John 13:31-35 (NIV)
31 When he (Judas) was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in Him. 32 If 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. 35 By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”
A riddle: what one word in the English language is so inadequate and yet so deep, so loaded with baggage and yet so empty, so misused and yet so overused, and yet it’s not used enough?
In the Greek language there are four words for “love”, each conveying their own meaning for specific kinds of “love”.
You may have heard these before:
- · Eros – sexual love which values the object of one’s love – this is an egocentric love seeking only self-satisfaction, self-fulfilment and self-enhancement.
- · Phileo – social love – the affection of friendship – often defined as brotherly love.
- · Storge – family affection such as parents and children have for each other with its sometimes rough and tumble of family cohesiveness.
- · Agape – love in action which gives rather than receives. Our Gospel text today uses the word “agape”.
The love Jesus talks about most, and models for us in His life is self-sacrificial love – love which show itself by helping its object rather than desiring to posses and enjoy it.
Our Church’s by-line of “Where love comes to life” does not mean where “eros” - sex comes to life”. There is some aspect of “Phileo” – where social affection and friendship comes to life. There is also some aspect of “storge” - familial affection where love comes to life.
“Where love comes to life” is not just a warm fuzzy so that we, as a church, can feel good about ourselves. This is the kind of love coming to life does the hard yards, which goes the extra mile and which does not expect to be rewarded – because reward is about self-interest and smacks of “eros”.
The new commandment is really a new covenant where the law of God is written on the hearts of His disciples – it is new in the sense that it can now be obeyed because the foundation and source of the command is Jesus – we are to live and breathe “agape” love as Jesus does.
Loving as Jesus loved is not rocket science, but it does challenge our old nature which only wants to love on our own terms and with our own conditions, and of course, at our personal convenience.
St Paul put’s it like this to the Galatians in chapter 6 verse 2 (NIV) 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. This law of Christ is not a list of rules and regulations, as helpful as they are to us in determining how God desires us to act towards our neighbours.
It’s all about loving service which doesn’t count the cost, keep I.O.U’s or monitor the time, effort or energy or whether or not the recipient of your love deserves to be loved as judged by human standards.
Jesus chose to love everyone, you, and even me, despite our sin credentials. In Ephesians 5:1–2 (NIV) St Paul encourages us: Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love (agape), just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
This new command is further explained in John 15:12–17 (NIV)
12 My command is this: Love (agape) each other as I have loved (agape) you. 13 Greater love (agape) has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you. 17 This is My command: Love (agape) each other.
What does this say to any of you who might be at odds with someone else in the church? John reminds us in 1 John 2:7–11 (NIV)
7 Dear friends, … I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
This teaching of Jesus about the new commandment distinguishes who the new community of Jesus’ followers are – they will be working to be reconciled to one another – living out the kind of love (agape) which has the other’s best interest at heart.
In the 2nd Century, the early Church father, Tertullian reported that pagans in the Roman Empire said of Christians, “See how they love one another!” This distinctive self-sacrificial love is founded in the example, life and death of Jesus – it’s Christological – comes from, is empowered and motivated by Jesus Himself.
The Word of the Son of God is the source of the command and has its foundation in the relationship between God the Father and Jesus, the Son. This command is about the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Jesus tells us that no one took His life from Him when He went to the cross as He laid His own life down for your sake. He did this to win salvation for you and also to demonstrate the kind of love which God has for you – a love which is prepared to give up everything for your sake.
This love is not temporary, it’s not a fleeting tryst but a life time, eternal life time, commitment of Jesus to you reflecting the eternal nature of God the Father’s relationship to the Son.
God is faithful in this – through Jesus He never leaves you nor forsakes you – Jesus is always faithful – unlike some of us, who have flirtations with the attitudes and values of the world which do not allow love to come to life.
Jesus said in John 12:49–50 (NIV)
49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent Me commanded Me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told Me to say.”
The authority for love comes from the Father, is given to the Son who freely decides to live out the cost of discipleship and sonship in active obedience to God in service to Him and to you.
The command is eternal life, not because of how well you or I keep the command to love, but because of the fulfillment by the Son of God’s command so that the world can receive eternal life. Through keeping God’s commandments the Son demonstrates His love for God the Father. Likewise, in keeping God’s commandments we too demonstrate our love for God the Father.
As Jesus honours His Father He also teaches us what it is to love and the extent to which that love should reach. So that we may learn this God also sends us His Holy Spirit as Jesus says in John 14:31 (NIV)
…31 but He (that is, the Holy Spirit) comes so that the world may learn that I love (agape) the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
Jesus, the Son of God, and His disciples remain in the love of the Father. This love is not just a nice idea or feeling – it’s not a warm fuzzy -it is real and lived out in history, first with Jesus generous giving of Himself to serve the blind and the lame, the demon possessed and sin entangled – even the Pharisees and Sadducees, you and me.
Jesus’ love went up on the cross, into the grave and came out victorious on the third day – Easter Day which we celebrated five weeks ago and every Sunday since in the Divine Service of the church.
All the way along the story of our salvation we have love which gives generously and freely. God giving His Son, His Son giving His life to His enemies and to His disciples who in turn give this same love to us in the Apostolic witness and example. We too, as modern day disciples are commanded by Jesus to give His love forward to those we love and to those we find it difficult to love.
With apologies to John F. Kennedy, “And so, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ: ask not what your church can do for you – ask what you can do for your church. My fellow disciples in the world: ask not what your church can do for you, but what together we can do for each other.
Love comes to life when we share our time, effort, energy, and resources with each other and with God. Let’s not do this because we have to but because we are living in the new covenant of love (agape) Jesus has invited us to share in.