Samuel Rutherford once asked a visitor a simple question: how many commandments are there? The visitor replied that there were eleven. Rutherford, surprised at this answer, gently corrected the man. But the visitor backed his answer up with the words of Christ: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:34).
True, many of the original Ten Commandments are things that will take place when we love one another. But they don’t always necessarily stem from true love. One can obey out of duty, without love, just as easily as one can obey out of love.
A man can refrain from killing or stealing or coveting, because he knows it is the “right thing” to do – but that doesn’t mean he truly loves the one he is not killing or not stealing from. Think on Paul’s words regarding love:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
If we keep all the law and commandments, but have no love for one another, we are like an empty, useless noise – we are as nothing and gain nothing from it! We are told in another epistle that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:14).
So what does this love towards others look like? Obviously, it will conform to the requirements of the Ten Commandments – it will honor father and mother; it will not murder; it will not commit adultery; it will not steal; it will not bear false witness; it will not covet (Exodus 20:12-17). And of course, there is the “love” chapter of 1 Corinthians 13, which gives even more characteristics of this love: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
This new commandment we have been given – that we should love each other as we love ourselves – requires a selfless, sacrificial kind of love. It is not love that only loves the well-liked or affable. It is not love that seeks happiness or love in return. It is not love that loves only when first given love. Rather – it is love that seeks to give of ourselves, for the good of another, at whatever cost it may bring to ourselves.
This love gets out of its “comfort zone” and seeks to encourage others. This love reaches out to the “unlovely” and “unlikeable” with kindness and mercy. This love sees the soul’s needs as greater than the body’s needs – and this love seeks to meet the needs of both. This love will spend hours laboring in prayer for others, truly understanding what they need and spending its time and energy on their behalf. This love stems from God alone; its source of strength is in Him and its power is from Him. This love is the love that was shown to us in Christ Jesus: by His taking on the weakness of mankind, by His selfless separation from His Father, by His shedding of blood on the cross in our place.
This is the love we are to have towards one another. This is the love of the true disciple of Christ.
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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).