This morning, many people are misguided about what love is, how to display it, or how to recognize it when it appears. We have laboured many times to show that real love as defined and manifested in the Bible is not what the world often portrays it to be. God in His Book never ties love to emotion. He always ties it to action. Therefore, a squishy feeling in someone’s stomach qualifies as heightened emotion, but does not necessarily equate to love. Love is displayed through actions much like faith is shown through the works that accompany it. So, if someone claims to love another, then there will be actions that manifest the concept. Also, love to be seen and recognized for what it is will be most often recognized through the lens of sacrifice. When we see actions that are selfless and sacrificial, we have good evidence that love is being displayed before us.
In our study verse, the Lord Himself plainly gives us a commandment that He calls new. Now, the Old Testament is replete with examples and commandments of exhibiting love (Micah 6:8 for example). Jesus Himself said earlier in His ministry that the summation of the law and prophets was complete and total 1. love of God and 2. love of neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-40) So, with an entire dispensation of Scripture given as devoted to love, how is loving our brethren considered new? The newness of it is seen through the phrase “as I have loved you.” When Christ came into this world, many things happened, but this phrase was put in its brightest display.
What did the Old Testament saints know about God? What did first century Christians know about God? Did they operate from the same knowledge base? Based on the words of the Proverb writer Agur, Old Testament saints did not even know God’s Son’s name. (Proverbs 30:4) First century Christians knew the name of God’s Son as we do today. Furthermore, Christ Jesus walked this earth as the manifestation of God in the flesh (I Timothy 3:16) while still being the brightness of God’s glory. (Hebrews 1:3) The fulness of the Godhead was literally walking around in a body, and the righteousness of God was seen and displayed more brightly than the world or history had ever known.
Therefore, seeing Christ’s compassion in His ministry equates to seeing God’s compassion. Seeing His love displayed equates to seeing God’s love displayed. Seeing Christ teach equates to seeing God teach. Surely, His first coming lends more insight into God’s mind and dealings than had ever been seen before. This is why Christ’s commandment is “new.” This “new” way of loving is seen by Christ’s walk and talk. We should love one another as He has loved us. Now, the obvious primary point to be made of this verse is that feet washing is an observance where we can show forth our love to one another as He has loved us. We cannot get closer to modeling our Lord completely and totally for a moment as we can when stooping down to wash our brother’s feet. This observance of feet washing might have been previously known, but it was never known like that before. In times’ past, the servant washed the master’s feet. Now, the Master bends down to wash the servant’s feet. What love that is!
Knowing what the primary point of Christ’s message is, let us expand the thought somewhat. Christ had people mistreat Him, and yet the Scriptures say that He did not retaliate. (I Peter 2:21-23) Though He had the power and the righteous character to judge them with the sorest punishment due to His own innocence, He rather did not threaten them or open His mouth to answer their reviling. Why would He do such a thing? He loved His people to the point that His life was secondary for our welfare. Even some of those who led Him to Calvary’s hill were horribly misguided sheep as the Son prayed His Father, “forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Christ also showed His love by not utterly casting someone off due to what He knew they would do to Him. For example, as the One who knows the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12), He knows what people think and not just what they say. Furthermore, as the God of this universe who has all knowledge past, present, and future (Isaiah 46:10-13), He knows what we are going to think, say, and do before it happens. Yet, knowing that someone like Peter would deny Him 3 times in one night did not keep Him for praying for Peter. (Luke 22:31-32) Though He knows what I am going to do later today, tomorrow, next week, and for the rest of my life that is an affront to His holy character, He still intercedes for me.
One last thought to consider about Christ’s love in display (though there are certainly more) is that He also showed ultimate devotion in worship though He is the object of our worship. Continually praying to His Father, being baptized, and customarily (every sabbath or weekly) being found in the public assembly, Christ showed how much He loved His Father through His worship. He could have justly come into this world and demanded worship and service, but rather He came and ministered (Matthew 20:28) rather than be ministered to. Part of Him ministering in His life on earth was showing forth perfect worship and devotion. Why? Because He loved us enough to give us a perfect example on record of how to live and walk. Not only were His actions right all the time, He loved us enough not to just come down and die for us but also to live for us and show forth the meaning and pattern for our lives.
So, while the text shows forth a primary application to feet washing, I think we can see that Scripturally speaking, Christ’s new commandment of loving one another as He has loved us can apply to how we handle mistreatment, how we handle things after mistreatment, and how we worship in this world. Consider that our love should mirror His, but there are some parts of His love that cannot be emulated – at least not to their fullest degree. Though I can give my life to spare another’s, I cannot give my life to fully secure anyone else’s. They will still naturally die, and my death certainly does not help them before God’s bar of justice. So, I cannot show love in that way quite like He did (though I can give my life to spare another’s one that occasion).
However, I can love as He did by not berating those that rise up against me. Instead of striking out against those that seek my destruction, I can commit my trust to Him that does right. After all, Christ still prayed His Father on behalf of those that were killing Him. Perhaps no sweeter emulation of Christ’s example has ever been seen than in Stephen in Acts 7. While being stoned to death, Stephen was willing bow unto the God of Heaven and say, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” What love! How much greater is such than what the world is so quick to promote, yet what more closely matches the new commandment to love as He has loved us? Too many times, we can become distracted about the importance of prayer both for and by us. When someone says “I’m praying for you,” we should never take that statement lightly. That is someone showing forth that they love you by their willingness to pray for you, and that love is never more tested than it is when they can still be in prayer for those that seek their hurt.
Still, though it might be hard to pray for someone seeking your hurt at the time, how much harder would it be to treat them in a Godly way AFTER they had done these things to you? Consider God’s perspective. Not only does He know what we have done after it has happened, He knew what we were going to do to Him before it happened. What if you could go back in time about 10 years knowing what you know now? How would you treat all those that in those 10 years had wronged you? What about the greatest offenders that wronged you the most? I freely admit that it would be hard for me to treat them like I should, because I know how hard it is to treat people like I should after they have wronged me. However, our commandment to love each other as He has loved us requires that we not treat each other grudgingly or with long memories of past offences.
Finally, we best show our love to one another when we worship together. It models His love, for He left a haven to worship in (His church), people to share it with (the brethren), and a perfect object to worship (Himself). He further showed us the proper interaction: praying without ceasing, regular, consistent public assembly, and grace to those that He encountered in His teaching. Do we treat one another in worship like we should, not preferring one above another? We should. Do we look at one another in worship as our closest friends and fellow soldiers to the cause? We should. These are all actions and mindsets He showed forth while He worshipped, and in so doing showed us a new way of worship that is love-focused. Beloved, I am thankful beyond measure that He loved us enough to die for us, but I am secondarily thankful for the fact that He loved us enough to show us the new commandment that we can perform, bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)