What Does Christian Love Require of You and Me? (John 13:34)
Christians learn the Greatest Commandment as children in Sunday School. Many Christians can recite it from memory: “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39). But what did Christ mean when he said “love your neighbor as yourself”? What does the kind of love Christ spoke of in the Greatest Commandment require of you and me in practical terms?
To answer this question many Christians would turn to 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8, considered by many to be the defining verses in Scripture on love. This is, indeed, a good place to start. In these verses we learn what love is and what it isn’t. We learn love is patient and kind. We learn love does not envy or boast and is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way, nor is it irritable or resentful. Love rejoices in the truth, and does not rejoice in wrong doing. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Obviously, living up to the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 is a tall order for imperfect people living in a fallen world. But it gets even more difficult when you realize the description of love in these verses is just the beginning. Even if we manage to consistently be patient and kind, avoid boasting, arrogance, rudeness, insisting on our own way, irritability, and resentfulness, and even if we rejoice in the truth, bear all things, believe all things, hope for all things, and endure all things, we are just getting started when it comes to what Christian love requires of you and me.
The bottom line concerning what Christ expects of you and me when it comes to fulfilling the Greatest Commandment can be found in John 13:34 where He told His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.” This statement sounds simple enough until you think more deeply about what it really means. The key words in this passage from Scripture are “just as I have loved you.”
Christ loved His children—not just His disciples but you and me too—so dearly He was willing to endure being spit on, abased, beaten mercilessly, and painfully crowned with thorns. Even though exhausted beyond human comprehension, Christ was forced to drag His own cross up a steep hill. Once on that hill He was nailed to the cross and crucified. Even as He hung there, bleeding, parched, and in agonizing pain, Christ was tortured further. Yet, He endured all of this, up to and including death, so you and I—undeserving sinners—could be forgiven and have eternal life. This is a picture of what Christ meant when he told His disciples they were to love one another “just as I have loved you.”
It is not likely you will be called upon to die on a cross for your neighbor, but Christian love does require us to sacrifice for one another. This is what Christ’s example on the cross means to you and me in practical terms: we must be willing to sacrifice for one another. What we sacrifice might be time, convenience, money, talent, sleep, or anything else we have to give that is needed by others.
I recently became aware of an instance of Christ-like sacrifice that is a defining example of what Jesus meant when he told His disciples to love one another just as He loved them. An elderly woman who used to attend our church had declined to the point she could no longer take care of herself. Her husband died years before and she was living alone with no help. She cannot walk without help and can barely see or communicate.
One of my fellow deacons in our church and his wife took this elderly woman in, renovated their home to accommodate her infirmities, and restructured their lives to care for her 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This same deacon organized working parties to clean up her home and yard and prepare the house to be sold. This good man and his wife are sacrificing much to care for one of God’s children who could not longer care for herself. I am humbled by their example, but more importantly Christ is pleased by it. This is what he meant by “love one another just as I have loved you.”
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com