St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Christ’s Command To Love

Sermon on John 13:31-35

Text: When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

“Practice what you preach.” This is a very common saying. Its meaning is also quite clear. It’s not enough to just say something. If it is really important to you, you will also do it. This is true in parenting. If you tell your children or grandchildren not to do something, but you do it, they will wonder about your sincerity, or if you really mean it. If you tell them to be honest in everything that they do, but they see you cheating or being happy that you weren’t charged what you should have been, they begin to wonder which is correct. You learn far more by example than you ever can by words. This is very true, when we view the command of Jesus, which he gives us in our text. This morning, as we study CHRIST’S COMMAND TO LOVE, we are going to look at 1. Its Motivation and 2. Its Demonstration.

Verse 31 begins with the words, “When he was gone.” The “he” that is being referred to is Judas. The scene is the Upper Room in Jerusalem on Maundy Thursday evening. Jesus had celebrated the Passover with his disciples. He also had told them that one of them would betray him. After Jesus clearly identified Judas as the betrayer, Judas left and the evil plans of the Jewish leaders were put into motion.

For that reason, it might seem odd that Jesus, who knew what was about to happen, would speak as he does in verses 31 and 32, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.” Jesus is speaking about the glory in the face of his darkest hour. In this way, Jesus is reminding his disciples that what would soon happen would be to his glory.

We note that Jesus uses the words “Son of Man” to describe himself. This phrase is used 55 times in the gospels and is exclusively used by Jesus to refer to himself. The term reminds us of Jesus’ human nature, that he was a human being in every way, except for the fact that he was without sin. This first time that this term is used in the Bible is in the book of Daniel, where it clearly refers to the Second Person of the Trinity. By using this term for himself, Jesus is also showing that he is also true God.

Jesus uses this title in direct connection with his glorification. “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” The actions of Judas had started a chain of events by which Jesus would be glorified. This includes his sacrificial death, his descent into hell, his glorious resurrection, his ascension and his reign in glory.

This glorification is the Father’s glory, as well. In the Son’s glorification, both Jesus and the Father are glorified. How would the glorification come about? Jesus said in verse 33, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” The glorification of Jesus would involve the removal of his visible presence from his disciples. Within a few short hours the separation would begin. They could not come at this time. Jesus’ death would be a sacrificial death. Only he could suffer it.

Jesus’ suffering and death are our motivation for following his command. When we think about the fact that each of us has sinned could easily drive us to terror and despair. Every single time you and I go against his will, we have deserved his eternal wrath and punishment. You and I have sinned against God more times than we could possibly imagine. God would be just in sending us to hell for eternity.

However, the Father, in his love and mercy, devised a plan by which we would be saved. For this reason, he sent his Son to be our Substitute. As Jesus lived on the earth, he lived perfectly according to God’s will for us. When Jesus suffered and died, he did so to pay the debt of sin that we owed to God. By his resurrection, we are assured of forgiveness. This act of salvation for us is glorification to the Father. Jesus glorified his Father as he carried out his Father’s plan of salvation. Because Jesus carried out his plan of salvation, the Father has glorified him in his resurrection, ascension, and his reigning in glory. In the act of salvation, each glorifies the other.

As the recipients of the work of salvation, we also want to glorify our God. We want to show our love and thankfulness for all that God has done for us. One of the ways which we can do this is to follow his commands. We do not do so because we are afraid of punishment, if we don’t. Rather, we do so from hearts filled with love for him. Paul reminds us of this in 2 Corinthians, “He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.” What exactly are these commands? We find one clearly stated in verse 34, “A new command I give you: Love one another.” Jesus tells us very clearly what is pleasing to him: that we love one another.

To what extent are we to love others? Are we to be loving and kind to those who are the same to us? Are we to put them on some sort of probationary period to see if they have deserved our love? To show us the extent of this love, Jesus adds, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jesus tells us very plainly the type of love we are to have for other people. It is to be the same sort of love that he has for us.

The Greek word for love here is a unique type of love. It is a choosing to love. It is a love for the unlovable. Can you see how this type of love is completely different from the type of love that the world promotes? The world says, ‘Be nice to those who are nice to you. If they cross you, get back at them.’ However, God says, ‘No. I want you to love even those who do not deserve your love.’ He gives us the greatest example of loving the undeserving, and that was when he showed love to us sinners. There was nothing lovable in any of us, but God chose to love us, anyway. He did not just say, ‘I love you.’ He put his love into action. Now, Jesus tells us, ‘I want you to love each other in the same way that I love you.’

What does this mean? What does this entail? When we think of love being mentioned in the Bible, probably a portion that would come quickly to mind is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. There Paul gives the Corinthians some very practical teaching about Christian love. We recall these words, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Just think of this list, and ask yourself, “Do I show love to all people in this way? Am I always patient with others or does impatience show itself all too often every day?” Paul says, “Love is kind.” Do I find myself being kind to others or have cruel words or actions come from me? God tells us, “Love is not self-seeking.” It puts the needs and wants of others first. This sounds fine here and now, but what about later on today when I have the choice of doing something my way or someone else’s way? Which will it be? Which one will I insist on?

Another way that we can show our love is to not be easily-angered. The fly off the handle temper is not how God wants us to treat each other. This goes back to the patient and kind aspect of love that Jesus looks for. “[Love] keeps no record of wrongs” that others have perpetuated against us. Yet, how often don’t we like to take out our little treasure chests, where we store the memories of all those wrongs done against us and look at every one of them? God, however, wants us to completely get rid of them. There is no place in the Christian’s life for bringing up the past, whenever there is a disagreement. What is in the past is to be forgiven and forgotten. God help us to love each other to this extent.

Sometimes, we find it easier to exhibit this type of love to strangers or people we hardly know. Yet, we sometimes slack off to those who are closest to us. We try to excuse it, saying, “Well, of course, they know that I love them.” These are some of the very people we can show again and again the love of God that is in our hearts, as we show our love for them.

Jesus continues this teaching on love with the words of verse 35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This was to be the trademark of Jesus’ disciples. This is the love that fills the heart of the Christian, who is thankful that Christ died for them. These words also state a condition, “if you love one another.” They invite a test of faith. When there is love, there is a true discipleship. How is it with us? How is it with you? Do we pass the test of love? Everyone must examine their own heart.

Unfortunately, we must all confess to the fact that we have not always been as loving as Jesus would have us be. As we recognize this in ourselves, may God help us to come to him for forgiveness for our lack of love. Having been assured that these sins were also paid for on the cross of Calvary, we ask God for the strength and willingness to love as we have been loved.

Christ has given us this command: that we love one another. He has given us the motivation to carry it out: his life, suffering and death, and his resurrection. He has given us directions on how to carry it out. God help us to love one another.