How can I love you?
I don’t know where to start.
There is so much that could be said about this, and so many questions
1. In what way is this a new commandment? After all, the great command in the Old Testament is that we are to love God, and that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves (in other words as if he or she was one of us)
2. And why does Jesus command us here just to love one another? He is speaking to his followers, to his disciples. Why does he not simply say that we are to love all people, whether they are Christians or not? But there are other places where he does command us to love all people, because God loves all people. Some of you will know the story of the Good Samaritan. But here Jesus tells his followers that their love is to begin with love for one another.
3. And how can you command someone to love? Jesus says that we are to love one another. He does not say that we are to serve one another. It is possible to serve without loving, to serve as a duty, as obedience. But Jesus says that we are to love one another.
Christian writers and thinkers have struggled with this.
How does this love relate to the other kinds of love that we know?
The love that two lovers have, when they are attracted to each other. They delight in each other and desire to be part of the other.
The love of a parent for a child: a love which cares, guides, nurtures and grows. A love that gets up at 2am in the morning to clean them up when they’ve been sick.
There is the easy love and delight of friend for friend: a love which has common interests and shared secrets.
But Augustine and others spoke of another kind of love – a soul love. And that contains all of the above, but it goes beyond physical love! It is about delighting in another person, wanting the absolute best for them, building them up, and desiring communion with them: to be part of them and for them to be part of you, so that you are one – in the right and appropriate way – with them for eternity.
Soul love is about joy and delight in the other, and it is about service of the other:
It is about kneeling down in front of the other – as Jesus did – and washing their feet.
Soul love is about being willing to be crucified for the other person, so that they might be reconciled to God and have life, real life.
So it seems to me that the really big question when Jesus says, ‘Love one another’. Is yes, but how?
And I would like to suggest, from these verses, three possible helps.
1. We need, with the help of the Spirit, to realise that we are beloved
Jesus says, ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ (v34)
That is not just saying that Jesus’ love is a model for our love - we are to love other people in the way that Jesus loved us.
It is also saying that Jesus love for us is the source of our love for each other. We can love one another because we have begun to experience the love of Jesus for us.
When we believe in Jesus, when we receive him, we become part of a community which exists because he loves us. We enter into a community of the beloved.
Some of us will have come from very happy families where we knew that we were loved. Some of us will have come from homes where we never knew love.
Here, in the Church, that makes no difference – because here we are all and each beloved.
Not by the priest or minister or pastor
But by the Lord Jesus
In John’s gospel we have noticed that John does not usually refer to himself by name. Instead he describes himself as ‘the disciple who Jesus loved’.
That is not him putting himself above the other disciples – ‘I am the disciple who Jesus loved and you are the disciples who he didn’t love’ – he knew that Jesus loved Peter and James and Nathaniel and Mary Magdalene. Instead, by simply writing ‘the disciple who Jesus loved’, he is opening up his experience to all and each of us.
You are the disciple, the follower, who Jesus loved. You are the disciple who Jesus loved. You are ..
The disciple who Jesus loved sat next to Jesus at the last supper. (John 13.23)
You are invited to sit next to Jesus. Indeed the language is more powerful than that. It is more intimate. The Greek tells us that John lay his head on Jesus’ chest. You are invited to lay your head on Jesus’ chest.
Jesus sees the disciple who he loved, and tells him that ‘his (Jesus’) mother’ is now to be his mother, and he is now to be her son. He is creating a new family. (John 19.26)
And as the disciple who Jesus loved, you are invited to be part of this new family which God has created. Not on the edge of it, but at the very centre.
Mary Magdalene tells the disciple who Jesus loved that the tomb is empty. (John 20.2)
We are that disciple, and we are invited to listen with him, to hear the confusion and the distress of others. And we are called to seek for Jesus
And the disciple who Jesus loved has gone fishing, but as he looks from the boat at the shore, he sees and recognises the risen Lord Jesus and tells the others, ‘It is the Lord’. (John 21.7). We are invited to see and to tell.
Peter, having been told what will happen to him at the end of his life, wants to know what will happen to the disciple who Jesus loved? (John 21.20).
And Jesus tells him to mind his own business, because that is between God and you.
Please do not think of Jesus as some senior official who, if you are particularly persistent or fortunate, or if you are good enough or give enough, can give you a few minutes of his time.
When he lived on earth, and he was bound by space and time, he could only be in one place at one time focussing on one person – and usually he came to people rather than people coming to him. But after his resurrection and after his ascension he becomes so much bigger. By his Spirit, he can give his complete attention to you and to you and to me at the same time.
And we are the community of the beloved. It is his love that has brought us together.
He came from heaven to earth for you, and he came from heaven to earth for me
He stripped himself of all his power and privilege and he knelt down and washed your feet and he washed my feet.
