>

THE NEW COMMANDMENT

Read­ing Time: 8 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Acts 14:21–27; Rev 21:1–5; John 13:31–35)

I give you a new com­mand­ment, that you love one anoth­er. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one anoth­er. By this every­one will know that you are my dis­ciples, if you have love for one anoth­er” (John 13:34–35).

If someone says, I love God, and hates his broth­er, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his broth­er whom he has seen, can­not love God whom he has not seen. And this com­mand­ment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his broth­er and sis­ter also” (1John 4:20–21).

Introduction

The ref­er­ence to the glor­i­fic­a­tion of God in Jesus Christ echoes the text of Isai­ah 49:3. The glor­i­fic­a­tion of Jesus is strictly tied to his death and resur­rec­tion. What Jesus does to his dis­ciples is like a farewell speech. By glor­i­fy­ing God with his death and leav­ing or giv­ing his dis­ciples new com­mand­ment, Jesus bids his dis­ciples farewell. Jesus speaks before his death resur­rec­tion. In oth­er words, this teach­ing on lov­ing one anoth­er is giv­en at the Last Supper.

Jesus said to his dis­ciples “I give you a new com­mand­ment, that you love one anoth­er. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one anoth­er” (John 13:34). Such com­mand was giv­en imme­di­ately Judas Iscari­ot left to execute his hid­den agenda. Love must be the dis­tin­guish­ing mark of Jesus’ dis­ciples, and nat­ur­ally, of Chris­ti­ans. Jesus’ “new com­mand” takes its point of depar­ture from the Mosa­ic com­mands to love the Lord with all one’s might and to love one’s neigh­bour as one­self (Lev 19:18; cf. Deut 6:5; Mark 12:28–33).

How­ever, Jesus’ kind of love trans­forms and deep­ens the Mosa­ic laws. The com­mand to love one’s neigh­bour was not new. What is new is the found­ing of this love in lov­ing one anoth­er as Jesus had loved and con­tin­ues to love his dis­ciples (cf. John 13:1; 15:13). In light of Jesus’ sub­sequent death, just as (attached in the new com­mand­ment) implies a love that is even will­ing and dis­posed to lay down one’s life for anoth­er (cf. John 15:13). But what kind of love is Jesus refer­ring to? And how does Jesus love his disciples?

The Gos­pel accord­ing to John does not present a sen­ti­ment­al view of love. This is a type of love that is shown in ser­vice and sac­ri­fice. It is dif­fi­cult to choose to love when faced with hatred and anger. Jesus tells the dis­ciples that all will know that they are his dis­ciples because of the love they show for one anoth­er. This descrip­tion of the early Chris­ti­an com­munity will be repeated in the Acts of the Apostles where the early brethren owned things in com­mon and cared for one another.

Love one another

I give you a new com­mand­ment, that you love one anoth­er. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one anoth­er” (John 13:34). As I explained in the reflec­tion for the 3rd Sunday of Pascha (May 10, 2019), in Greek lan­guage, there are at least four dif­fer­ent words for love. Two of these four words are used in the Chris­ti­an (New) Test­a­ment. Unfor­tu­nately, both words are trans­lated in Eng­lish with one single word – love. Those two words are philos (phileō) and agape (agapaō). In a simple term, philos is love with pas­sion and interest. It is the kind of love that exists between a man and a woman. On the oth­er hand, agape is love without human desire and without per­son­al interest except the interest to do good to oth­ers or to the oth­er per­son, without mind­ing the person’s social status, race, col­our, or ori­gin. It is the kind of love described by John which moved God to send His only begot­ten Son to save the human-race from the cor­rup­tion of sin – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that every­one who believes in him may not per­ish but may have etern­al life” (John 3:16). It is because we do not under­stand this dis­tinc­tion that many Chris­ti­ans have dif­fi­culty under­stand­ing Jesus’ instruc­tion to love our enemies and pray for those who per­se­cute us (cf. Matt 5:44). By this, Jesus does not mean we should show them philos. Instead, he means we should show them agape, mean­ing we should not pay them back evil with evil. It is also a way of say­ing we should pity them because they do not com­pre­hend the grav­ity of their evil con­duct (cf. Luke 23:34).

Anoth­er way to put it is that while philos is a hori­zont­al love, agape is a ver­tic­al love. Again, while philos is a love seek­ing to be recip­roc­ated, agape is that kind of love that does not want to be recip­roc­ated. If philos is a sen­ti­ment­al love, agape is non-sen­ti­ment­al. While philos could be com­pared to a good per­cent­age of adults who always want to be recom­pensed, agape is rep­res­en­ted by infants who do things without per­son­al interest. This is the kind of love Jesus had for his dis­ciples and which, he wanted them to show and have for one anoth­er. It is the kind of love God has for human­ity and which He mani­fes­ted and com­mu­nic­ated via the incarn­a­tion of the logos (okwu e mere ahụ). Agape is true and genu­ine love. But remem­ber, it is not a sub­sti­tute for philos. Both forms of love should nev­er be con­fused or inter­changed. The dis­tinc­tion is not always easy. But their use in the Scrip­ture allows their being dis­tin­guished from one anoth­er. There­fore, the com­mand to “love one anoth­er” is the com­mand to tran­scend human nature and stick on those things that unite them. It is a theo­lo­gic­al call and a con­di­tio sine qua non for the pro­clam­a­tion and propaga­tion of the Gos­pel mes­sage. In their rela­tion with one anoth­er and in their mis­sion, the per­son­al interest and lik­ing of the dis­ciples and there­fore, of Chris­ti­ans, should not be the yard­stick. The stand­ard should be what Jesus did and he treated them. He called them to be his dis­ciples not mind­ing their indi­vidu­al short­com­ings so long as these will not com­prom­ise the Gospel.

Agape is the only love that is sup­posed to exist among Chris­ti­ans as Chris­ti­ans. A Chris­ti­an should be able to assist anoth­er Chris­ti­an and non-Chris­ti­ans as well, without expect­ing to be paid back. This is what Jesus did. He loved his dis­ciples without want­ing to be paid back. So also, we must do the same. But for us to do that, we must under­stand the kind of love Jesus is refer­ring to. The term love is the most used in the entire uni­verse, and at the same time, the most abused and the most con­fused. As indic­ated above, due to the poverty of Indo-European lan­guages, a single word has been used to render four dif­fer­ent Greek words that mean dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent people. Unless we clear this con­fu­sion and ambi­gu­ity, we shall con­tin­ue to mis­un­der­stand and abuse Jesus’ com­mand. Such com­mand should not be reduced to a mere present­a­tion of God who wants to do some­thing new in our lives. God is not doing any­thing new in our lives, we should only allow what God has done (for us, in us, and to us) to be actu­al­ized and change us when and only when we keep to the new com­mand­ment. By not keep­ing to such com­mand, we obfus­cate God’s grace. We should love one anoth­er as God has loved us not because we are to obtain some­thing (new), but that oth­ers should see us, and through us glor­i­fy and bear wit­ness to God. A per­son­al profit must not be attached to it before we do it. The decision to reward such effort is reserved to God and to Him alone.

Email This Post Email This Post

Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected !!