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).


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.

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