Love One Another Wasn’t A New Commandment

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But It Was An Invitation to Love Differently

The most famous betrayal in the Bible comes when Judas Iscariot turns Jesus over to a group of religious leaders to be crucified (John 18:3-12). Earlier that evening, Jesus, with full knowledge of the coming betrayal, washed Judas’s feet in act of love and service (John 13:2-12).

When Judas left to get the authorities and cement his betrayal, Jesus turned to the other apostles and said, “I am with you only a little longer … 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 13:33-35).

In the midst of betrayal, Jesus spoke about love as a new commandment.

The thing is, the commandment to love one another wasn’t actually a new commandment.

In Leviticus 19:18, God tells the Israelites: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The breadth of this is reiterated in 19:34 when God says, “you shall love the [resident] alien as yourself.” It’s also the meaning of Micah 6:8 where the prophet is told to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly” with God. And well before Judas betrayed him, Jesus told a group of religious leaders there were two great commandments on which “hang all the law and the prophets,” love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40).

Why, then, does Jesus say he is giving a new commandment to love others?

The new part of the commandment is expressed in two tiny words, “as I.”

Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (John 13:34).

He said this knowing about Judas’s betrayal and knowing that, within hours, Peter would deny even knowing him (John 18:25-27).

Our human tendency is to treat other people the way they treat us. If someone is cold or distant, we are similarly cold and distant. If someone is outright rude, we react with rudeness. If someone is kind, we try to respond with kindness.

Jesus offers us another way.

Jesus says we can love others based not on how they love us, but based on how God loves us.

This is the love shared within the Trinity being shared with us (John 17:26).

Jesus invites us to move beyond a transactional relationship with God and each other and move into genuine relationship rooted in a foundation of love.

We try to barter with God, offering our devotion in exchange for answered prayers. “Do this for me God and I’ll go to church every single Sunday!”

We try to earn status with God, comforting ourselves like the Pharisee in the parable who says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even [a] tax collector” (Luke 18:11).

We try to do enough to be “okay” with God, as if God is grading us or keeping an accounting of our plusses and minuses.  

All of these approaches reflect a transactional belief system.

Jesus loves differently. Jesus loves Judas in the midst of betrayal. He loves Peter, despite knowing that Peter will abandon him.

The reality of this hits home when I think of all the ways I, too, miss the mark. I have my Judas and Peter moments and yet, Jesus loves me.

If my relationship with God depended on some sort of transactional accountability, I’d be lost and unloved.

Instead, Jesus shows me that God is relational, not transactional. Rather than trying to manage my relationship with God through a series of transactions, I can let go of that and be transformed by God into the loving and beloved person God wants me to be.

The new commandment Jesus gives isn’t that we are to love each other, that’s old news. The new commandment is that we should love each other the way God has loved us.

What do you think? Do you give into transactional thinking? Do you have relationships in your life that are transactional and others that are built on something else? How can you tell the difference? Which relationships are more life-giving? Tell me about it in the comments, in an email, or on Facebook.

More Like This From Beth:

Beth was a guest on the Strangely Warmed Podcast. The title of the show is a reference to one of John Wesley’s Holy Spirit moments when he said his heart was strangely warmed at the realization that God truly loved him. Click here to listen to Beth discuss the Easter 5C readings with Taylor Mertins!

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