One Another-ing :: Part One :: “Love One Another”
After supper on the night He was handed over to suffering and death, Jesus commanded His followers to “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this will all people know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus set the tenor for the entire collection of one-anothers in the New Testament by summing them all up in one directive, thrice repeated: love one another. The essence of Christian community (what I am calling “one-anothering”) is a love that proclaims and practices the love with which Jesus Christ has loved us.
The Lord left it to His apostles to unpack the practical application of that command in their preaching, teaching, and letter writing. We find many one-anothers sprinkled throughout the New Testament urging us to become a community that builds itself up in love by living in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16), waiting for one another (1 Corinthians 11:33), serving one another (Galatians 5:13), submitting to one another (Ephesians 5:21), bearing with and forgiving one another (Colossians 3:13), not speaking evil or grumbling against one another, but confessing sins to one another (James 4:11, 5:9, 5:16), showing hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9), thus enjoying fellowship with one another (1 John 1:9). This is only a sampling of the apostles’ attempts to flesh out the command to love that Jesus gave on the eve of His greatest demonstration of love. “Love one another” is the command by which all of Jesus’ other commands subsist (1 John 3:11; 2 John 5).
When we consider how Jesus described the culture of the last days, we’ll find out that His command to love one another is counter-cultural. When describing the last days to His disciples, Jesus painted the picture of an anti-love, anti-community culture. People, even religious people, will “betray one another and hate one another,” and the characteristic mark of society will be that “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10-11). It will be an age of “lawlessness” where the Royal Law of love will be abandoned for self-love as people follow “their own sinful desires” (James 2:8; 2 Peter 3:3). Does this sound familiar? We are living in those last days. A community that seeks to carry out Christ’s command to “love one another” will stand in stark contrast to the culture of “love-oneself” in which it lives.
The world both hates and needs a group of people who will love one another as Christ has loved them. The church that loves one another will be hated because the brightness of such love will expose the world’s selfishness. The world will need the church that love built because it needs the Christ upon whose love that church depends. The world hates and needs Jesus just the same (John 15:18-27). And now we are called to continue His ministry of love in the power of the Spirit (John 20:21-22).
But how will we know what it looks like to continue Jesus’ ministry of love and how do we receive His power to do it? John Piper recently answered that question in a powerful sermon on this “new commandment” to love one another (I encourage you to listen to it):
I see two ways that the commandment to love each other is new in those words. First, the command is new because it is a command to live out the love of Jesus. Second, the command is new because it is a command to live on the love of Jesus. The words “as I have loved you” contain a pattern for our love for each other, and they contain a power for our love for each other.
Loving each other is not a new command per se. It was already there in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”). What’s new is that Jesus is now the pattern we live by and the power we live on…
Piper concludes by addressing this problem: “How can we abide in the love of Jesus if as sinners we deserve His wrath instead of love?”
Why does God cease to be angry with us and instead pour love into our lives through Jesus and empower us to love? The answer is John 15:13: Jesus laid down his life for his friends. Jesus died in our place. Jesus endured the wrath of God that we deserved so that God’s justice would be satisfied and his love could flow unhindered through Christ to us and through us to each other.
Our mission is clear, we are to live the cruciform life, shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross. The love of Christ poured out and portrayed in the Gospel is both the motive and method of Christian community or “one-another-ing”.