Salem Lutheran Church

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A Command To Love

As we prepared for Easter on those final three days of Lent, we read this same Gospel text as part of a longer reading for Maundy Thursday. This story takes place on the night before Jesus was killed. Jesus was having a meal with his disciples and as part of that meal he had washed their feet and he had just predicted a betrayal by one of his disciples. Before he went on to say any more, he said “I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he” (John 13:19). Jesus tells them what is about to happen, so that when it actually happens they will come to believe that he is the Son of God. Peter wanted to know who Jesus was speaking about and so Jesus identified Judas Iscariot, and upon “calling him out,” Judas leaves, and this is where our story begins today, When he had gone out… (13:31). In this act of betrayal Jesus says now the Father has exalted him and he has exalted his Father. Even to death, Jesus will always love and live for the glory of his Father. But, he goes on, this glorification of God, doesn’t end with Jesus, because Jesus says now it is the disciples' chance, and ours, to do the same. And how do we do this? Well, to do this Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another” (13:34a).

As we live our lives we are to glorify God, and we glorify God by loving each other. Now, to be honest, this isn’t a new commandment. God instructed God’s people to love each other way back in the beginning. We can read this in Leviticus 19 and in Deuteronomy 6. God commanded her people to love God and love each other, so why would Jesus say, “I give you a new commandment"? Well, the kicker is this, Jesus made it new by defining the kind of love we are to offer each other. Jesus didn’t just say love each other. No, he went on to explain, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (13:34b).

We are to love as Jesus loved. This kind of love is not easy. This kind of love is hard to practice, but this is the love that Jesus commands us to have for each other. So what is love that Jesus commands us to do? As I have said many times, Jesus isn’t talking about our feelings toward each other. No, Jesus is speaking about a decision to respect, honor, and cherish the life of others no matter how they act toward us, or what they say about us, or how they treat us.

So what does this love look like? Well, first it is a love that is filled with forgiveness. Just like love, forgiveness is not a felling, but a choice — a choice that takes time and prayer and oftentimes the hardest choice to forgive is the choice to forgive ourselves. Too often we seek to justify our actions that have hurt others, and in doing so we continue to fail to forgive others and ourselves. Without forgiveness we cannot truly love, and instead of acting with love we continue to lash out and harm others. So, as Paul explains in his letter to the Ephesians, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).

Secondly, to love like Jesus loved us, our love ought to be sacrificial. Sacrificial love is a love that puts one’s own needs, desires, and wants aside to focus on other people's needs. This can be as simple as allowing someone to go ahead of us in line, or as difficult as choosing not to argue with someone's opinion or viewpoint. Sacrificial love is a love that is willing to spend time with those in need, even when we are out of time for ourselves. Such sacrificial love requires a positive attitude and, most importantly, an obedient heart. Jesus offered such a sacrificial and forgiving love on the cross. He was out of time; he had every right to condemn those who were unjustly accusing him and killing him, yet, he chose to spend his final moments to be with us and to offer forgiveness, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Thirdly, to love as Jesus loved requires humility. Sometimes I think this might be the hardest part of loving like Jesus loved. I have been taught all my life to be strong and confident, but too often I confuse that with being cocky and self-centered on my own ways and life. I can still be strong and confident and live a humble life. Humility is that part of my confidence that tells me I don’t have to be right, I don’t have to be first, and humility teaches us that God created us for His purposes and not our own.

And, lastly, loving like Jesus loved requires prayer. You see, praying for others is an act of unconditional love, especially when we pray for our enemies. We will hear Jesus pray for us in just two weeks. Praying for others challenges us to lift others up to God in a healthy and positive way, asking God to bless people and work in their hearts and lives according to God’s plan and purposes, not ours. Jesus reminded us of this in the Gospel of Matthew in his Sermon on the Mount when he said, "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:44-45).

To be obedient to this new command requires us to offer love to others that is forgiving, sacrificial, humble, and filled with prayer. As Paul said when he described this kind of love to the Corinthians, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Love, Jesus’ kind of love, is hard and some might even say it is impossible. But, as I wrote in my Staff Trax letter this week, “Love is, as love does.” On that night before Jesus died, he commanded his disciples, and us, to love each other like he loved us. If we want to be a follower of Jesus then we have to be obedient to his commands.

So, we might not be ready to love like this, but Jesus said, start doing it. Be forgiving even when you don’t want to be. And if you are the one forgiven, whether you are forgiving yourself, or you are being forgiven by another, know that forgiveness does not eliminate consequences. Begin to live sacrificially, even if you aren’t ready to do it. Work on your humility, even if you think you are right, and begin praying unceasingly.

You see, the only way we can love like Jesus is to start doing it, and as we do it, we will experience a joy like we have never experienced and the world around us will begin to change. Love is an action, and it is an action we are commanded to take whether we are ready or not. We have been commanded to love, and Jesus said when we follow this command, and only when we follow this command, will the world know who we truly are. We can say we are Christian, we can wear crosses, we can worship in church buildings, but none of that will make us Christians. But when we begin to offer love like Jesus loved, Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Love is as love does. Amen.


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