A new command I give you: Love one another.—John 13:34
One day I picked up a copy of a book written by Dr. Francis Schaeffer entitled The Mark of the Christian. Few books have touched my life like this one. Once I began reading, I couldn't put it down.
The book contained a very simple exposition of Christ's words to His disciples, as recorded by John: "A new command I give you," said Jesus. "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Then Christ added the bottom line, the primary purpose for this new commandment. "All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another" (John 13:34-35).
I began to see that the Great Commission to reach the world with the Gospel did not begin with Christ's final words to His followers in Matthew 28:19-20. Rather, it began with His words to the disciples in the Upper Room, before His death. It was at the Last Supper that Jesus began laying down a profound plan for reaching all people with the truth of who He is and why He had come into this world.
At that moment Christ made three important statements:
Christ's basic concern in each of these three statements stands out boldly—love for one another. But each statement also contains a unique concept. First, to love one another was a new commandment. Second, Christ's love for His followers was to be their model in loving one another. And third, this love was to be the means whereby the apostles could communicate to all men the One whom they were emulating in their relationships.
Let's focus on Christ's first statement. Why was this a new commandment? How does this new commandment relate to the old commandment? How do both the old and the new relate to our task to bring people to Christ?
For nearly three and a half years Jesus had engaged in a public ministry. He had taught people who He was, verifying His deity with miraculous signs. Because of His teachings and His miracles, He experienced a growing popularity among the masses, culminating in His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-16). He also experienced a growing hatred from the religious leaders. They were desperately threatened, not only by His words that judged their hypocrisy, but also by the growing number of people who were attracted to Him and His teachings (12:17-19).
In His own heart, "Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father" (John 13:1). The days of public ministry were coming to a close. Consequently, He withdrew from His public ministry and met privately with the Twelve to prepare them in a special way for the days and events that lay just ahead—His betrayal and death, His resurrection and ascension. It was in the Upper Room, while having a meal with His men, that He commanded them to love one another (13:34-35).
When Christ said, "A new command I give you," He was obviously making a comparison that was both a contrast and an extension of truth. It was a contrast in that Christ was telling the disciples about a new way to make people aware of their sins and to bring them to Christ. It was an extension of truth because it involved the fulfillment of a promise God had made many, many years before, both to Adam and Abraham.
When we hear the word commandment, we usually think of God's Law, given to Israel at Mount Sinai and recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But sometimes the whole Old Testament is referred to as God's Law (see Matt. 22:40 and John 12:34). In any case, the very foundation of this Law is the Ten Commandments, recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The numerous other laws, statutes, and commandments God revealed to Moses were an elaboration and application of the Ten.
Why was the Law (the old commandment) given? Unfortunately, many people believe it was so that they—by keeping the commandments—may inherit eternal life. Not so! "No one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by observing the law," wrote Paul to the Romans (Rom. 3:20). To the Galatians he wrote just as emphatically, "Clearly no one is justified before God by the Law" (Gal. 3:11).
It is impossible for any human being to keep the Law perfectly. If you fail in any respect, you have fallen short of God's standard and cannot be saved (Rom. 3:23). As Paul stated further, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" (Gal. 3:10). Since God knew this before He ever revealed His Law to Moses, why did He give the Law? If no one can keep the Law perfectly, why would the Lord impose these commandments on us?
Paul answered these questions clearly in his Letter to the Galatians. "The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). Here Paul used a metaphor to illustrate an important truth regarding our salvation. The New American Standard Bible makes it even more obvious: "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith."
The Greek word translated "tutor" is paidagogos. It literally refers to a guide and guardian of young boys. A paidagogos was usually a slave who made sure the young person in his charge got to school regularly and on time. When the boy was not under the schoolmaster's supervision, the paidagogos was responsible to make sure he conducted himself properly.
In other words, the tutor was a disciplinarian. Sometimes he was harsh and cruel. In ancient art, the paidagogos was often pictured as a man with a rod in his hand, ready to strike a disobedient boy. The paidagogos, wrote Paul, illustrates the nature of the Law and why God gave it. The Law was our tutor, our disciplinarian, that brought us to Christ. Christ is represented in the metaphor not by the paidagogos or tutor but by the schoolmaster. Once we are in "school," that is, in Christ and under His guidance, we are free from the paidagogos, the Law: "Now that faith has come [faith in Christ!, we are no longer under the supervision of the law" (Gal. 3:25).
When people break the law in our society, they are often put behind bars—in prison. Just so, Paul wrote, "Before this faith came [faith in Christ], we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed" (Gal. 3:23). In other words, since no one could keep the Law, we were all under sin's domination and control. We were all in captivity.
Paul illustrated this truth in his own life in his letter to the Roman Christians. "I would not have known what sin was except through the law," he declared (Rom. 7:7). "But in order that sin [a reality that exists whether we know it or not] might be recognized as sin, it [the Law] produced death in me ... so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful" (7:13).
In a sense, it was the Old Testament Law that led Paul to Christ. It was through the Law that he became "conscious of sin" and realized that he needed a Savior from sin.
