Our Community Rule (John 13:34, 35)
Passage: John 13:34–13:35
I. Community Rules
I think there's a good chance that a good number of us this morning live in what's called a “Master-Planned Community”. What is a “Master-Planned Community”? Well it's a community in which, from the beginning, developers lay out every feature that will eventually go into a particular neighborhood: homes, schools, roads, shopping, fire stations, business parks, walking paths, etc.
Now if you live in a master-planned community, then you know that there are not only plans drawn up for where people will live on a particular street, but there are also plans for how people will live once they move in.
In a master-planned community there is typically a homeowners association that is responsible for maintaining common areas in the development, as well as enforcing certain guidelines that are intended to protect the aesthetic character of the community and preserve property values. These guidelines are typically called CC&R’s, or “Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions”
When you boil it down, what these CC&R’s do is regulate the way that the people in a community live together. They are community rules. But almost every one of these rules could be classified as a restriction, that is, a rule designed to limit an individual for the sake of other individuals.
For example, in certain neighborhoods, you can’t have a car parked in your front yard, or, as was common in my last neighborhood, up on blocks in your front yard. You’re also limited from erecting certain things on your property, like a large statue of Elvis in your front yard, or a four story playhouse in your backyard.
In most cases, when people develop community rules, no matter what kind of community we’re talking about, they are primarily meant to protect the individual by placing restrictions on others.
This morning we are going to talk more about community, about living in community. But we’re going to do this by looking at God’s word to us in Scripture, because the community we’re talking about is the only true “Master” Planned community, because it has been designed by the only true Master, Jesus Christ.
This community is, of course, that group of people that Scripture calls the “church”.
But what are the rules for this community? Are there covenants, conditions, and restrictions that apply to this community?
When we come together, what is guiding the way you behave? What is directing your conduct, your words, your interactions? What might be limiting your words or actions?
Well, this morning, we are going to discover something surprising. We are going to hear directly from the Master himself about our community rules. Or I should say “rule”. Yes, this community of people, of all different ages, from all sorts of backgrounds, with all sorts of different like and dislikes, this community really only has one rule when it comes to the way we live together.
Follow along with me as I read from John 13. Let’s discover this ultimate principle together.
II. The Preceding Context (John 13:31-33)
John 13; let’s begin in verse 31. Let’s use verses 31-33 to set up the scene. Listen:
31 When he [that is, when Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’
Where and when are we? Well, we know from the beginning of this chapter that Jesus is eating the Passover meal together with His disciples. We also know that Judas has just left the house where they are eating in order to betray Jesus.
But why, at this incredibly depressing moment in Jesus’ ministry, does Jesus utter these words, “Now is the Son of Man glorified”? What we see when the narrative continues in chapter 18 is that the events have been set in motion that will lead to Jesus’ excruciating death on the cross, but beyond that to His resurrection, and beyond that, to His exaltation and return to the Father’s side.
This is what Jesus is talking about here. And notice that He refers to the coming events as if they had already taken place and Jesus has been glorified. Jesus speaks this way because He knows that God’s perfect plan to rescue mankind will take place exactly as it has been planned. God will be glorified.
But, do you see the shift in tone in verse 33? Jesus knowing what all of this will mean, begins to comfort His disciples. “Little children…I won’t be with you much longer….you cannot come where I am going, not yet at least.” He is speaking of a time when He will be absent.
Now, I want you to keep this context in mind. Jesus is beginning to comfort His disciples in light of His coming death, resurrection, and departure. So what will He say? What words of comfort will He give them?
III. The New Community Rule (John 13:34, 35)
Look at verses 34 and 35:
34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Isn’t this interesting? In order to comfort them about His departure, or at least prepare them in light of His departure, he gives them what He calls “a new commandment”. Listen to the simplicity of what He tells them.
Now remember the gravity of the situation. The Master that they have been following for three and half years is not only going to leave, but He will suffer a gruesome death on His way out. He will rise victorious, but He will return to the heavenly Father not long after. Their entire world is about to be turned upside down.
It would be easy for them to run away. It might be that some will try to assume control of the movement. It might be that others will become embittered and critical. Jesus knows this.
