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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Disciples of Jesus, love one another!
Text:John 13:31-35 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 97:1,2

Psalm 36 (after the law of God)

Hymn 72

Psalm 119:5,6

Hymn 78

Scripture readings: 1 Corinthians 13, John 13:1-30

Text: John 13:31-35

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Imagine a church building built with brick.  As you look around the outside of the building, you can see all the bricks.  If you look between the bricks, you’ll see the mortar which holds the bricks together.  Now imagine if that mortar were to somehow break down and deteriorate.  The bricks wouldn’t be held together anymore.  Soon bricks would be falling and the building itself might be in danger. 

A building isn’t the church.  People make up the church, not bricks and mortar and whatever other building material.  However, a building does give us a good illustration of a vital spiritual truth.  Just like mortar keeps the bricks of a building together, so love is what binds us together as believers.  If our church doesn’t have love, we’re going to be falling apart.  Without love, our church will become a heap of rubble.

Knowing that, it makes sense that some of the last words of our Lord Jesus before the cross are about love.  He urgently wanted to impress upon his followers the importance of love for one another.  That’s a teaching that continues to be relevant for Christians today.  We have a world which teaches us to be self-centered.  We have the leftovers of our sinful nature which incline us to be self-focussed.  Satan wants nothing more than for us to turn inward and make everything about ourselves.  Satan wants us to turn against each other and devour one another.  But to all these forces, our Lord Jesus says:  no, love one another.  So that’s the theme for the sermon this morning:  Disciples of Jesus, love one another!

We’ll look at:

  1. Who?
  2. Why?
  3. How?

Chapters 13 and 14 of John find Jesus and his disciples in the upper room celebrating the Passover together.  Right before our passage, Judas Iscariot has left them.  Judas went to betray Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders.  So the ‘he’ at the beginning of verse 31 is referring back to Judas.  Judas is the one who had gone out.  Now Christ was left alone with the other eleven disciples.

They’re the ones who received his new commandment.  I’m going to back to them in a moment, but for now, there’s another matter that needs to be addressed.  It was the first thing that leapt out at me when I was studying this passage.  I’m sure it leaps out at you too.  Jesus says that his commandment to love is “a new commandment.”  But if you know your Bible, you know that God’s law commanded love already in the Old Testament.  “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” – that originally comes from Leviticus 19.  So how can Christ say this is a new commandment?  What’s new about it?  What’s new is that Jesus not only gives this commandment, but he exemplifies it perfectly on the cross.  The infinite love Jesus has shown to us on the cross is what brings a new perspective on this commandment.  Jesus adds a new depth to this commandment, an infinite depth.  You cannot get to the bottom of the love that Jesus has for his disciples.  That kind of love has never been seen among human beings before or since.   

As I said, this new commandment comes to the eleven who would soon be apostles.  In Ephesians 2:20, the New Testament church is said to be built on the foundation of the apostles.  If they’re the foundation, it’s really important that they provide a solid foundation.  If the apostles didn’t love one another, that would’ve got the New Testament church off to a really bad start.  New Christians would look at the apostles and say, “Look, they don’t even love one another.  It’s not realistic to expect us all to love one another.”  So the love of these men for one another is vital.  It’s vital because these men would be the apostolic foundation of the church in the New Testament era.

However, no one should then think that Christ’s words were only meant for those eleven disciples in the Upper Room.  They’re meant to apply to us today too.  I can say that with certainty because these words come back in various ways in the letter of 1 John, a letter which is addressed to Christians in general. 

All true Christians are disciples of Jesus Christ.  A disciple is like an apprentice.  If you’re an apprentice, you’re learning how to do something like the professional who’s teaching you.  You want to be like the teacher.  For Christians, Jesus is our Lord and teacher.  We want to learn from him and we want to be like him.  In verse 35, our Master Jesus says that if we love one another, people will know we are his disciples.  Love is a defining characteristic of every disciple of Jesus – or at least it should be.  We should aim to love like Jesus does. 

That brings us to the question of why.  Why should we love one another?  To answer that, we have to ask another question:  When Jesus says, ‘Just as I have loved you’, what’s behind that?  Why does he love his disciples?  Why does he love us, even to the point of giving himself up to the wrath of God on the cross?

The answer to that is in verses 31-33.  Judas Iscariot has gone out to betray Jesus.  This is the thing that’s going to set off a whole chain of events leading to the cross.  That’s why Christ speaks about ‘now’ and ‘at once.’  The cross is imminent – it’s going to be the very next day from when these words were spoken.  Between now and the cross, Jesus isn’t going to get any sleep.  It’s all right there.  It’s all about to happen. 

And the cross is about glory, glory for Jesus as the Son of Man.  Glory for God in Jesus.  To human eyes it doesn’t appear that way.  Remember, the cross was a Roman instrument for executing criminals.  The cross was a shameful thing in those days.  The cross was considered to be the worst way you could die.  What an embarrassment if one of your family members was crucified!  You wouldn’t want to talk about it.  But yet in the Bible, the cross is glory.  The apostle Paul says he won’t boast in anything else other than the cross.  He says he’ll preach nothing but Christ crucified.  The cross is at the center of our faith. 

