We’re all familiar with the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. Jesus mentions this maxim several times throughout the Gospels (e.g., Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31), and when asked what the greatest commandment in the Law was, He answered that the entire Law and Prophets (the Old Testament) hung on the commands to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:36–40).
The two greatest commandments in the Old Testament have to do with relationships—our relationship to God and our relationship to others. The Christian rendering of the Golden Rule is usually of the form love your neighbor as yourself, as expressed in Matthew 22. Nonetheless, most people agree with the Golden Rule, Christians and non-Christians alike, and even teach it to their children.
But Jesus has a way of shocking people. He calls His disciples to love in a different way. He gives them a new rule.
A New Command, a New Kind of Love
Jesus tells His disciples in John 13:34:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
Jesus calls this a new commandment, but it sounds a lot like the old commandment! So how is it different? The old commandment was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This new command is a higher command: love people in the way that Jesus loved us.
How did Jesus love us? He gave Himself up for us. As Paul writes in Romans:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
John, echoing this idea writes:
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10–11)
God demonstrated His love for us through concrete action by giving up His Son. Love gives. Love takes action.
Elsewhere, Jesus says there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15:13). This is a radical kind of love. There is nothing selfish about it. It is a sacrificial kind of love that sees others’ well-being and interests as greater than our own. It is a love of sacrifice and of service.
How to Love as Jesus Loves
How do we love as Jesus loved us? Just prior to giving the new command, Jesus gives us an image of what it looks like to love others as He loves. He washes His disciples feet. Why is that a big deal? you might wonder.
In biblical times, people wore sandals everywhere, and they didn’t have paved roads and sidewalks everywhere like we do. People’s feet would become dirty and need washing. It was customary for a host to provide a servant to his guests to wash their feet. It would have been unheard of for the host himself (or herself) to wash the feet of guests; it was beneath him (or her). Jesus, on the other hand, shows us what it means to follow Him and serve others in John 13:12–17:
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
What is Jesus’ point in all this? He is giving an example. If the master, teacher, and Lord willingly performs one of the lowest tasks (if He serves), then so should the master’s servant be willing to participate in such acts of service. If Jesus, as the master, serves others, who are we as His followers not to do likewise? Elsewhere in the Gospels, we read that being great means serving (Mark 10:35–45, Luke 22:24–27). Jesus’ ultimate act of service was willfully going to the cross for all of us.
The Risk and Reward of Relationships
No one said it’d be easy, and no one said there wouldn’t be any kind of risk associated with this kind of love. This love of sacrifice and service requires relationships, and relationships are messy. However, it is interesting that the things we so desperately cling to—things like time, possessions, power, and personal interests—are the very things that are passing away. These are the very things we cannot keep. But the things that actually have enduring value, God’s Word and people, are the very things we’re so inclined to neglect!
Yes, there are risks associated with relationships: the risk of misunderstanding, the risk of pain. But the rewards of investing our lives in people of immeasurable worth far exceed the pain that people can cause us. We are called to love and to serve as Jesus loved and served us. Insofar as we do that, we are like Jesus.
This study is based on “Facet 1: Relational Spirituality” in Ken Boa’s Conformed to His Image: Biblical, Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation, rev. ed.