Love One Another

Love One Another

One cold evening back in the 1800s, a preacher went to visit a member of his congregation who had stopped attending worship services. The man welcomed the preacher into his home and the two of them settled into chairs next to the fireplace. Wanting to convey the importance of congregational involvement, the preacher took a pair of tongs and carefully removed a burning ember from the fire, placing it on the edge of hearth by itself. Without saying a word, they sat there and watched the ember’s fiery glow diminish and eventually disappear. After the ember burned out, the preacher picked it up with the tongs and placed it back in the fire where it soon began to glow again. The point had been made and the absent church member announced that he would be back at worship service the following Sunday.

Often times we fail to grasp the spiritual importance of community. Many believe that discipleship is something that can be done in isolation. However, nothing can be farther from the truth. Although becoming a disciple of Jesus is an individual decision, it is not intended to be an isolated journey. Such is evident from the abundance of “one another” commands throughout the New Testament. The phrase “one another” appears over 90 times in the New Testament and is associated with over 35 different verbs (e.g. love, serve, encourage, etc.). Implicit in these “one another” passages is the expectation of community. In other words, you cannot fulfill the “one another” commands without interacting with other people, therefore, the “one another” commands teach us that discipleship necessitates relationship.

Over the next few weeks, our articles are going to investigate some of these “one another” commands in an effort to identify our responsibilities to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We will begin with the most frequent “one another” command, which is “love one another.” It appears at least fifteen times in the New Testament (John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 4:8; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12; 2 John 1:5). In fact, this command may be viewed as the basis for all of the other “one another” commands since Jesus instituted it as “a new commandment.” Take note of what Jesus said in John 13:34-35. After He demonstrated His love for the disciples by washing their feet, He said,

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In His last opportunity to teach His disciples, Jesus wanted them to see and to hear the importance of loving one another. Based on Jesus’ words in this passage, there are three important implications about loving one another that must not be overlooked.

First, loving one another is non-negotiable. It is non-negotiable because Jesus specifically presented it as a command. He did not say “a new suggestion I give to you” or “a new option I give to you” or “a new possibility I give to you.” He said “a new commandment I give to you.” In fact, commandment terminology is linked to the phrase “love one another” at least five more times in the New Testament (John 15:12, 17; 1 John 3:11, 23; 2 John 1:5-6). The reason it is so important is because my relationship with God is contingent on my relationship with other people. As John later wrote, “he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21). The reason you cannot hate people and love God is because loving one another is a direct outgrowth of our love for God. John said that “love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Therefore, “we…ought to love another” since “God so loved us” (1 John 4:11).

Second, loving one another serves as irrefutable evidence of our discipleship. In reference to loving one another Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). When it came time to select the defining attribute of His disciples, Jesus did not choose service or faith or humility or holiness, though all of these attributes are worthy and expected. He chose love. Why? Because love demonstrated toward those undeserving of love has the power to “heap burning coals on their head” (Romans 12:20). What does that idiom mean? Scholars do not agree on the exact meaning, but the most compelling suggestion references the fact that “when enemies stormed a city, the inhabitants of the city defended the wall by dropping things on the heads of the invaders—including burning coals.” Based on this practice “Paul’s words mean that the best defense against evil is doing good.”[1] That is why Paul followed this idiom with the instruction to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). The point is that we should show love at all times because love is the one trait that will never fail (1 Corinthians 13:8), and since it will never fail, love is the one trait that will show the world that we are associated with Christ. However, the only way for our love to accomplish this is if it possesses a different standard.

And that brings us to the final implication of Jesus’ “love one another” command, which is loving one another is based on a higher standard. It is important to note that this is not the first time that Jesus instructed His disciples to love each other. Back in Mark 12:30-31 when a lawyer asked Jesus what the most important command in Mosaic Law was, Jesus answered with the instruction to love God and love people. So what Jesus is presenting here is not a new command but an entirely new standard on which the command is based. In John 13:34, Jesus instructed us to love one another as He loved us. When it comes to love, He did not settle for the Golden Rule standard, which says, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). Instead, He instituted what one minister called the Platinum Rule standard, which effectively says, “do unto others as I have done unto you.” As a result, the Golden Rule standard of loving other people the way that we want to be loved is no longer a high enough standard for our love. The standard of Jesus’ “new commandment” is that we love other people the way that Jesus loved us. And Jesus loves us eternally (Lamentations 3:22-24), mercifully (Psalm 108:8-12), unconditionally (Romans 8:38-39), and sacrificially (John 3:16).

Loving one another is a requirement of disciples. Realize this, you cannot be in a right relationship with God if you are not in a right relationship with other people. John called those, who claim to love God but hate their brother, liars and indicated that “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). The ultimate question then is this: do you love others the way that Christ loved you? If not, then you are not in a right relationship with God.

[1] David L. Roper, Truth For Today: Romans 8-16 (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2014), 275; Jimmy Allen, “Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All” (Jimmy Allen, 2005), 254