He sacrificed himself to take away your sin, and he sacrificed himself to take away my sin
He was lifted up on that cross for you, and he was lifted up on that cross for me.
He rose for you and he rose for me.
How can I begin to love you?
Especially if naturally I have nothing in common with you, or I don’t particularly like you, or if I’ve hurt you or you’ve hurt me?
How can we begin to look at each other and really delight in each other, and to seek the eternal best for each other, and to desire to be part of each other and for them to be part of me.
Well, I guess it helps when we begin to realise that I am beloved by God and you are beloved by God. That I am only here because Jesus loved me; and you are only here because Jesus loved you. It helps when I begin to realise that I am the disciple who Jesus loved and that you are the disciple who Jesus loved.
2. We need to realise, with the help of the Spirit, that we have a shared longing.
‘I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me ..’ (v33)
I guess Jesus is speaking of his crucifixion. But when they discover that the tomb is empty, and when they remember that he said that he would rise from the dead, they do look for him.
But later, after his resurrection, Jesus tells them that he is again going away. But that he will then return. And for 2000 years his people have waited for him, looked for him, longed for him.
We pray, ‘Your Kingdom come’.
At the very end of the Bible, Jesus says, ‘Surely I am coming soon’. And the response of the writer is ‘Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!’
And we too long for him.
We long to meet with him here and now. We long to be filled with his Spirit afresh. We long to see those glimpses of the Kingdom of God coming in power, for miracles and healings and transformations.
And we long for his coming again, when we will finally be set free from sin, and when this creation will be set free from decay and death. We long for his Kingdom, for his presence. We long to see him, to be with him.
When you have a shared longing, it overcomes many differences and brings you together. Think of a crowd at a football match. People from all different kinds of backgrounds, and yet they have a shared passion, a shared longing. For 90 minutes, they are united. They want to see their team win.
As Christians, we have a shared longing. It is not just for 90 minutes.
It is a longing that can be with us for all of our life. Indeed, as we grow older it may become stronger. We long for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Some of us may occasionally have mini-encounters with him now - but if they are real encounters then they will increase that deeper longing to know him and be with him.
How can we love one another?
We need to recognise in each other, even if we disagree on many things in our faith, our shared longing for the Lord Jesus.
3. We need to realise that we have a shared glory.
If you love someone, if you delight in them, dream of them and long for them, then we seek their glory.
I love myself and I seek glory for myself. I tell everybody how wonderful I am.
That, of course, is a pathetic sort of glory.
We love our country or our city or our team, and we glorify them. If you support the football team who I support, that is a particularly sad sort of glory.
We love another person and we glorify them. We want everybody to know how wonderful they are
Well, what we see in our passage is a circle of glory. We have God and we have son of man. Jesus is called ‘son of man’ here because he is the true representative of humanity, he is a human person living life a God created human beings to live – a life of love.
So Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” (Vv31-32)
That is very complex (I know someone who wrote a PHD thesis on it), but all I want us to see here is that there is a circle of glory.
Because they love each, the glory of son of man is the glory of God, and the glory of God is the glory of son of man.
They are the glory of the other. When Jesus is glorified God is glorified. When God is glorified Jesus is glorified.
And as members of the people of God, we have a reason to love each other – because we are part of each other in Christ, you are my glory, and I am your glory
That is why it is tragic that instead of loving each other in the church, we are jealous of each other.
As a pastor, I am jealous of those churches that are larger or more dynamic or are more influential.
We are jealous of each other’s gifts or opportunities or friendships or position or praise.
But that jealousy or envy is so destructive.
It is destructive of others, of the church of God, and of myself.
We get trapped into a circle of shame. I pull them down, and in pulling them down, I am pulled down.
And one of the ways to break that destructive cycle is to give glory to the other.
It is to do something for their good, that will increase them and bless them.
It is to speak good of them and not bad
Perhaps, if you struggle with someone, you should be praying for an opportunity to do good for your enemy.
One of the illustrations that I often use at weddings is that of the difference between a dodgy footballer at a corner and ballet dancers. The dodgy footballer, when the corner comes in, jumps on his opponents’ shoulders in order to push them down, so that he can go higher to head the ball. But the ballet dancers gather round one of their colleagues and lift them up.
And I say to the couple, ‘You are now in the business of lifting each other up. When one of you is lifted up, the other is lifted up’. You share their glory.
It is hard to love, to love at a soul level, especially if we find the other person difficult.
But is much easier to choose to seek the glory of the other person. It is much easier to choose to exalt, lift up our brother or sister, our colleague, our neighbouring church.
And when we do that, we discover two things.
We begin to share in their glory and we begin to find that we actually do love them.
How do I begin to love my Christian brother or sister?
By the power of the Holy Spirit, I need to
- Remember that I am, and that you are, beloved
- Recognise that we have a shared longing: for the Lord Jesus
- Make the decision to seek your glory