What is it about the cross that brings glory to God?  It’s about love.  Christ went to the cross in love.  It was first of all a matter of love between the persons of the Trinity.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit had devised a plan for our salvation, a plan that would lead to praise for the Triune God.  Because Christ loved the Father and the Spirit and wanted to see them praised, he agreed to take on a true human nature.  The Son of God came as the Son of Man.  As the eternal Son of God, he couldn’t suffer God’s wrath and die, but as a true human being he could and he did.

This was also a matter of his love for us.  Our names were given to him in eternity past.  The Father chose us in his love and the Son accepted us in love and agreed to suffer and die for us, even though we were his enemies.  Where else do you find this kind of love than with Jesus Christ?  He loved those who hated him.  He loved those who saw no need for him.  He loved those who scorned him.  He loved.  He loved you.  And for that, we now glorify our Saviour, we glorify our God.  We want to make his greatness known.  We want him to be made much of.  He deserves the highest praise and adoration.

So now why should we love one another?  Because we have been so greatly loved.  We love him who first loved us, and we want him to be impressive to others.  He becomes impressive to others as we walk like he did.  Jesus is glorified, God is glorified, when we show we love him by loving one another as he has loved us. 

We’re talking about the Christian life here.  How we live.  When it comes to that, we’re used to thinking of it in the terms of our Heidelberg Catechism.  Our Catechism isolates one motive for living a life according to God’s commands.  Our Catechism says it’s about thankfulness.  Thankfulness is a great motive for living as a disciple of Jesus.  It’s a biblical motive for loving one another.  But it’s not the only one.  Here in our passage and elsewhere in Scripture we find that love ought also to motivate us.   In the next chapter of John, Christ says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  That includes this new commandment to love one another.  If we love Jesus, we will aim to love one another.  Because we see the great love of Christ at the cross, we do love him and that leads us to want to obey him by loving one another.

Now let’s get down to the real practical side of this.  How are we to love one another?  What does that look like?  The short answer is:  our love for one another needs to look like the love of Jesus on the cross.  But we need to flesh that out.

We could read through 1 Corinthians 13 again.  That chapter is sometimes used as a wedding text.  But it’s not first of all about the love of husbands and wives – it’s about our love.  It’s about the love of brothers and sisters in the church.  It’s about the love we have for one another.  It’s about a love that’s supposed to patient and kind, a love rejoicing with the truth, a love not arrogant or rude, a love not irritable or resentful.  If you want to know what that love looks in person, study the picture of Jesus given us to the gospels.  Jesus embodies all of these characteristics of love perfectly and consistently.

He said we’re to love just as he has loved.  He loved his disciples by being patient with them.  Sometimes they were so thick-headed.  Anyone else would have gotten frustrated with these men and left them behind.  Remember the time the disciples were preventing the little children from coming to Jesus?  That made him indignant because he loved those children, but he still loved his disciples too and he patiently taught them.  Brothers and sisters, loving like Jesus does mean being patient with one another.  Let’s make that concrete.  Do you find yourself getting annoyed at the parents who bring their little children into church?  Ask yourself:  how would Jesus love those parents and those children?  He would be patient with them.  He would be indignant towards those who aren’t patient.  So take your impatience and turn it inward.  You should detest yourself for getting annoyed – it’s not a loving response.  Your impatience and frustration is sinful.  Look at Jesus.  Jesus is gentle, patient, and kind.  The love of disciples of Jesus for one another ought to be gentle, patient, and kind too.  But this goes two ways.  Parents who are bringing their children into church need also to be patient with their brothers and sisters who are getting annoyed with them – just like Jesus was loving and patient with his disciples.  Maybe those people getting annoyed have that blind spot in their sanctification.  But maybe you’ve got your own blind spots somewhere else.  Love them and be patient with them – all of us have to be patient with one another like our Lord is.   

Jesus said we’re to love just as he loved.  He loved his disciples by speaking the truth to them, even when it was difficult for them to hear.  Think of that situation in Mark 9 where Christ asked his disciples what they were talking about as they were walking.  They were sheepishly silent.  They were embarrassed.  Why?  Because they’d been arguing about who was the greatest among them.  Our Lord Jesus called them out on it and told them that “if anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  He spoke the truth to those whom he loved.  As disciples of Christ, we’re also called to speak the truth in love.  Scripture tells us the wounds of a friend are faithful, but the kisses of an enemy deceive.  When we see a brother or sister going the wrong way, we have to love them like Christ does.  Christ speaks the truth, we have to speak the truth.  In love, we have to hold each other accountable and help one another stay in the Lord’s ways.  If we don’t, we don’t really love each other.    

