Summary: Jesus outlines the nature of discipleship in terms of three main elements 1) A New Commandment 2) A New Example and 3) A New Witness.
Very few people like to travel extensively. There is something about being away from family and resources that we have when we are around home. There are those like Alan, Andrea and in April Sue and Wilma, who leave familiar surrounding to travel to a people in another country. Anyone that has a view about this as a vacation, soon realizes that not only is there real danger but all sorts of challenges. Why would someone do this then? The only rational reason, is love.
It was love for a fallen humanity that caused God the father to send His son to a people who walked in darkness. God showed us His love in this manner that He sent His only begotten son who existed with Him from all eternity, in perfect fellowship with Him, to a people who would largely disregard Him, and eventually kill Him.
John 13 starts the account until chapter 17, of Jesus preparing for His death. The disciples are having their last supper together in the upper room and Jesus inaugurates a new covenant in His blood. His self-sacrificial death shows a new covenant form of love. He shows this love ultimately on the Cross and among them through service even amidst the presence of Judas, until the start of the meal.
If you were about to die, what would your final instructions be to those who you love? What would you think would be the most important thing to remember and do? In the final meal that Jesus has with His disciples having indicated the substance of His future (a new glory) and theirs (a new situation, of being without Christ bodily) Jesus addresses the practical question as to what the disciples should do in the new circumstances that were about to come upon them. He outlines the nature of their discipleship in terms of three main elements 1) A New Commandment (Jn. 13:34a) 2) A New Example (Jn. 13:34b) and 3) A New Witness (Jn. 13:35).
1) A New Commandment (Jn. 13:34a)
John 13:34a A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: (just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another). (ESV)
There is nothing new about God wanting people to love one another:
Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (ESV)
In John 13 the focus is upon the community that Jesus will establish as a result of his Passover departure.
In the establishment of communities, one of the principle factors of success is the establishing of boundaries for action, which we call laws. These laws are based on community or national covenants, whether stated or unstated. These covenants that lie behind the laws, rules, or commands are absolutely crucial. Understanding underlying covenants is therefore crucial to perceiving the significance of laws or commands.
Please turn to Mark 12
To understand the ten commandments of Exodus 20 one must realize that they do not start with v. 3, “no other gods.” The Ten Commandments start with the presupposition of a covenant based on the liberating act of God in bringing the people out of Egypt, the house of bondage, as it is described in v. 2. It is only when one understands the foundational liberating act of God for Israel that one recognizes the responsibility to obey the divine commands. To forget the covenant is to set the commands in a sea of meaninglessness. Rules have to be contextualized to have meaning.
Jesus had already taught that the whole law of Moses was summed up in two great commandments:
Mark 12:28-33 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus answered, "The most important is, ’Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these." And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." (ESV)
Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (ESV)