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Making Space To Love Sacrificially

by Melissa Schaser, Pastor of Congregational Care
February 27, 2020

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.” —John 13:34 (ESV)

On the surface, the meaning of this passage of Scripture may seem obvious: Jesus calls us to love one another. But what does that really mean? Many people of other faiths and nonbelievers would likely agree that the world is better when people love one another. So what makes this passage distinctively central to the Christian faith?

Let’s jump back to the Old Testament where we are first instructed to love one another in Leviticus 19:18, which says: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” As a Jewish teacher and leader, Jesus would have known this passage by heart. Indeed, Jesus even quotes Leviticus 19:18 directly in both Matthew 22:37-39 and Mark 12:30-31. From the very beginning, God desired for us to love one another and to treat one another as we ourselves desire to be loved and treated. This means we ought to be considerate of one another, to help one another, and to share with each other out of our abundance.

Jesus’ “new commandment” sounds rather similar to the commandment given in Leviticus 19:18, but it is, in fact, “new.” We can discover how by reading John 13:34 in its context. The first half of John 13 is the story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. Foot washing in the ancient world was a ritual that demonstrated humility and service, and no one would expect their leader, mentor, teacher, and Messiah to do it!

But Jesus does. He shows us what loving one another looks like, and this picture is “new” because it is sacrificial. While Leviticus instructs us to love our neighbors “as ourselves,” Jesus demonstrates how to love one another beyond ourselves — beyond our comfort, our pride, and how we believe we ought to be treated. We are meant to lay down our lives for one another. The fullness of the sacrificial love that Jesus had for His disciples, which led Him to teach them, to serve them, and to lay down His life for them, is now handed over to us in the command that we love one another, just as He has loved us.

When our identities are rooted in dependence on God, we are able to serve one another because we ourselves have received the greatest sacrificial love of all: the forgiveness and grace of God through Jesus laying His life down on our behalf. When we recognize that we are not our own, that we are created by a Creator and our lives were bought at a very high price, only then can we offer this sacrificial love to others.

Who is God calling you to love today? Not just on the surface, and not out of abundance, but who is God calling you to serve sacrificially? It may be a friend, a co-worker, a family member, a neighbor. Take time today to pray for that person and to ask the Holy Spirit what it would mean for you to follow Jesus’ command to love them with deep, sacrificial love.