in today’s culture) or where He went? Jesus seems to be saying that these things are minors compared to the major of “Love One Another.”
Then the most embarrassing thing is the conversation between Peter and Jesus where Peter professes his undying love for Jesus, his willingness to die for Jesus, His certainty of conviction regarding Jesus. And Jesus says what: No, Peter, you will deny me not once, not twice, but three times. Judas’ sin was that he knew Jesus and acknowledged it; Peter’s was that he denied he knew Jesus and acknowledged it. Don’t you see what happened? We are just like Peter when it comes to Jesus. We are more than willing to do the big things: Oh, yes, Jesus I’ll give away a $1000, or Yes, Jesus I’ll be a martyr, or Yes, Jesus, I’ll sing that really difficult song on Sunday, or Teach a class, or do this or do that. But who among us willing to listen to what Jesus is saying and: Love one another?
You see, I think too often we are more than willing to do the stuff that will be remembered, the stuff that gets us acclaim, the stuff that gets us in the limelight. Very less often are we will to do the menial stuff that no one notices, you know, the ‘love one another stuff.’ Not many of us are ready to be foot washers. Write a book? Sure, Jesus. I’ll do that. Even though it is a great burden, I’ll make the sacrifice, put in the labor, the time. Visit that person in the nursing home? Well, uh, you know that’s not really my gift. There are others who can do that and I’ll pray for them while I write my book, uh, your book.
I suspect we are just like Peter. We want to skip right over the little things like “Love one another” and get on to the bigger things like, “Oh, Jesus told me where he is going and now I will share that with you.”
This is not easy for me to write. I struggle sometimes because I am hunkered down in a congregation that doesn’t seem very motivated to want to get moving on forward. Again, I come back to pride. It is very difficult to confess to the Lord and others something like: Lord, I thought higher of myself than I should have. But then again, there’s this way of looking at it. Perhaps the Lord chooses people for certain roles not just to teach them, but because he trusts them. That is, if only certain people are really qualified to write books and lead mega-churches, perhaps only certain people are really qualified to bury dead people, or comfort the afflicted, or afflict the comfortable, or pray over a really sick person, or show compassion to a young child at school.
I don’t know if any of this makes sense or not. It’s a difficult meditation to write because I find myself being rebuked by my own words, and especially by the Word of God. I confess: It is hard to love one another. It is difficult to love those with whom you disagree in the Church. And if it is that difficult to love those in the church with whom we disagree then what are we supposed to do with those words of Jesus that say, “Love even your enemies”?
I think there is a way forward and it gets back to what I started with in this meditation. We must learn to humble ourselves and not think more highly of ourselves than is true and even then knock it down a notch or two or three. I have to say this: I don’t think the church can survive apart from our love for one another. I don’t think the church can effectively evangelize the world apart from our love for one another. I don’t think the church even comes close to exalting Jesus apart from our love for one another. The church must learn how to love one another. We must humble ourselves, each and every one, and do the hard work, the very hard work, of demonstrating our love for one another. It is futile to think that we skate by simply saying, “I love you.” Don’t you find it strange that it was in washing feet that Jesus ‘demonstrated the full extent of his love’ and not the cross? No, our love must be demonstrated.
I’ll end with this:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11, NIV)
Love One another.
Soli Deo Gloria!