What about people who never knew about God's Law? Paul was a Jew, so he was aware of the Law through his religious heritage. But what about those who had never heard the Law? What about the people who lived even before the Law was revealed at Mount Sinai?
These are legitimate questions, particularly for a non-Jew. In the New Testament world, both Jews and Gentiles were asking these questions. Paul's answer: "For before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account [that is, by the lawbreaker] when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command" (Rom. 5:13-14). This is why Paul wrote earlier in his letter, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (3:23).
The Old Testament Law was given to make all people aware of their sins, to cause them to seek a way to escape, and to lead them to Christ. "The Law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Rom. 5:20). In other words, God made a way of escape through Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament Law was given so people would seek Jesus Christ. But once Christ came, He introduced a new commandment—a new means to lead people to God and to make them aware of sin and the answer for that sin. The new means was inherent in the new commandment to "love one another." By this, He said, "All men will know you are my disciples."
Through Christian love and fellowship, we were drawn to Christ. Because He provides the power to free us from sin's grip, we are no longer condemned. God accepts us because of the work Christ completed at Calvary.
The world today is filled with religious systems that teach that we can be saved by doing good works. Many of these systems are offshoots of Christianity and invariably give their followers the impression that the only way they can be sure of eternal life is to keep the Old Testament Law, particularly the Ten Commandments. Obviously they have missed the whole point of the Law, for the Bible makes it very clear that no one can be saved in this way. Consider the following:
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" Clearly no one is justified before God by the Law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."—Gal. 3:10-13
Religious systems that have no direct theological relationship to Christianity have their own systems of good works for achieving success in some future life. But the Bible clearly rejects any "works system" for attaining eternal life. Look at these two New Testament passages that emphasize the importance of faith:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.—Eph. 2:8-9
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.—Rom. 4:4-5
What about your life? Are you trying to achieve eternal life by obeying the Ten Commandments, by doing good, by "loving your neighbor"? Even the Old Testament teaches that "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment" (Isa. 64:6 NASB). Even what is "good" is not good enough to give you eternal life.
It is only by faith in Christ's goodness and righteousness that any individual can be saved. In fact, no person has ever been saved except by faith in Christ, including Abraham and all those who lived before him. Though they did not understand the Gospel as we do, they believed God on the basis of what He had revealed to them. Paul wrote, "The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham" (Gal. 3:8). And since Christ has now come, we can live in the full light and freedom of that reality.
If you are relying on works for your salvation, acknowledge that you cannot save yourself. Trust Christ to save you. Believe that He died for your sins and rose again that you might have eternal life. This prayer will help you:
Dear God, I acknowledge that nothing I can do in and of myself can save me from my sins. I thank You for sending Your perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to die for my sins. I thank You that He is alive today, and I now put my faith in Him and what He has done for me. Thank You for making me righteous in Your sight.
There's a second area to think about in terms of personal application of these truths. Perhaps you have trusted Christ for salvation—now or sometime in the past—but now you are trying to keep yourself saved by adhering to the Law. That is impossible; Christians cannot live perfect lives. You are not only saved by faith in Christ's finished work on the Cross, but are kept saved by that finished work. Your eternal life began the moment you believed and will always be eternal.
Christians are to do good works, and can do good works, but with a whole new source of motivation and inner strength. When we become Christians, "The grace of God that brings salvation ... teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age" (Titus 2:11-12).
What is the new source of motivation and inner strength to help you do good works? The same grace that saved you! When you understand that grace, you can never be the same again. "Therefore," Paul wrote, "I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. ... Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:1-2).
Are you allowing God's grace and love to motivate you to live this kind of life? If you are, you are not only saved by grace through faith, but you are also allowing God to work in you "to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil. 2:13). And part of God's plan is that you "love one another" just as Christ loved you in order that "all men will know" that you are Christ's disciple.
Spend some time getting acquainted with one another at the beginning of this first session. At the very least, be sure everyone knows everyone else's name. Have each person share his or her first reaction to the word "evangelism" or briefly share an experience in evangelism. Is anyone surprised to find that a book called Loving One Another is actually about evangelism?
Together develop a list of group expectations or goals for your study of this book. Many small groups like to write a group "covenant" outlining what each member will do to support the group. You can use the covenant included on page 19, or adapt it to your group's goals. After you've discussed your covenant and agreed on it, have each group member sign a copy.
1. How did you come to believe in Jesus Christ? What role did the community of believers (the church) play in your faith journey?
2. Earlier I wrote that: "Through Christian love and fellowship, we were drawn to Christ." What is your reaction to this statement? Does it fit with your own experience?
3. How can obedience to the new commandment to love one another be a "new means to lead people to God"?
4. How might Christians loving one another make unbelievers "aware of their sin and the answer for that sin"?
5. How do you see the love Christians have for one another as "new" or different from the love non-Christians have?
6. What most motivates you to love others and do good things for others?
An important way to love one another is to pray for one another. In groups of two or three, share some specific prayer needs and pray for one another. Continue to pray specifically for the same people throughout the week
1. Read chapter 2.
2. Pray for your prayer partners.
As members of this small group, we covenant together, with the help of God, to help one another grow in our understanding and application of what it means to love one another