Summary: Following Jesus' command to love one another as he loves us is no easy task, and it will take us to the most unexpected and undesirable places. But it will open up the abundance of life offered through Christ.
“Love one another.” It is the simplest, clearest, and hardest command of all. It’s sort of like telling an eight-year old boy to listen. It seems like an easy enough instruction, but for an eight-year old boy, listening is about the hardest thing to do, except maybe to sit still. Love one another. Jesus’ words sound so very easy, but when we really get down to trying to live that out; us weak, broken, sinful creatures, it is not so very simple…at all. Yet, this is nothing less than what Jesus commands of us. And this command stands at the very heart of Christianity; it encapsulates the full spirit of discipleship. When it comes to following Christ, there is nothing more important than to love one another as Christ has loved us.
Do we really love in this way? Do we really want to love this way? One Christian has written, “It is decidedly impractical to love as Jesus loves. It’s amazing to me that we church people aren’t mad at Jesus more than we are. For his teachings challenge much of what we hold so dear. But if you read the Bible closely, prepared to be bothered.” It is so easy to say, “Love one another.” But it is such a difficult thing to do! We don’t have to look too far to see that we quite often fail at love. We have defined “one another” so tightly that it means only, “love the people who reinforce the sense of who you are.” We ostracize entire populations because of ageism, or racism, or sexism, or any of a number of other “isms.” We bully people who are different from us. We gossip and talk ugly about our peers or co-workers. We hold grudges when someone acts contrary to our desires or otherwise hurts us. I believe we can think of all kinds of ways that we do everything except love one another, and often this happens because we define love too narrowly, or we put love of ourselves above love of others. Ultimately, love shows itself most fully not by self-service or by simple declarations of affection, but by the service we render to the ones we profess to love, especially service that inconveniences us or that calls us to sacrifice.
You see love, the kind of love that Jesus commands of us, is all about the other person. Such love overflows into service not in order to show off how hard-working it is, but because that is its natural form. This is the kind of love the God has for us; the love that Jesus showed to this world during his time walking among us. It may take us a long while to understand how vastly great this love is; a lifetime, perhaps. But it is also at the core of getting to know who the true God is and what God is calling us to do. And here’s what we need to know about the love that Jesus demands of his disciples that night in the Upper Room just before he was arrested; there is no greater love than this. This love that Jesus asks of us is more than just “loving your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus says to us, “love one another as I have loved you,” he’s telling us to take ourselves completely out of the equation; true love is all about the other person, the love that Jesus asks of us is all about serving God by being obedient and by serving the needs of others. And isn’t this exactly what Jesus did?
Throughout his ministry on earth Jesus emphasized that he was in constant communion with God the Father. Remember, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” And that obedient love took Jesus into some amazing places! Jesus’ obedient love took him to a wedding in Cana of Galilee where he turned water into wine. Jesus’ obedient love took him to a well where he encountered a prostitute and forgave her. It brought him face-to-face with the Pharisees, who Jesus taught with patience and love, even as they hurled insults at him. Jesus’ obedient love carried him among crowds where he healed lepers, paralytics, and a perpetually bleeding woman. Jesus’ obedient love took him into the pungent tomb of a dear deceased friend, who walked out alive only moments later. Jesus’ obedient love took him all the way to the cross, where he died in obedience to God’s will and taught all of us a great lesson about the love of God. Certainly, the love that Jesus shows us and asks of us is a sacrificial love, but that sacrifice is borne out of complete love of God and obedience to God’s will; it is unconditional, including everyone, excluding no one! Where will such obedient love take us?