“A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
John 13:34 GNB (Good News Bible)
This is the 10th memory verses that I will use as a guide/focal point to writing these articles. The “Table of Contents” is available here in the series introductory article.
Immediate & Passage Literary Context
The immediate literary context for John 13:34 is titled Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial, and covers verses 31 through 38.
31. When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
33. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
36. Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”
“Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”
37. Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
38. Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
Now, this passage covers multiple topics and the danger/temptation is to address the other topics which are just as significant – Peter’s denial – instead of the key memory verse here.
If we focus our attentions closely, the reality is that verse 34 should be coupled with verse 35 immediately after.
A better background is required since verse 31 refers to “he”. This “he” is identified in the preceding verse (32) in the disciple Judas. So, if we consider the entire chapter 13 as a better context for literary purposes, the events of this chapter focus on Jesus interacting with His disciples.
In the first section which accounts for verses 1 through 17, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples and uses this culture-breaking experience to teach them on the total reordering that His servant-hood and humility are to usher in. For the middle passage (verses 18 through 30) Jesus predicts his betrayal, and explicit identifies the perpetrator to be Judas in front of all disciples. Again, we could distract ourselves here with a greater analysis on this particular passage, and things like Satan entering Judas at that moment (verse 27). To address it adequately, I will need to return to this later topic in its own dedicated article. The third section of Chapter 13 is Jesus last prediction/prophecy that Peter will deny Him thrice, providing us with the narrative context for the two verses which contain our memory verse.
Whilst understanding the wider perspective of Chapter 13, the language, style and message of the key memory verse – Verse 34 – was so simple that the key interpretation of it is not significantly impacted by the context. The context and surrounding verses do however help us better appreciate the motivation behind Jesus’ words and His greater purpose. Jesus gave two prophecies here – first that Judas would betray Him, and then that Peter would deny Him. In between, he weaves in the core message – a new commandment that fulfils and summarises all others – Love one another.
The commandment to love one another is described as ‘new’. This novelty is not, however, about the essence of the commandment in loving one another, but in the motivation and reasoning. The second part of the memory verse explains – it is because God and Christ first loved us, that we are to model our love for one another on. This is not just any form of love – it is love of the greatest kind – self-sacrificing and unconditional.
Further, the immediate preceding verse (33) also is important – Jesus has just said that where he is about to go (heaven), the Jews/believers/disciples could not go. Thus, the commandment to love one another as yourself was to help shift the focus of the disciples away from the future and unreachable destination, but instead on living the present life to the fullness, in love and communion with the body of believers.
Wider Literary Context
The Gospel of John is unique in that it differs in writing style and authorship to the three Synoptic Gospels. Traditionally attributed to the penmanship of John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, this Gospel focuses on a divine nature to Jesus as Messiah. Along with the three other letters written in the same manner (1 John, 2 John and 3 John) and Revelation, these five writings are all considered as single Johannine body of literature. The Gospel according to John is NOT considered a Synoptic Gospel because the stories contained within are not easily harmonised with the three other Gospels in terms of sequence and story focus. Indeed, over 90% of the Gospel of John is unique in style and substance. Whilst Matthew, Mark and Luke are not explicit about the nature and role of Jesus (Son of Man), John makes Jesus’ divinity quite obvious.
The Gospel of John has three sections:
- Prologue – John 1:1-5 / Hymn to the Word
- Seven Signs:
- Changing water into wine – John 2:1-11
- Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum – John 4:46-54
- Healing the paralytic at Bethesda – John 5:1-18
- Feeding the 5000 – John 6:5-14
- Jesus’ walk on water – John 6:16-24
- Healing the man born blind – John 9:1-7
- Raising of Lazarus – John 11:1-45
- Exaltation, Last Teachings & Death – John 13:1 – 20:31
- Epilogue – John 21
The Gospel of John is often described as having a high form of Christology, in that it emphasises His divinity.
The application is simple: to love one another. By our action of actively loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, people will recognise us as being the body of Christ. I recall that the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the challenge is to consider who our neighbour is? That is, who does God want us to love. In this verse and articulation of the commandment to love, we are directed to fellow believers.
Coupled with the current series being preached at Clayton Church on 1 John, titled Messy, John’s Gospel from the memory verse issues the challenge to love another. The Gospel as a whole, guides us in loving one another, to focus on God and His sacrificial love. We need no reason to love other than God first loved us unconditionally. By focusing on God, it should compel us to see the world through His eyes, and to focus on loving those that need Him – the lost, sick, poor and homeless.
Another point for the application of loving one another is that to love is an active choice and exertion of our will. Equally powerful is the fact that we can easily choose to NOT love (hate). We often see the detrimental effect that hate produces. Loving the unlovable and hard-to-love requires our first initiative and willingness to try. Once we have made that decision to love, God is empowered to help us fuel the love within, particularly if we walk with the presence of the Holy Spirit. In that way, whilst love is the most powerful force, we have to choose it. This nature of love – in that we have to choose it – is also a reflection of the nature of God; God is love.