Our Lord said we’re to love just as he loved.  He loved his disciples by being humble with them.  Earlier in John 13, he stooped down and washed their feet.  That was something for a servant to do in that culture, not a rabbi.  But he turned the world upside down.  He said explicitly in verse 15 that he did this as an example for them.  As he lovingly served by washing feet, we’re to lovingly serve one another.  That was pointing to his ultimate act of humility – suffering and dying on the cross in our place.  So, like Christ, we’re to love one another by being humble with one another.  I remember my father-in-law used to say that we should be really careful in how we judge other families and their circumstances.  We should love them by being humble and admitting we don’t know everything that’s going on behind the scenes.  Love means being humble and being humble means being charitable.  Love means being careful with your judgments.

Christ said we’re to love just as he loved.  He loved his disciples by loving them equally.  In particular, as we study his life from the gospels we see that he loved both his male and female disciples the same.  Yes, his inner circle was made up of men and they were going to be the leaders of the church.  But he didn’t love his female disciples any less.  Unlike other rabbis, he spoke to women and he treated them with dignity and respect.  Just in the Gospel of John, think about his love for the Samaritan woman in chapter 4.  Or the woman caught in adultery in chapter 8, how he defended her and told her she could go in peace.  Or his comfort for Martha and Mary in chapter 11.  Or how when he was on the cross he entrusted the care of his mother to John.  Jesus loved his female disciples just as much as his male disciples. If we’re to love just as he loved, then brothers, we’re to love the women of our congregation the same way we love the men.  Scripture tells us to love them as sisters.  They’re our sisters in Christ.  And like, Christ, we’re to love one another by loving everyone the same regardless of gender.

There’s much more that could be said about loving as Christ did.  But we’ll leave it there.  To summarize, we’re to love like Christ did by being patient with one another, by speaking the truth to one another, by being humble with one another, and by loving each other equally with no regard for gender.

Those are high standards for love.  That’s because Christ’s love is so infinite.  When we compare our love to his infinite love, we’re all falling short.  Way short.  I’m so often impatient and prideful.  The easy way out is to just let someone go on doing what they’re doing without confronting them and speaking the truth.  It’s easy to treat our Christian sisters differently, to treat them with less respect than we treat the Christian men in our lives.  We’re all falling short.  If our salvation depended on our love, we wouldn’t make it.  If our hope for eternal life was based on our track record in loving one another, we’d all be in serious trouble.  But praise God that the gospel tells us it doesn’t depend on us.  We depend on Christ and his love.  As we trust in the Saviour who lovingly gave himself for us on the cross, we can be encouraged.  Our lack of love for another is forgiven.  Our shortcomings of love are washed away with the precious blood of Jesus.  Loved ones, look to the cross and you can know you’re forgiven. 

We’ve also been looking at the life of Jesus and there’s also gospel encouragement there.  When he was patient with his disciples, when he spoke the truth to them, when he was humble with them – that was all in our place.  He was perfectly obedient to provide us with a perfect measure of righteousness with God.  God says, “In order to be accepted by me, you’ll need your sins forgiven, but you’ll also need to be perfectly obedient.  Your love needs to be perfect for me to accept you and have you in my family.”  Jesus says, “In my love, I give you my perfect obedience as a gift.  It’s yours.”  We say, “Yes, Lord, thank you, I take your gift of love, your life of love, and I take it for my own.  Here, O God, I don’t have my own obedience, I don’t have my own love to offer, but I have the perfect obedience and the love of Jesus in my place.”  God says, “I accept that.  I declare you righteous on account of what my Son has done for you.  You are right with me.”  This is the encouragement of the gospel for disciples who haven’t loved one another the way they should.

Gospel love has been poured out on us again.  The only way to respond is to say, “I love you, Lord Jesus, I want to follow you.  I want to love my fellow disciples like you have loved me and them.”  We can’t do that in our own strength, so we pray.  We need to pray.  We pray for the help of the Holy Spirit so we can and do love another like Christ loved us and still loves us.

What happens when we pray like this and the Holy Spirit helps us to live like this?  The mortar which holds our bricks together, so to speak, is solid.  From greater love comes greater cohesion and unity.  The church which stands will stand through love.  May God help us to be that church and to be so for his glory.  AMEN. 


Our kind and loving God,

Thank you for revealing your love for us in Jesus Christ.  Thank you for the love shown to us in the gospel.  We see Christ’s great love in his giving himself for us and in his living a perfect life of love.  We have been so greatly cherished by our Saviour and we worship you for that.  Fill our hearts more and more with wonderment at your gospel love.  And we pray that this wonderment would fuel our love for one another.  Please help us to be loving like our Saviour by being humble with one another, by being patient with one another.  With your Holy Spirit please help us to speak the truth in love to one another.  Guide us with your Word and Spirit so that we treat each other without partiality, always with respect for one another regardless of whether we’re male or female.  Please forgive us through Christ for every time we have failed to love one another as he loves us.  Please wash away these sins through his precious blood shed in love for us.  O God, we thank you that the gospel gives us the confidence that we’re loved, and we pray that your Word and Spirit would also give us the power to love others accordingly.                                                

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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