As He prepared His disciples for the cross, Jesus instructed them on how to honor God with their lives. In Chapter 13 of John’s Gospel, Jesus commands them to love another, just as I have loved you … [in fact] by this everyone will know you are that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:31-35 31 When he had left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” 33 “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so now I tell you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” 34 “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In Bible study this week, I asked the group to describe how Jesus had demonstrated love to His disciples and there were several responses … but they all boiled down to one thing: Jesus loved His disciples sacrificially. That is, He continually put their needs ahead of His own in humility … even to the point of giving His life on the cross.
And then He tells them in verse 34 to love one another in the same way.
Can you imagine loving your fellow Christians in the same way Jesus loves you? This verse makes me wonder if Jesus is speaking metaphorically. Certainly He doesn’t actually mean we are supposed to give our lives for one another does He?
Jesus repeats this command in John Chapter 15, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12-13). In all honesty, there are not too many people I would willingly, without question, lay down my life for. My wife, kids, or grandkids? I sure hope so. My dogs? Probably. But beyond that I’m not so sure. I’ve often said that this is one of the reasons we need to honor our military, law enforcement, and first responders as they willingly lay down their lives for others. This kind of sacrificial love takes courage … maybe this is why I’m going Jesus is speaking metaphorically in these passages. But then it occurred to me who the immediate audience was for these words. Jesus is speaking to all believers, but He speaking first to His disciples …. and these men He spoke to would all, with the exception of John, sacrifice their lives for their faith in Jesus. Jesus wasn’t just speaking in hyperbole, He was preparing the Apostles for not only His death but also for their own.
I certainly hope and pray I am never asked to lay down my life in brutal manner. But I find it remarkable what Jesus does here. He tells the Apostles, “By this they will know you are mine, but your love for one another”. And in turn, they gave their lives for their faith. Apologist and author Lee Strobel says, “People will not die for their religious beliefs if they know that their religious beliefs are false.” His argument is that the apostles were all in a position to know if they resurrection was true or not and, based on their martyrdom, we know they each one of them expressed their belief in and their love for Jesus in the manner of their deaths. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
The kind of love modeled by Jesus and mimicked by the Apostles is rare. So rare that the Apostle Paul wrote, “6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
This all might leave you wondering …. why would Peter die for the Church? Why would Phillip or Thomas or Paul die for the Church?
Why? Based on our passage, they answer has got to be love. The Apostles gave their life for their love for the Church and for their love of Christ. Jesus said it is by this love that we would know they were His. And their sacrifice points to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. God demonstrates His one love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
As believers, we may not be asked to give our very life, but we will be asked to sacrifice for others. We will be asked to put others needs ahead of our own. We will be asked to give of our time, resources, and talents …. and in a small way, when we show this sacrificial love for others, everyone will know we belong to Jesus. And we point them to the cross.