What Loving Others as Jesus Loved Us Looks Like—and the Difference It Makes
By Steve Poe
Upon arriving at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the first thing you notice is the endless sea of white headstones. These grave markers of service members from all of America’s major wars remind us of the high price of freedom.
That price is dramatized by the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Every hour during the winter and every half hour during the summer and daylight hours, 365 days a year, a new guard reports for duty.
When the new guard arrives, he orders the relieved sentinel to “Pass on your orders.” The sentinel who is being relieved says, “Post and orders remain as directed.” To which the newly posted sentinel replies, “Orders acknowledged.” In other words, orders remain unchanged. And since the start of this duty decades ago, the orders have not changed, and they never will.
The night before Jesus was crucified, his disciples were also given orders, and those orders have not changed.
A HUMBLE DEMONSTRATION OF LOVE
The 12 disciples had gathered with Jesus in the upper room, but no servant or apostle took the initiative of serving others by washing off their dirty feet. Jesus ultimately wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and began to wash their feet. He demonstrated love for everyone in the room though he knew in just a few hours Judas would betray him, Peter would deny him, and he would be crucified.
How many times have we failed to love everyone in the room? All too often, I’m guessing. We might choose instead to show love only to the people who look like us, are the same color as us, agree with us, or have the same political worldview as us. How many times do we avoid the person who annoys us? And, of course, if someone dares to betray us or hurt our feelings, we immediately “cancel them” and decide they are no longer deserving of our love.
By washing the feet of Judas and Peter, Jesus demonstrated we should continue to love others despite their failings or faulty thinking.
After washing everyone’s feet, Jesus sat down and asked the disciples if they understood what he had just done for them. He told them they should follow his example and wash one another’s feet. He wanted them to understand that serving is an act of love—it’s one way they could demonstrate love for one another.
Later, Jesus pointed out that one of them would betray him. He dipped the bread into the dish and handed it to Judas. He told Judas to go do what he was planning, and Judas got up and left the upper room.
Jesus then talked about his glorification, which would be realized in his death on the cross and his resurrection. God the Father also would be glorified through those events. Jesus said he would be with them only a little while longer, and then he gave some final instructions.
A ’NEW’ COMMAND TO LOVE
“A new command I give you,” he said. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
This command to love one another is arguably the most powerful command given to Christians, and it certainly is the one most quoted by both believers and unbelievers. But the simple, easy-to-understand command is difficult to live out. Loving difficult and messy people can be very hard. But consider that some might find you difficult to love, and yet Jesus still demonstrated love for you when he went to the cross.
Over the next few chapters in John, Jesus reiterated his command to love one another. He even said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21).
Jesus framed this as a new commandment. But the idea of loving people was not a new concept. Leviticus 19:18 said you should “love your neighbor as yourself.” This principle was taught throughout the Old Testament. But the idea of loving people the way Jesus loved people—the way he demonstrated love for his disciples on the night he was betrayed—well, that certainly was new.
Jesus’ love for humankind was so great it overflowed in a motivation to meet the needs of others. John offered a picture of that when he wrote, “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 and sisters” (1 John 3:16). That’s the kind of love God wants us to have for one another. Our love for God should motivate us to meet the needs of others. God is love, and love is from God. Therefore, loving one another is doing whatever it takes so others have as much of God as they can.
With this command, Jesus introduced us to a new way of living that attracts others to a relationship with God. We live in a self-centered world in which we think everything should revolve around our wants and desires, that everyone should be caught up in our orbit. But Jesus wants us to understand that if we demonstrate our love toward others, then they will recognize that we are his disciples. When we demonstrate that self-sacrificing kind of love to others, it is undeniable evidence that we are followers of Christ.
ONE-ANOTHER COMMANDS TO LOVE
This way of loving one another is so much more than washing another person’s feet.
There are about 60 “one another” commands or references in the New Testament. Each describes a way we can demonstrate love toward one another. We are told to serve one another, care for one another, honor one another, forgive one another, encourage one another, accept one another, pray for one another, and on and on. I believe Christians could reach the unchurched world for Christ if we would actively follow these “one another” commands.
And that is why it is so important for us to engage with one another! If Christians really did that—if non-Christians saw us really loving one another—then the unchurched world would be drawn to the message of the gospel. Paul said, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). That faith is expressed by mutual submission to one another.
This is so important, because everyone wants to feel included in a community characterized by “one-another love.” God created humankind with the need to love and to be loved. God wired us for relationships. We are at our best when we experience life’s highs and lows with other people.
So, this command to love one another is the essence of the New Testament teaching. When the religious leaders asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, he replied,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).
Our instructions are to love God and love one another. And our obedience to that command is imperative in fulfilling the Great Commission to reach the world with the gospel.
Jesus demonstrated how important it is to love the people we rub shoulders with every day. For instance, our neighbors and our coworkers are people God has placed in our life so we can love and serve them (even if they are annoying or radically different from us). We are called to love them so they might experience God’s love and mercy.
The guards’ orders at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier have not changed in decades, and similarly, our orders as Christ followers have not changed for 2,000 years . . . and they never will. We have a responsibility and an obligation to love one another.
Steve Poe serves as legacy pastor at Northview Church in Central Indiana. He is author of Creatures of Habit (2021, Thomas Nelson).