Love One Another
Read John 13. 1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; 4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. 6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. 12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. 18 I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. 19 Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. 20 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. 21 When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. 22 Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. 23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. 25 He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? 26 Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. 27 And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. 28 Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. 29 For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night. 31 Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. 36 Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. 37 Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. 38 Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice. Then open in prayer
We live in a world that is very much concerned about love. Turn on the radio, you probably won’t go more than 10 minutes before you hear a song that mentions love. Go to the store, at the checkout there are magazines about love and a rack of romance novels on the way out. As I was preparing this sermon, I looked around and right on my desk there was a sticker book that my daughter had left there, the front cover had maybe 14 hearts on it. The world is preoccupied with love.
That being said, the world doesn’t seem to have a very good understanding about love. Those songs you hear on the radio, half of them are asking what love actually is. Think of lyrics of songs about love. Some say love, it is a river / That drowns the tender reed. / Some say love, it is a razor / That leaves your soul to bleed. / Some say love, it is a hunger, / An endless aching need. Or perhaps I want to know what love is, I want you to show me. Or maybe what is love, baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more. Just a few examples, but they show a lot of confusion, don’t they?
The world is preoccupied with love, but doesn’t understand it. Not very well, at least. People have some really messed up ideas as to what love actually means, or perhaps no real idea at all. But almost everyone wants love, and knows that they want it. They just aren’t sure what it actually means.
This isn’t anything new, people have long been concerned with love, with how to get it, how to give it, and what it all means. It’s not something that is limited to our time and our culture. The ancient Greeks, for example, had four words that are commonly translated in English as love. Since the NT was written in Greek, that’s particularly applicable to us this morning. These could be seen as four different types of love, four different varieties or flavours, if you will. This is likely something you’ve heard taught before, but we’ll go over it again now.
These four are as follows. First, we have Philia, or brotherly love. This is love between friends or family members. Then there is Eros, or romantic love, which is also concerned with appreciation of beauty. Next is Storge, which is most commonly used to express the affection between parents and children. And finally we have Agape, which is the one we are most concerned with today. This is selfless love, and is the word used to describe the love that God has for us. It is also the same love we are commanded with which to love one another.
The passage we read to start, there are a few key verses that I would like to read again. Reading from verse 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
In that passage Christ instructs his disciples to love each other, as He had loved them. More than that, there is also the clear indication that that is how they would be identifiable as His disciples, by their love for one another.
If we want to follow that commandment, then it is needful to know how Christ loved His disciples. If we are to love one another as Christ loved His disciples, knowing what that entails would be an important place to start. We can’t love how He loved if we don’t know how He loved. We don’t want to be like the world, devoid of understanding, seeking desperately for answers, finding few and mostly poor ones. I don’t want to be in that state, and I trust that neither do you. Thankfully, we can find answers in God’s Word this morning. The chapter that we read to start gives us some excellent examples.
How had Christ loved His disciples? Let’s set aside the fact that of course He went to the cross for them, as well as for us all, as at the point when this chapter takes place, that was still in the future. It was only a matter of hours in the future, mind you, but still in the future. That was the ultimate expression of love, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That is love beyond what you and I are capable of, even with God’s help. What’s more, even if we were to give up our lives, that’s something we could only do once. We can’t do that on a day-to-day basis.
Sometimes people like to think of love as the single grand gesture, the one-time event that proves your love. While grand gestures are impressive, and can certainly be important, the day-to-day stuff is every bit as needful, perhaps more so. We all live on a day-to-day basis, or at least we should. Some people live as if they are stuck in the past, or with a foot in the future, but we can really only live in the present. That is where we live, that is where we love. Saying we will do some grand thing in the future is well and good, but the future we anticipate may not come, not when or how we expect it.
So how did Christ show love to those who followed Him? We know that He had spent the previous three years with these men, teaching them, equipping them to do the work for which they had been chosen. He had kept them with Him even when they bickered and fought over who would have the prominence among them. He had corrected them when they had made poor decisions, when they had spoken harshly to those who had needed comfort, when they had dismissed those who were desperate to reach the Saviour. He had not rejected them when they failed, when they were lacking in faith, when they asked foolish questions, and asked them repeatedly, and when they were unable to do some of the simplest tasks He had appointed to them. And He loved them, knowing that very night that they would all scatter when the moment came that He would be arrested, well, apart from Peter making a brave show of incompetent swordsmanship, and then scattering. That same night, Peter again would deny Him three times, as we see in the next few verses. Christ warned Peter of this, really not so much a warning as telling him ahead of time that he was going to fail, and here’s how, but He still loved him.