In chapter 14 he will go on to tell them that even though He is leaving, they will not be forgotten. In fact, He is going to prepare a place for them (14:2). And until then, they will have another Helper, the Spirit of Truth (14:7).
But it is here in 13:34, that we see the preeminent way in which the Spirit will be manifest in their life together. In the Master-planned community that is the church, there is ultimately only one rule for our life together: love one another.
Way of Grace Church, God has not left us in the dark when it comes to our life together. Just as He cared about these first followers, our Master cares deeply about our relationships with one another. But what is guiding how you relate to those around you, your fellow followers of Christ?
Let’s just look at the parts of Jesus’ commandment in order to better understand and better apply His words.
Let’s think first about this word “love”.
As these disciples came together, as they labored together, as they worshiped together, there could have easily been others ideas in their minds to describe how they related to one another. “Cooperate with each other. Be respectful of one another. Be nice to one another. Humor one another. Don’t annoy one another.”
Almost sounds like a list you might find posted in some corporate office.
But even though those kinds of rules are fine, Jesus gives them a rule that takes everything to a new level: love one another.
When we gather together, is this word, is Jesus’ word the one word that guides your outlook?
Is love at the forefront of your mind when you come on Sundays, when you come for a Growth Group, when we eat together, when you see a brother or sister in some other setting? Is love the community rule that motivates you?
You see, unlike the rules that govern most master-planned communities, Jesus’ commandment is a rule designed, not to limit, but to empower an individual for the sake of other individuals. Jesus’ rule is about true freedom, not ultimately restrictions.
This rule forces us to get our eyes off of ourselves and on to the needs of others.
You know sometimes the church falls into the trap of catering to the “come and get” mindset, instead of encouraging the “come and give” kind of heart that Jesus is describing. We often emphasize the programs designed to meet your needs, we often dangle the perks out in front, we often design our times together in such a way that individuals walk away with “an experience”.
Don’t get me wrong, I hope that when we gather together each of us is extremely encouraged and blessed. But we will never know the fullness of joy that comes from living in God’s family until we listen to Jesus’ words here: love one another.
B. “Just as”
But it would also be too easy just to leave it at this; to simply say, “love one another”. It would be too easy because all of us, if this is all we heard, would simply define love in whatever way best suited our own desires.
But Jesus is clear here, isn’t He? “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Our love cannot be defined “just as” we see fit, but “just as” Jesus has defined love according to His own character and conduct. The love that is our ultimate community rule must look to Jesus for its direction and design.
But what would the disciples have understood when Jesus said, “love one another, just as I have loved you?” Well, we could probably look to many episodes from Jesus’ ministry with and to His followers for examples of how He loved them, but there is one clear example right here in the immediate context. Look back up to verse 4:
4 [Jesus] rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him... [jump down to verse 12]
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
You see, the disciples had just received an incredible lesson in love, and now Jesus was calling them once again to follow that example.
Notice the nature of this love. It is not a love that suits our desires and wants. It is a love that put the needs of others before our own. A love that is willing to be humbled in order to serve.
One commentator says this about this community rule of love that Jesus gives: "Whereas the Old Testament demanded that men should love their neighbors as themselves, the New Law is that they should love the brethren better than themselves, and die for their friends."
That last bit there reminds us that we must look forward to see the ultimate example of Jesus’ love. You see, Jesus will repeat this new commandment in chapter 15, verses 12 and 13. Listen to what He says: 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
John would later confirm this in a letter to other followers of Christ:
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (I John 3:16)
If we are to look for the measure of love, we must look to the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is where we see love giving of itself, despite the cost. Brothers and sisters, is this how we are loving one another?
But notice something else here. Notice that the love of Jesus is active, not reactive, that is, His love initiated; He didn’t simply respond. He washed their feet. They were not expecting that. He went to the cross for them. In fact, the Gospel of John begins with the Son of God taking on human flesh. The incarnation was God-initiated.
I point that out because it is so easy to believe that loving one another simply means being loving when we find ourselves in situations that call us to react.
