Summary: Jesus teaches the disciples that truly following Him means loving each other with selfless love.
What is the defining characteristic of a true Christian? I mean, when you strip away everything and have nothing but the bare essentials, what is it that proves a person is really one of God’s children? Before we get into our study of John I want to take you to Matthew to put something in your minds:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? 48Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Mt. 5:43-48).
Jesus explains in this passage that the difference between sinners and saints is love. The difference is how they treat their enemies.
Now let’s go over to John 13:33 and pick up where we left off last time. Jesus knows His hour has come and He wants to prepare His disciples for His departure. He wants to show them how they should act once He’s gone, so He washes their feet like a common servant. He told them it was an example that they should follow, and now he expounds a little further:
Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.
The first thing I want you to notice is that He calls them little children. In another place He says, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Mt. 10:16). Jesus knew that once He’s crucified that all these men will suffer too. They’re on the way to the slaughterhouse, and they’re going to feel very helpless. They won’t be able to follow Him, so He gives them a new commandment:
34A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
The old commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18). In fact, everything in the Law can be summed up by that one pithy statement. But this new commandment is to love your brother more than yourself. “As I have loved you,” He says. In chapter 15 (during this same conversation) He’ll tell them that there’s no greater love than when a man lays down his life for his friends. The kind of love He’s had for them is to wash their feet. He’s served them and He’ll die for them. He puts their needs ahead of His own, and this is the example He expects them to follow!
This idea wasn’t missed or forgotten by the other apostles:
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, 2Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:1-7).
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; 2And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:1-2).
Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth (I Jn. 3:16-18).
The example Jesus set means laying down your life and meeting the needs of your brothers and sisters in deed and truth. How do we do that when our lives are not in jeopardy? What does it mean to lay down your life when life isn’t at stake? Think about the verse in Philippians: don’t do anything in strife or pride. When you look around the room do you see anyone who’s not quite as good as you? Is there anyone you wouldn’t serve? Jesus says that whatever we do or don’t do to the very least of the brethren we do or don’t do to Him.