Given how much we have recorded of how the disciples messed up, one has to expect that there was a lot of failure that we simply don’t know about. Christ lived with them day-to-day, He surely saw how flawed they were, even apart from the knowledge He had as the second person of the Trinity. And yet He loved them. He didn’t cast them aside and find better, more readily loveable disciples. It’s not as if those 12 men were the most wonderful and delightful and easy to get along with people in all of Galilee. They simply had decided to follow Christ, to come when they had been called. He had put up with them over the last three years, He had been patient with them. Here is a lesson we can take from how Christ loved His disciples, He was patient with them. His love endured, it didn’t come and go quickly, it lasted. All too often we do not have patience with the people around us. We do not have patience with the people we live with, with the people we work with. We do not have patience with fellow believers. We look at them and say that they are challenging, they are impossible to love.
Well, I have bad news for you, that doesn’t mean you stop loving them. It’s not easy, but Christ instructed His disciples to love one another as He had loved them. And He had loved them when they were challenging, when they were impossible to love. They were not deserving of love, not any more or less than countless others whom Christ had come into contact with during His ministry.
Well, I said not any more or less deserving of love, but that might not be entirely correct. One of the disciples was perhaps even less deserving of love than the other 11, at least from a human perspective. Judas Iscariot was about to betray his Master. He was not present when Christ instructed the disciples to love one another, he had left only minutes before. But he had been present throughout the entire evening up to that point. He had shared food with the Saviour. He had his feet washed by the Saviour. And still He betrayed Him.
That is a remarkable point on its own, but let us remember that Christ washed the feet of all the disciples. Here was another failing on their part, none of them were willing to wash the feet of their master, much less each other’s feet, but Christ was willing. He did so, when there was no obligation for Him to do so. If anyone had a right of refusal to do that most unpleasant task, it was the Son of God. Washing feet was not a fun job. People wore sandals, and they walked everywhere. It wasn’t just road dust that would be on feet, either. Horses, donkeys and cattle walked the roads as well. Think about walking in sandals across a busy farmyard, and you’ll get the idea. Now do that all day. You want to wash a dozen pairs of those feet?
Christ was willing to do that, His love extended that far. He pointed out to the disciples what He had done, if we look up the page to verse 12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
Love goes beyond what is expected, what is reasonable. It goes above and beyond to deal with unpleasant jobs. This isn’t the roses and butterflies that the world wants to associate with love, this is hard and unsavoury work. That’s the sort of love Christ had for His followers. That’s the sort of love He wanted them to show to each other. That’s the sort of love He wants you and me to show to each other.
We look at the washing of feet in John chapter 13 as a one-time remarkable event, but the washing of feet in general was not something remarkable in that day and age. It was something that had to be done regularly. If you went out on the streets for any length of time, your feet would get dirty. They would need to be washed. Christ washed the disciples feet this one time that we are told of, but their feet would need to be washed again. And again. And again.
That’s another good picture of the love we should have one for another. It abides, it continues. It’s a long-term thing. We like to have quick fixes, easy solutions, immediate results, but love isn’t like that, not God’s love. It keeps on going, day after day, year after year. The love we are instructed to have one for another should be the same, not limited to a single event or a limited-time offer, but continuing, and maintaining. It’s not like we can only experience love from others on a one-time basis, it’s not like we only need it once. Why should we expect to serve any differently?
Going back to the washing of feet, and the love that Christ showed through this, remember that not only was this an unpleasant job, but Christ had washed everyone’s feet. He washed the feet of Peter, who would shortly deny Him. He washed the feet of Judas, who would of course be soon putting on his sandals again, and going out to betray Him. Jesus washed the feet of the man who would sell Him out for 30 pieces of silver.
That is love, to serve those who are going to mistreat you, who are going to disappoint you, who are going to let you down. Christ knew what was coming, He knew that Judas was going to do that night. He knew that Judas had already been in contact with the chief priests to arrange a betrayal. It might as well have already happened. It takes a remarkable love to love someone who is going to disappoint you. It takes a divine love to love someone who already had.
When someone lets us down, that doesn’t excuse us from loving them. It’s unlikely that anyone here has, or will ever be, so viscerally betrayed by a brother as Christ was by Judas. But Christ loved him even then, He served him even then. It is sad that Judas either did not realize that, or did not care. He proceeded with his betrayal, despite the Saviour’s love. It is sad, but love is not always requited. Judas was loved, but he did not return that love. He returned betrayal instead. He went out, and it was night.
The other disciples thought he had left perhaps to get something that was missing for the meal, or perhaps to give something to someone in need, they thought he was doing something good and useful. Christ knew differently, He knew that Judas had left to betray Him. And, most remarkably, He didn’t stop him.
Christ had every opportunity to stop Judas. A few chapters after this, we can read of how a simple response from the Lord when the soldiers came to arrest Him knocked them all to the ground. And when Peter tried to fight back, when he cut off someone’s ear in an effort to defend his Master, Christ chided him, and pointed out that He could have summoned more than 12 legions of angels to defend Him. He could have stopped Judas with His own power, but He chose not to.
