The New Commandment

FFF 11:9 (Nov 1965)

The New Commandment

James Gunn

Scripture Reading: John 13:1-2: 31-38

On the slopes of Sinai the elders of Israel sat down in the presence of God to enjoy a divinely prepared table. We read, “Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of Heaven in its clearness. And upon the nobles of Israel He laid not His hand (to do them hurt): Also they saw God, and did eat and drink” (Ex. 24:9-11).

Such was the picture at the time of the giving of the ten commandments: a table spread, the Lord Himself the host, and the elders, the pillars of His people, gathered around Him. How soon those very men broke the ten commandments that they had received!

Another table is spread, the Lord Himself is again the Host, and the pillars of the Church about to be built are gathered around Him. They see and listen to God, not now in a Theophany but in physical form, incarnate. They see Him who had given to Israel the ten commandments, and they hear Him say, “A new commandment I give unto you. That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

Luther said that faith is as light, its rays are ever straight and unbending, fixed upon its object; but love is as heat, it diffuses influence until all available space is equally filled.

Another has said that love is as the moon, if it is not increasing, it is decreasing.

Think of the strange heterogeneous group to which the new commandment was first given. There was impetuous Peter; contemplative John; guileless Nathanael; reserved Andrew; doubting Thomas; curious Judas, not Iscariot, who asked, “Lord how is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” (John 14:22); practical Philip who said, “Lord show us the Father, and it sufficeth us” (John 14:8); business like Matthew; James and John the sons of thunder, whose quick tempers and fiery dispositions were as a flash of lightning and a peal of thunder.

Among this group there was plenty of room for differences and disagreements. The Lord chose the best possible setting for the giving of the new commandment; He sought to instil into their hearts the great virtue of love.

To live is to do more than breathe, it is to act; even so, to love is to do more than talk, it likewise is to act. A Christian prayed, “O Lord, teach me how to love out of a pure heart fervently.” In John 13, the Lord Jesus answers that prayer.

On another occasion the Lord spoke of love as the summation of the entire law (Matt. 22:37-40). Here He speaks of it as a new commandment. a commandment made by repetition and amplification. The Lord not only commands to love but indicates who to love, how to love, and why to love.

Let us examine carefully the words of the Master in regard to the example, standard, motive, and objective of love as these were presented by Him to His disciples.

The Example

An example is a pattern by which persons model their behaviour. There is no pattern so perfect as the Lord Jesus. It would be well if His people modelled their behaviour in accord with His in all things. He is the perfect pattern in suffering (1 Pet. 2:21), in gracious forgiveness (Col. 3:13), of divine affection (John 13:34).

Some years ago in the early newspapers there was published a picture of Prince Charles of England. During an inspection of a detachment of the armed forces, he followed his father, the Duke of Edinburgh. He adopted the same gait, held his arms in the same manner, cocked his head at the same angle; in fact, so copied were the movements of his father that he looked like the Duke of Edinburgh in miniature. May we so follow the example of Christ that those who watch us may see Christ in our behaviour.

The Standard

“Jesus … having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.”

The words, “His own,” are used in a triple sense by John. In chapter one he writes of Jesus, “He came unto His own (things), but His own (the Jewish people) received Him not” (John 1:11). In that connection the reference is to His own racial group; here in chapter 13, it is to His own through redemption.

To His own disciples, His by redemption and calling, Christ was going to show the completeness of His love by laying down His life for them. Knox in his translation expressed it, “He gave them the utter-most proof of His love.” Christ had loved them before He had called them, now He was going to demonstrate how much.

The Motive

“A new commandment I give unto you.” The actual motivation in every Christian attitude and all Christian service is that of pleasing the Lord by obedience. Obedience is the yielding of one’s will to that of another. Obedience to Christ should be perfectly natural for the believer; the spiritual man will do this by intuition.

Love because of Christ will extend beyond the limits of sectarianism in all its forms. It will be the cause of mutual assistance among Christians (Gal. 5:13), the controlling factor of all church arrangements (1 Cor. 16: 16), the proper attitude toward others (Rom. 12:9-10), the consideration that will hide the faults of others (1 Pet. 4:8), and it will make one generous (1 John 3:16-17).

True love is vast in its extent. A Boy Scout out with his group among the Rocky Mountains, called back to his Scout Master, “I see the Pacific.” “How wide is it?” Shouted the Master in reply. “About ten miles,” yelled the boy. “You have not yet seen the Pacific,” re-echoed the answer from the Scout Master.

The narrowness, exclusiveness, and selectivity of personal preference and natural fondness must not be confused with the inexplorable vastness of divine, true love.

The Objective

“By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

It is customary in the world to wear identification marks. The Gideons are known by the button they wear in the lapel of their jackets, so also the Christian Business Men. One of the most distinguishing marks of a disciple of the Lord Jesus is his love toward all fellow-believers.