The New Commandment. 13:31-35


The farewell discourse in John's gospel, 13:1-17:26, is a very powerful and intimate part of Jesus' teaching. Our particular passage for study comes from a section dealing with some questions from the disciples, 13:31-14:31. The particular subject of our passage is love. Jesus calls on his disciples to love one another, and he interprets this love within the frame of his own love for his disciples.

The passage

v31. Judas has now left the upper room and so Jesus can speak intimately with his disciples. He uses the title "Son of Man" to describe himself. This is a messianic title commonly used by Jesus. It literally means "the man", but refers to Daniel's "Son of Man", the one who comes in glory to reign. This Son of Man, says Jesus, is "now... glorified." That is, the betrayal has begun and his death is imminent. In John's gospel, the supreme manifestation of divine glory is found in the selfless act of Christ on the cross. Jesus includes "God" in this glory - a trinitarian idea. Both the Father and the Son share in the cross.

v32. This verse is difficult to understand, but it is probably making much the same point as v31. The revelation of God's majesty, his glorious character, is manifested in the lifting up of Christ on the cross. Both the Father and the Son share in the cross and both the Father and the Son are displayed, in all their splendor, in the cross.

v33. Jesus now tells his disciples something that will hurt them. He therefore uses a gentle and intimate term to address them - "My (little) children." He tells them he is going to leave them and they will not be able to follow him. He goes the way of the cross to the Father. Only Jesus can go the way of the cross, resurrection and ascension, only he can reign with the Ancient of Days in glory, but because he goes, his disciples will one day share his eternal glory.

v34. Jesus now gives his disciples a new commandment, cf. 1Jn.2:8. It is a "commandment" in the sense of being an important/emphatic word from the Master. It is "new", in that Christ's love is the measure of love, a Christ-like compassion, and it is new in that Christ's love for broken humanity is the ground of love, the means of love. Because of Christ's love for us (his death, resurrection and indwelling presence within) we are freed and impelled to love. "I have loved you in order that you may also love one another."

v35. Christ's indwelling presence within the individual believer and within the Christian community, impels us toward brotherly love - self-giving, sacrificial love. As Jesus was, so his disciples are, and this in the power of his indwelling love. Such is the distinguishing mark of a disciple.

Love one another

In the early days of Christianity Chrysostom complained that love was not evidenced in the life of the Christian community. "Even now, there is nothing else that causes the heathen to stumble, except that there is not love..... Their doctrines they have long condemned, and in like manner they admire ours, but they are hindered by our mode of life."

Jesus tells us that the distinguishing mark of the Christian community is love. Not just warm feelings toward others in the church, but a compassionate self-giving toward the needs of our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Such is cross-bearing love.

The problem is that such love is a rare thing in the Christian church. Tertullian said of his generation that the heathen held his congregation in high regard. "'See', they say, 'how they love one another.'" Do they say that of us?

In truth, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to work up loving relationships with brothers and sisters in a church fellowship. Sometimes there are hurts to get over, racial, cultural and economic differences, problems of social status..... So, it is not always easy to find the emotional energy required to put ourselves out for the spiritual welfare of a brother or sister. Their eternal salvation needs to be paramount in our thinking, yet our own needs often take precedence over those of our brothers.

Jesus' death and resurrection not only serves as an example of how to love, but actually frees us and empowers us to love. On the one hand we are freed from the selfish and stifling power of the sinful self. The sinful self was crucified with Christ, thus we are freed to be the person we were designed to be, freed to care for God and each other. On the other hand we are empowered to love. We were raised with Christ and through his indwelling presence we are impelled to love as he loves. His character of love resides within, shaping us toward love.

So then, love, or better compassion, is not so much a matter of doing, but rather of receiving. Love is activated in our lives when we rest upon Christ's completed work. The prayer of faith, based upon a recognition of the indwelling power we possess in Christ, activates our loving and so sets us apart as disciples of Christ.

Of course, we will never love perfectly, in fact, there will be times when compassion is in short supply. We may be perfectly loving in Christ, but we are often less than loving in practice. So then, let us strive to be what we are, let us love.


Share examples of how you have tried to love others, but failed. Discuss the faith way; receiving as against doing.

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