A New Commandment
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Peter Littleford
13 May 2001
Acts 11: 1-18, Rev 21: 1-6, John 13: 31 - 35.
[Jesus said], "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34,35)
I wonder what Jesus meant when he said a 'new commandment'?
Well, the big secret which never was is out: there's going to be an election next month and all the parties are putting out the new policies and trying to convince us all that they are the only ones who can guarantee us a bright future in which everyone is a winner. But, of course, it is never really quite like that and each political party has got its manifesto which can be quite clearly linked to what they said at the last election, assuming that we can remember precisely what they did actually say. What Labour says this time cannot be all that different from what they said last time, and the same applies to the Conservative party, the Liberal party and the other parties which exist as well.
I suppose what I am saying is that in this life, the new is not completely new, but succeeds, arises out of, and develops from something which has gone before it. It is as though we are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before. This is the same with the Christian faith. Christianity arose out of Judaism and the New Testament is a development of the Old Testament. When Jesus was born we are told that his birth was prophesied in the Old Testament. So at Christmas we read from the Old Testament prophets: 'For a boy has been born for us, a son given to us', and 'But you, Bethlehem ... out of you shall come forth a governor for Israel'.
So when in our text Jesus says to his disciples, 'I give you a new commandment', we shouldn't be too surprised to find something similar in the Old Testament and in the teachings of the Jewish rabbis who preceded Jesus. Jesus said 'Love one another'. In the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, we can read 'Love your neighbour as you love yourself'. Rabbi Hillel who died shortly after Jesus' birth said: 'Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind and bringing them near to the Law'. So Jesus is building upon and developing existing religious teaching?
Fine, so what is new in Jesus' new commandment? The new part is: 'as I have loved you, so you are to love one another.' Jesus therefore has commanded his disciples and all his followers to love one another with the quality of love which he has loved them. So the fellowship of the Church should be marked with a Christ-like love.
Well, what are these particular qualities of this Christ-like love? I think that there are three points: the love is a serving love, it is a self-sacrificing love, and it is an attractive love. Perhaps I can explain what I mean by these terms.
Firstly, Christ's love is a serving love. Jesus gave this commandment at the Last Supper when he washed the feet of the disciples. This is a very striking incident because Jesus, the acknowledged Lord and Master, has stooped down at his disciples' feet and washed them as if he were their servant. And when Peter protests at Jesus' actions, Jesus insists that he must do it. Jesus' love humbly serves others. Jesus' love is a serving love, which quietly and unselfishly gets on with caring for others. Jesus said that there should be this sort of love among his disciples, and of course in his church today.
Secondly, Christ's love is a self-sacrificing love. When Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples he knew that very shortly one of his disciples was going to betray him, and he was going to be put to death. At the heart of Christianity is the cross, which tells that Jesus loved us so much that he died on the cross for us. Christ's love is a costly and self-sacrificing love. Jesus said that there should be this sort of love among his disciples, and of course, in his church today. Some people think that the Christian life is easy. But anyone who thinks like this either hasn't understood the > nature of the Christian life or hasn't tried it. The Christian life involves the generous giving of money, time and abilities in the love of God and of other people. The true Christian life isn't easy, but rather it is very demanding, and as the demands are fulfilled it is richly rewarding.
Thirdly, the Christian love is an attractive love. Jesus told his disciples that if his love was among them 'then all will know that you are my disciples'. In other words, Christian love has a quality, which is noticed by other people and is attractive to other people. true Christian love is in itself a witness to Christ. Dr William Barclay, who wrote a lot of Commentaries on the New Testament, wrote: 'More people have been brought into the Church by the kindness of real Christian love than by all the theological arguments in the world'.
Paul told us, memorably, in Corinthians Chapter 13 that Christian love is 'never selfish'. It doesn't always want its own way. It tries to understand other people's views and feelings. It wants what is best for the whole Christian fellowship. The attitude, which always demands its own way, is destructive and harmful in a church. But true Christian love, which is attractive to others, is directly opposite to the selfish attitude which demand sits own way. True Christian love cares for others and attracts others to Jesus by its caring.
Christ's love is a serving love, a self-sacrificing love and a love which is attractive to others. It is this love which should permeate every person and every group in every church fellowship. This love is the gift of Jesus who said to his disciples: I give you a new commandment: love one another; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another'.