The Commandment to Love. 34 I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. 35 This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is the first of two instances (13:34; 15:12) in which Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another, but only on this occasion did he refer to it as a ‘new’ command. What is new about this commandment? It can refer to something that didn’t exist before. But the command to love one another is not recent. It is found in the Torah (Lev 19:18; Dt 6:4). It can refer to something that existed previously, but was not fully known or understood; e.g., a “new” understanding. I think that it is in this sense that this commandment is “new”.
Gail O’Day (“John”, New Interpreters Bible, 732-3) writes:
…what is new is that the commandment to love derives from the incarnation (see 3:16). The “new” turn in the commandment of 13:34 is that Jesus’ “own” are asked to enter into the love that marks the relationship of God and Jesus. Their participation in this relationship will be evidenced the same way that Jesus’ is: by acts of love that join the believer to God (cf. 14:15, 21, 23; 15:12). Keeping this commandment is the identifying mark of disciples (v. 35), because it is the tangible sign of the disciples’ abiding in Jesus (15:10).
In the OT the Israelites were commanded to love their neighbor as they loved themselves (Lev. 19:18), but Jesus said to his disciples, As I have loved you, so you must love one another. This raised the ante considerably. The measure of love for their neighbor was no longer their love for themselves, but Jesus’ love for them. The Fourth Gospel speaks of Jesus’ love for the disciples, a love that led him to lay down his life for them. Now he said they should love one another in the same way (cf. 1 John 3:16). Jesus’ love command was ‘new’ because it demanded a new kind of love, a love like his own.
O’Day’s reflection continues (734):
To interpret Jesus’ death as the ultimate act of love enables the believers to see that the love to which Jesus summons the community is not the giving up of one’s life, but the giving away of one’s life. The distinction between these prepositions is important, because the love that Jesus embodies is grace, not sacrifice. Jesus gave his life to his disciples as an expression of the fullness of his relationship with God and of God’s love for the world. Jesus’ death in love, therefore, was not an act of self-denial, but an act of fullness, of living out his life and identity fully, even when that living would ultimately lead to death. …
To love one another as Jesus loves us does not automatically translate into one believer’s death for another, nor does it mean to deny oneself for others. Jesus did not deny himself; he lived his identity and vocation fully. Rather, to love one another as Jesus loves us is to live a life thoroughly shaped by a love that knows no limits, by a love whose expression brings the believer closer into relationship with God, with Jesus, and with one another. It is to live a love that carries with it a whole new concept of the possibilities of community.
This love command seems to focus on relations within the new community rather than toward outsiders, a focus that has led many to view John as a narrow sectarian with no concern for outsiders. Such a view, however, misses the larger picture. John is quite clear that this divine love, in which the disciples are to share, is for the whole world (3:16; 4:42; 17:9). Indeed, their love for one another is part of God’s missionary strategy, for such love is an essential part of the unity they are to share with one another and with God; it is by this oneness of the disciples in the Father and the Son that the world will believe that the Father sent the Son (17:21). Jesus’ attention here in the farewell discourse, as well as John’s attention in his epistles, is on the crucial stage of promoting the love between disciples. The community is to continue to manifest God as Jesus has done, thereby shining as a light that continues to bring salvation and condemnation (cf. chaps. 15-16). Without this love their message of what God has done in Christ would be hollow.
John was known in the ancient church for his concern for love. Jerome tells of John in his extreme old age saying, whenever he was carried into the assembly, “Little children, love one another.” When his disciples got tired of this, they asked, “Master, why do you always say this?” “It is the Lord’s command. If this alone be done, it is enough” (Jerome Commentary on Galatians at Gal 6:10).
In the earliest centuries of the church divine love was indeed the hallmark of the community of Jesus (e.g., Ignatius of Antioch Letter to the Ephesians 4.1; Justin Martyr 1 Apology 1.16; Minucius Felix Octavius 9). Tertullian reports that the pagans said of the Christians, “See, they say, how they love one another . . . how they are ready even to die for one another” (Apology 39).
The love that Jesus is speaking of is not simply a feeling. One cannot really command a feeling. It is willing and doing the best for the other person (1 Jn 3:11-18). Since God’s will alone is that which is truly good in any situation, love acts in obedience to God’s will, under the guidance of the Spirit. Jesus has revealed such a life – only doing what he sees the Father doing and only speaking what he hears from the Father. The same pattern is to be true of the disciple, because “whoever claims to abide in him ought to live (just) as he lived” (1 Jn 2:6). Feelings of compassion and concern will be present as the disciple more and more perfectly shares in God’s own love for those around him or her, but such feelings are not the source nor the evidence for this love that Jesus demands of his followers (cf. 15:1-17).
13:31 God is glorified in him: Brown (p. 606) list four possible ways to understand this clause: (a) through Jesus God is held in honor by men, (b) God is honored by Jesus, (c) God has won honor for Himself in Jesus, or (d) God has revealed his glory in Jesus. Brown analyzes the suitability of each understanding in light of the Johannine context. Given the stress that glory involves a visible manifestation of God’s majesty in acts of power. Both these qualities are verified in Jesus’ death and resurrection, which is an action of his own power (10:17-18). Since Jesus’ power is at the same time God’s power, the full meaning here is found in a combination of understandings (b) and (d). For a more detailed analysis of the use of “glory” in this passage see the section, “Some Additional Notes.”
13:32 [If God…]: This clause is missing is some ancient manuscripts – but is also present is some equally ancient manuscripts. Brown holds that it is easier to explain why it may have been lost than why it would have been added.
in Himself: In contrast to v.31 where God is glorified in Jesus, this verse means that Jesus is glorified in God. There are however many ancient commentators who held that this referred being glorified in himself.
13:33 My children: Jesus addresses the immediate impact of the cross on the disciples. By calling them children (using the diminutive form teknia, “little children,” which the translation tries to capture by adding my) he is putting them in a relation to himself that is analogous to his relation to the Father (cf. 14:20; 17:21, 23). This term would be in keeping with the Passover meal setting since “small groups that banded together to eat the paschal meal had to pattern themselves on family life, and one of the group had to act as a father explaining to his children the significance of what was being done” (Brown, 611).
13:34 I give you a new commandment: This puts Jesus on a par with Yahweh. The commandment itself is not new – see Lev 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” cited by our Lord as the second of the two most important commandments of God (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31). Although in the context of Lev 18 the word “neighbor” is restricted to “fellow countrymen,” in Luke 10:29–37 Christ extends its meaning to embrace all men, even enemies.
- Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol. 29 in Anchor Bible series, ed. William Albright and David Noel Freeman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966)
- Francis Moloney, The Gospel of John, vol. 4 in Sacra Pagina series ed. Daniel Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998)
- Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996)
- Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Volume 4, General Editor: Leon Morris (Downers Grove, IL :InterVarsity Press, 2003)
- Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks Christian Resources at www.crossmarks.com/brian/
- Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
- G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007)
- John R. Sachs, S.J., “Glory” in The New Dictionary of Theology, eds. Joseph A. Komonchak, Mary Collins and Dermot A. Lane (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000)
- Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 at http://wwwmigrate.usccb.org/bible/