And speaking of Peter and his sword, a simple word from Christ would have alerted the other disciples of what Judas planned. What do you suppose the odds are that they would have stood aside and let Judas walk out to go visit the chief priests? Peter might not have been a good swordsman, but I don’t think Judas was getting out of that upper room alive if Peter had any idea of what Judas was up to. And it was not just Peter — James and John were known as the sons of thunder. I don’t imagine that was because they had loud speaking voices. They had tempers, probably bad ones. Even without weapons, they would have beaten Judas to within an inch of his life. Who knows what the other eight disciples would have done?
But they did nothing, because Christ didn’t want them to. He knew it was needful that Judas do what He had to do, and He protected the traitor by His silence. The same silence also protected His other disciples. Had they known, they would have murdered Judas in their rage. They would have had blood on their hands. Not innocent blood, no, but the blood of their brother. Christ, in His love, did not allow that to happen. His love kept the disciples from that particular harm’s way, even when it put Him most directly into peril.
Love puts the needs of others ahead of our own needs. Christ protected Judas from physical harm, and the other disciples from doing violence, by allowing the harm to come to Himself. That is a love which is not easy to emulate. It goes against everything we are inclined to do as human beings. We want to take care of ourselves, we want to keep ourselves from harm. It’s a natural and normal reaction, even when we don’t realize it.
Ever watch the TV show Canada’s Worst Driver? I know, that’s a far cry from talking about love, but it illustrates this aspect of human nature very clearly. One of the tests they do on that show is called threading the needle. The drivers have to drive down a road at a reasonable amount of speed, probably 70 km/h or so, and go through several arches made of foam blocks. There’s easily enough room for the car to get through, if they drive in the middle of the arch, but quite often, people won’t do that. Instead, they will hit one side of the arch. When that happens, almost without fail they hit on the passenger’s side of the car. Not because they want to, but because that’s human nature. We want to put ourselves in the safest place, we want to keep ourselves out of harm’s way, even when we don’t consciously realize it. Even when it results in someone else being put into a more dangerous position. It runs completely against our nature to protect others and put ourselves at risk, but that is the love that Christ had for His followers. He was a few short hours away from arrest, trial, and crucifixion, but He had their interests at heart.
That’s not the only way He had their interests at heart. If we read the next three chapters, we would see a discourse that Christ laid out for the disciples, to instruct them, to help them. Even though He was going to be unjustly tried, even though He was the one in greatest need of comfort at this point, the next three chapters teach and reassure the disciples. The first words of chapter 14 are “Let not your heart be troubled.” He was more concerned for them than He was for Himself.
We’ve seen that Christ’s love is patient, it puts up with those who are not lovely. His love is enduring, it does not expire or diminish. It was there in the past, it will be there in the future, and most importantly, it is there today. His love most prominently includes service, putting the needs of others ahead of your own concerns. His love is merciful and self sacrificing, not letting harm come to others, but rather protecting them, and taking the danger on Himself. And it does not have the expectation of return, it is not dependant on reciprocity.
One thing more, turn please to the book of 1 John. This book also speaks much about love. In fact, I could speak an entire other message on this topic from 1 John, perhaps I will someday, but today, I just want to look at a verse from chapter 3, 18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
It is easy for me to stand up here and talk about God’s love for us. It is easy to me to say that we should show love to one another, just as it is easy for you to listen and to agree with me. It took me a few hours to prepare this sermon, just as it has taken you half an hour to listen to it. That part is not especially challenging, although some Sunday mornings it can feel like quite a challenge to get to meeting on time, or to stay awake and attentive during the sermon.
It’s one thing to say that we should love one another, that we should love one another as Christ loved us. It’s one thing to say that, and to plan on that, to intend that. It’s quite another to actually do it. Lots of people love in word. How many love in deed and in truth?
Christ’s love is active. He does not simply say “I love you” and then everything is fine and good. No, He acted upon it. He cared for those who were in need. He was patient with those who needed patience. He was merciful with those who needed mercy. He comforted those who were in need of comfort. And I’m so thankful that He did, because at many times in my life, I have fallen into each of those categories. If we are being honest, so have all of us.
That is the love with which we have been called to love one another. It is a tremendous love, and not one that we can easily live up to. In our own strength, in my own strength, I cannot do that. I can’t do much of that at all. If you can than you are a far better person than I am. Only through God’s power, only through His love, can any of us hope to even start to obey this commandment.
And on the topic of starting, remember what I said earlier about living in the present. If we are going to obey Christ by loving one another, we can only do that today. I can say that I will obey tomorrow, but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow gets here. We can’t change the past, and as much as we might plan for tomorrow, we can’t live in the future. We can only obey, we can only love one another, today.