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“The Final Apologetic”

John 13:34-35
Bob DeGray
September 15, 2002

Key Sentence

Sacrificial love for one another shows the world what Jesus is like.


I. The command (John 13:34)
II. The example (John 13:34)
III. The outcome (John 13:35)


        Francis Shaeffer, in his book, The Mark of the Christian, said that Christian unity is ‘The Final Apologetic’. I don’t know if he coined that phrase or found it someplace, but it highlights an important truth. Remember that an apologetic is an argument for the Christian faith. There is a whole field of study called apologetics, in which people write books and create videos and give lectures to convince those who do not yet believe in Jesus that Christianity is reasonable and true. This is not someone who says they are sorry for what they believe, but someone who defends what they believe in order to convince others. Recently, for example, Lee Strobel has written two apoligetics books, ‘The Case for Faith’ and ‘The Case for Christ’ that are intended to help people overcome their objections to Christianity.

        But Shaeffer calls our unity, shown in our love for one another ‘The Final Apologetic’. By this he means that after all the reasons are given and all the truths made known, something else is still needed before people will believe. The final argument many people need is not something they hear from us but something they see in us, love for one another. In our verses for this week, Jesus makes it perfectly clear that our love is a compelling witness to our faith. Sacrificial love for one another shows the world what Jesus is like. John 13:34-35 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

        The phrase “Love one another” is used three times in those two verses. It is the first of seven ‘one another’ commands we’ll be studying between now and our move into the new building. It is also, undoubtedly, the greatest and most comprehensive of those commands. All the other ‘one anothers’ we’ll be studying are simply ways of working out this command in the practical details of life. ‘Serve one another, honor one another, accept one another, bear with one another’ – all of these are ways to ‘Love one another.’ The one command is given 12 times in the New Testament, and we’ll begin and end our series with a study of this command – starting here in John 13, and ending in the new building on November 2nd in 1st John chapter 4.

        John 13:34-35 has three thoughts. First, there is the command itself. "A new command I give you: Love one another.” Second, there is the example to follow “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Finally, there is the outcome of this love “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I. The command (John 13:34)

        Jesus says that “loving one another” is a new commandment. Of course there is a sense in which it isn’t new. Jesus himself points out that the Old Testament law is summed up in two commands: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

        What is new about this command is that it is given by our Lord to the church. It is not a command given to Israel, but is addressed to his disciples and those who will follow them. In this sense, it is the first of many "new commandments" found in the New Testament. All of the ‘one another’ commands we will be studying are new commands following after this one. Remember too that Jesus has just washed his disciples feet. He said “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.” ‘Love one another’ is a generalization of the practical command to humble ourselves toward one another and serve one another.

        This command is so simple and profound that many call it the eleventh commandment. Once a bishop in England, visited the home of a pastor known for his hospitality and piety. The bishop arrived anonymously on a Saturday and asked for lodging overnight. A simple but hearty welcome was given, and after the meal he was invited to join the household in religious exercises that ushered in the Lord's Day. ‘How many commandments are there?' the pastor asked his guest, wholly unaware of who he was. ‘Eleven,' was the astonishing reply; at which the very servants were scandalized, regarding the newcomer as woefully ignorant. But the pastor perceived the character and insight beneath the answer, and asked for a private interview. This resulted in the invitation to preach on the following day. To the amazement of the household, so scandalized on the previous night, the stranger appeared in the pastor's pulpit, and announced as his text these words in John, adding, ‘This may be described as the eleventh commandment.'"

        We need to allow this command to carry the force of a command. It’s not a suggestion, not just a wise course of behavior, but the express, direct command of our Lord. Later in chapter 14 he will reinforce the importance of obedience, saying “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." John 14:21. Obedience in loving one another shows the reality of our love for Jesus.

        But if this is a command to be obeyed, then love must be a decision and an action not a feeling or an inclination. You cannot manufacture feelings on demand. If you are grieving and I say to you ‘be happy’, you are likely to resent me. If you are angry and I say to you ‘calm down’ I’m likely to catch a good piece of your anger myself. If love was this kind of emotion, I couldn’t command you to do it. Even Jesus couldn’t. Only if love is action motivated by a decision of the will can he give this command. The next seven weeks will encourage us to love that is action and decision. Love one another by serving each other. Love one another by washing each other’s feet. Love one another by being gentle to one another. Love one another by accepting one another. All these actions and attitudes flesh out an initial decision to love. Emotions, if they come at all, are secondary.

        So don’t come to me in family trouble and try to justify anything by saying ‘I just don’t love him or her or them anymore.’ If you are not showing love it is because of a decision you’ve made, not because you are a slave to the absence of an emotion.

