“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35 NKJV)
As we enter this new year, we are confronted with a world at war. The war on terror, the war between Democrats and Republicans, the war between Democrats and Democrats or Republicans and Republicans, the struggle of racial inequality, or the wars in our families… to name but a few. In this time of turmoil and upheaval it is a sad truth to discover that the wars that surround us have often found an answering echo in our own hearts. We would like to believe that we are naturally loving, kind, generous, forgiving, gracious, and thoughtful but the painful truth is that we are not naturally any of those things. Resentment, anger, hostility, bitterness…unfortunately they are not an anomaly, but the natural tendencies of our sin-sickened hearts. That is why, though we have been fighting about different things throughout human history we have always fought. The baseline of humanity is still selfish and sinful and all too willing to embrace ill will toward another person.
Into this sludgy mess of spiritual sewage and stench, Jesus gives an impossible command, “Love one another; as I have loved you.” Then He has the gall to take it one step farther: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus, as He is setting up His church on earth, says that this must be the defining characteristic of His disciples, love for one another. “Truly Jesus you can't be serious… you don't know what they've done,” oh, but He does! The kicker in this command is that He has told us to love as He loved us. He did not love us when we were nice to Him but while we were killing Him. He did not love us up until we hurt Him but as we were hurting Him. Jesus’ command does not exempt those who have a reasonable excuse for their bitterness. “But this commands an impossible love…” Which is exactly why Jesus said that such a love would make it instantly clear that those who held it were His disciples. There is no other place to get such a love. It cannot be manufactured, it cannot be faked, it has to be the real deal. But that really is the point isn't it, this love is not something that we can make for ourselves, it has to be created in us. It requires an act of creation that is every bit as superhuman as the command to call light out of darkness.
The only place to find such a love is in surrender to Christ. We have to receive, from Him, His love. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NKJV). Jesus never expected us to be able to create this love on our own, in fact His words made it clear that it would be impossible for us to do anything without Him. That is why "love" is the very first of fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Jesus didn't mean by "love" simple human affection, He was talking about His kind of love, the love that can only come through the supernatural working of God. So the challenge of Christ to us in this new year is to “love one another as I have loved you.” As you read this article, the Holy Spirit may be bringing to your mind people who you are estranged from for various reasons. Let us not forget that Jesus does not make this an optional suggestion, He defines this as the test of His disciples. You cannot change your heart, but you can give your heart to God, ask Him to change it and move forward in the faith that He will do it through the Holy Spirit. Let us this day, and this new year, surrender our hearts to God, abide in Him, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, start this new year as His disciples and “love one another.”