Is your idea of loving one another simply giving when asked to give? Or is it giving whenever you see a need? Do you only pray for you brothers and sisters when they ask you to pray, or do you pray for them all the time? Do you only give encouraging words when someone comes to you with a struggle, or are do you seek to encourage a brother or sister, even when they seem to be doing well? When you are at odds with a brother or sister, do you wait for them to fix things, or are do you take the initiative to love them, just as Christ has loved you?
Listen to the following definition of love in light of Jesus: love is a passionate concern that labors without limit to see God’s best accomplished in another’s life.
Is that how you would define love?
But there’s something else here about this call to love that we need to see. Jesus’ call us to “love one another” is a command. It’s a commandment. Not a suggestion. Not a tip or technique or tool. It’s a command.
We need to emphasize this because it’s easy for us to get confused about love. Why? Because, very often, we equate love with how we feel. Sometimes we believe that we can only love one another when we like someone, or, at the very least, when we don’t dislike someone.
But in many cases, we find ourselves feeling all sorts of things toward one another. Appreciation. Anger. Jealousy. Respect. Indifference. Annoyance. Connectedness. Confusion. Look, that’s just the reality of relationships. You will FEEL those things sometimes.
But as we see here, none of those feelings change the fact that Jesus Christ, the Master, has commanded us to love one another. We cannot disregard a command from the King of Kings and Lord of Lords simply because we don’t like the way a brother or sister does this or that. Or because we don’t feel like loving them.
Remember what C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity: The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you love your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find out one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.
We should be praying that our hearts would be filled with feelings of compassion and concern. But even when they are not, we must act toward our brothers and sisters the way we would if our hearts were filled with such feelings.
Remember what Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments”
But why does Jesus call this a “new” commandment? As Jews, the Law did call these men to love their fellow Jew. So why was this “new”?
Well, the newness comes from the place of Christ in this command. Not only was the love of Jesus the standard for this commandment, but it was Jesus who put these men with “one another” in the first place.
You see, this was a new commandment because this was a new community; a new community that shared new life in Jesus Christ. Why do we need to point this out? Because none of us will be able to live by this rule unless we have become new creatures in Christ.
Have you responded to the love of God in Christ? The love that God offers you this morning. A love that forgives. A love that restores. A love that reconnects you with your Creator?
It is only the new heart that comes through faith in Christ that allows any of us to obey this new commandment. A new community. New life. New creatures. A new heart. A new commandment.
We’ve talked recently about this thing called Partnership. I think all of this reminds us of why Partnership is so important. Love and commitment go hand in hand.
Our obedience to the new commandment does not depend on Partnership. But it is strengthened by this kind of formal commitment because it allows us to make explicit what might simply be assumed. Partnership enables us to better define and better declare our desire to obey the new commandment in this place.
When you first place your trust in Jesus as your only hope, you are automatically joined to THE Church, capital “C”. But joining A church, little “c”, is your chance to be deliberate and accountable when it comes to the new commandment. I hope you will consider attending our next Partnership class if you have not done so already.
IV. All People Will Know
As we finish up this morning, I want you to notice how Jesus emphasizes the importance of this new command in verse 35. He connects our love for one another with our witness to “all people”. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
You see our love for one another is so critical, not simply because it regulates our relationships, but more so, because it reveals our Redeemer. Way of Grace, what do we want to be known for in this community? Is it our love for one another?
Listen, we could have the slickest outreach in the world? We could have the most compassionate service ministries in town? We could have the biggest ‘REC’ center. We could have the most cutting-edge service, or the most precise theology, or even the most people sharing their faith. But if we do not have love for one another, to whom will we be pointing?
When we love one another, we point back to the One that most everyone describes as loving. Have you ever met someone who did not think Jesus was loving? And when we point back to the Lord of love through our love for one another, that love has a way of drawing people in.
People are looking to be loved. They are looking for something real; something genuine. They are desperate to see people who really love one another.
The church is a community planned by the Master himself. And it is this Master, Jesus, who gives himself as a standard for us, so that we can know how to treat one another as brother and sisters.
May it be our desire, may it be our great joy to obey the words of Jesus and love one another.
Let’s pray and ask God to empower us to do just that.