II. The example (John 13:34)

        This leads to the second part of our text. Jesus now gives the perfect example of obedience to the command He has given: As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

        I think you’d agree with me that every earthly example of love has flaws. Husbands do not love their wives perfectly, parents do not love their children perfectly, believers do not love one another perfectly, nor their neighbors nor their enemies. So to look at others for an example to follow when trying to live out this love command is often disappointing. Even the most mature believer, who loves her husband, her children, her fellow believers in a mature and caring way cannot love perfectly. Once in a while she will slip into selfish or unloving attitudes. We all do.

        So there is only one person we can use as an example of perfect loving, only one whose love is the standard we strive for. That person of course is Jesus. He is the only one who can really say ‘love as I have loved, follow my example.’ The disciples in that upper room had already experienced his love, most recently when he washed their feet. Yet the greatest example of love was still to come. The day after giving this command he set the ultimate standard for love: self sacrifice. He gave himself on the cross because he loved those disciples, and because he loved you and me.

        The New Testament teaches that the love of Jesus and his sacrifice are the standard of love we are to strive for. Jesus says it again later in the same discourse. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus showed the greatest love in his sacrifice. He calculated what it would take to rescue his loved ones, then he set aside his own self interest and did what it took, no matter how devastating it was to him.

        His sacrifice is the standard. Romans 5. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Ephesians 5: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Philippians 2:5_8 “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

        There are more. 1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Finally, 1 Peter 2:21 “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” The path of sacrificial love is perfectly modeled by Jesus and becomes the pattern for our love for one another. We are called to give ourselves away in love. We won’t do it perfectly, we won’t do it constantly, but this is the model that we are commanded to follow.

        In the summer of 1989, Mark Wellman, a paraplegic, gained renown by climbing the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. On the final day of his climb, the Fresno paper ran a photo of Wellman carried on the shoulders of his climbing companion Mike Corbett. A subtitle said, Paraplegic and Partner Prove No Wall Is Too High to Scale. What many people didn’t know is that Mike Corbett scaled El Capitan three times in order to help Mark Wellman pull himself up once. Are you willing in your love for others to make three times the effort so that someone else can achieve something and gain recognition? That’s self sacrificing love.

Those who follow Christ are not only willing to say they love, but willing to do something to show love. Once there was a family whose motto was “love is action.” The dad in this family writes of a time when he took his daughter, then age eight and his son, then five, to the mall. When they arrived they found that there was a petting zoo inside the mall that day. The dad gave each child a quarter and stood them in the line while he went to Sears. He says “A few minutes later, I turned around and saw Helen walking along behind me. I bent down and asked her what was wrong. She looked at me and said sadly, "Well, Daddy, it cost fifty cents. So, I gave Brandon my quarter." No one loves cuddly furry creatures more than Helen, but she had given Brandon her quarter because, as she said, “Love is Action!” She had heard the family motto for years and now she was living it out.

        What do you think I did? Not the obvious thing. Helen and I went out and stood by the fence of the petting zoo and saw Brandon feeding the animals. Helen stood with her hands and chin resting on the fence and just watched. I had fifty cents burning a hole in my pocket; I never offered it to Helen, and she never asked for it. Because even at her age she knew that love always pays a price. Love always costs something. Love is expensive. Helen gave her quarter to Brandon and wanted to follow through with her lesson. She knew she had to taste the sacrifice.

        Just one other story to show this truth that when we love one another, we imitate Christ’s sacrifice. In his book "Written in Blood," Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. The doctor explained that she had the same disease the boy had recovered from two years earlier. Her only chance was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor.

        "Would you give your blood to Mary?" the doctor asked. Johnny hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled and said, "Sure, for my sister." Soon the two were wheeled into the hospital room _ Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned. As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny smile faded. He watched the blood flow through the tube. With the ordeal almost over, his voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence. "Doctor, when do I die?". He'd thought giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his life. Yet he had only hesitated a moment making that great decision.

        When Jesus says ‘love one another as I have loved you’, he calls us to imitate his sacrifice. We’re not likely to face physical death for the sake of our loved ones, but what we do face may feel harder: we must die to self so we can live for God and others. One quote that I use in pre-marital counseling is addressed to husbands-to-be, but applies to all of us: “It's a wise groom who has to be dragged to the altar. He knows what love is. It's death. . . In marriage two become one but the one isn't you. It's the other person. You are to love this person more than you love yourself. . . Love is funny. Its growth doesn't depend on what someone does for you. It's in direct proportion to what you do for him. The country is swarming with people who have never learned this. So are divorce courts.” The wise husband or wife knows what love is: it’s death to self. The wise parent knows this. And the wise believer knows that to love one another in the body of Christ we must die to self and live for him.

