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What does it mean to have love for one another (John 13:35)?

love for one another

In John 13:35, Jesus establishes mutual love as the distinctive mark of all Christians: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (ESV). To comprehend the full significance of the command to have love for one another, it is essential to consider the entire context of John 13.

Having announced His imminent departure and insisting that His disciples cannot presently accompany Him (John 13:33), Jesus proceeds to outline His expectations for them during His absence. Unfortunately, the disciples continue to struggle with the fact that Jesus’ departure is imminent (verses 36–38). This prompts Jesus to offer an extended explanation about His departure. The hope is that His words would bring comfort to their troubled hearts (see John 14:1).

In John 13:34, Jesus issues a new command: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (ESV). This is a simple command, yet we consistently fail to comprehend it and obey it. There are many reasons for this:

• We do not recognize the depth of our sin and self-centeredness (Matthew 26:31–35; Mark 9:33–37).
• We do not appreciate the love of Jesus (John 1:10–11).
• We do not measure ourselves against the standard of Jesus’ love (John 13:1–20).

What makes the new command “new” is not that the disciples had never heard it before. In Leviticus 19:18, for instance, Moses writes, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (ESV). And in Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (ESV).

Jesus also taught His disciples that the entire law and prophets are summed up in the commands to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28–33). So, why does Jesus say that the command to love one another is new?

The newness of the command is to be found in a new standard: “just as I have loved you” (John 13:34, ESV). There may also be an allusion to the New Covenant, which promised a radical transformation of heart and mind (cf. Jeremiah 31:29–34; Ezekiel 36:24–26). At any rate, the disciples are expected to reflect the same kind of mutual love and unity that exist between the Father and the Son (John 8:29; 10:18; 12:49–50; 14:31; 15:10).

The new command, therefore, is the proper response to God saving us and making us His own (1 John 4:19). And it is by showing love for one another that “all people will know that [we] are [His] disciples, if [we] have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV; cf. Matthew 5:16; Galatians 6:10).

In his Apologeticus, Tertullian reported that the pagan world admired the love that Christians had for one another: “See how they love one another! . . . How they are ready even to die for one another!” (chapter 39). This is precisely what Jesus meant when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV; cf. 1 John 3:16).

Our love for one another ought to reflect the mutual love between the Father and the Son, as well as the love that Jesus has for us, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

May we imitate this kind of love.

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What does it mean to have love for one another (John 13:35)?
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This page last updated: August 24, 2023