III. The outcome (John 13:35)

        The command is love one another. The example is the sacrifice of Christ. And the result is witness. Verse 35 says “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

        The love we have for one another is the final apologetic to a watching world. It’s not hard to figure out why. As we follow Christ’s example we become more like Christ. We never become perfectly like him, but we do gain a family resemblance. People in families are always hearing “Oh, you look exactly like your mother, you look just like your grandfather.” In the same way our love for one another ought to cause people to see in us a family resemblance to Christ. If people hear the claims of Christ and then see people loving one another, people who are substantially transformed into the image of Christ, they will want to know Christ for themselves.

        Tertullian, who lived at the end of the second century, reported that even unbelievers said “Behold, how these Christians love one another!” Another church father reported the words of an unbeliever called Caecilius: “They love one another almost before they know one another.” Most people in those days were opposed to the Christians. They were ready to spread slander about them, ridicule them, send them to jail and execute them. But they were compelled to pay grudging tribute to their love.

        David Brainerd saw this in the conversion of an American Indian tribe. He wrote in his diary “Love seemed to reign among them. They took each other by the hand with affection, as if their hearts were knit together and all their demeanor toward each other was such, that a serious spectator might justly cry out 'Behold, how they love one another.' Many other Indians, on seeing and hearing these things, were much affected and wept bitterly; longing to be partakers of the same joy and comfort.

        Our love for one another is as potent today as ever. I’ve spoken before of my first funeral, when I was an interim pastor in Lake Zurich, Illinois. The couple had only come to church once or twice, they were only known to one or two families, and there was little evidence that the husband had been a believer or that the wife was. I included the Good News about Jesus in his funeral, but I don’t think his wife was really in a position to hear it. What she did do was hang around the church. She got involved with some of the ladies, who were her peers. Before long she became a believer – because they invited her in to a circle of love that was real and powerful.

        I think three things must happen if this ‘love one another’ command is to have the result God intends. First, the love must be in a place where it can be seen. This means loving one another outside the doors of even our new building. Sure, we welcome visitors, and hope they will sense the presence of God in our worship, sense His love in our love for one another. But many people aren’t interested in visiting a church. So we have to take this love to them. We are to love one another not only in church on Sunday but in the larger Christian community and also in our families, in our small groups, in our neighborhoods, our workplaces and our schools.

        Maybe you need to have neighbors and church people together in your home for meals. You need to have Christians as a normal part of the traffic in your house, because your neighbors will see who you hang out with. Even better, find the Christians on your street, especially if they go to another church, and let the unity you share be visible. The same thing can happen at work and school. Many of you know believers in those places who go to other churches: the love you display for one another in those settings is a great part of your witness to those who do not yet know Jesus. Finally, whatever the circumstance, we should strive to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ. People around you see it when this is a priority. They see it when you take food to those in need, or a meal to a new mom, or babysit for someone with an illness in the family, or house those who are without a place to stay. That’s what that unbeliever we talked about a few minutes back noticed - they love each other before they even know each other. Others will see it if you do.

        Second, I think we must love one another honestly, because the world can smell hypocrisy a mile away. The constant complaint of unbelievers is that the church is full of hypocrites - and often they’re right. Those who say they belong to Christ but do not live that way do damage to our family resemblance to Christ.

        The Apostle Peter addresses this in giving his ‘love one another’ command. He says “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” Love for each other must be love in action, but it must also be love at a heart level, a sincere affection that is obvious to those who see it. The reports from China about the church that grew there while cut off from contact with the West had this as a common feature – those Christians reached others because of their fearless love for one another.

        Finally, it has to be pointed out that this love by itself does not bring people to Christ. The love they see can lead them to ask a question, but if the question is never answered, they will never become believers. Peter, after repeating his command to love each other as brothers goes on to say “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Love for one another shows the Gospel, but the Gospel must also be spoken. Paul says “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” You have to be ready not just to love each other, but to answer the questions that love raises. Only then will our love bear fruit in the lives of others - the fruit of salvation.

        So what have we seen? First, that love for one another is a command. It is the most often repeated and the most general of the one another commands in the New Testament. It is not optional for believers. Second, this love for one another is modeled after love’s greatest example - the love Jesus showed when he died on the cross for our sins. We will not perfectly imitate his love, but we must learn self-sacrifice, dying to self for the sake of another’s good. Third, this love must be lived out in the world, because when it is, it becomes the final apologetic, the convincing factor for some who have heard the Gospel but who now see the Gospel at work.

        So now, we’re about to receive our ministry pledge cards. It seems to me in light of this command, that that card is really a list of practical applications. As we do the things listed there we are loving one another in concrete ways. Every one of these areas of service is an opportunity for self sacrificing love. And if we do these practical things from the heart we will have a profound witness. We will see the result promised by Jesus. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”