John 13 is the first of five chapters in the Gospel of John that are referred to as the Upper Room Discourse. Jesus spent his final days and hours having meaningful dialogue with his disciples to ready them for His death and resurrection, and also to prepare them to preach the Gospel and establish the church. As the 13th chapter begins, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, went on to predict his death and Peter’s denial, and he taught this radical commandment to the disciples:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
What Does "Love One Another as I Have Loved You" Mean?
Jesus was charging his disciples with what seemed impossible. How could they love others with that same unconditional love that Jesus demonstrated time and time again? His disciples were shocked when Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman (see John 4:27). The twelve disciples may have been part of the group of followers that tried to turn away children from seeing Jesus (see Matthew 19:13). They failed to love others in the same way that Jesus loved others.
Jesus knew all of their shortcomings and growing edges, but he still gave them this new command to love one another just as he loved them. This command to love was new in the sense that the disciples would be empowered in a new way to carry out the same kind of love that Jesus had shown – a love that included acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion. It was a love marked by selflessness and putting others above oneself, a love that even transcended cultural normalizations and expectations.
Who Is Jesus Speaking to in This Verse?
In this verse, Jesus is speaking to his disciples. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had affirmed the two greatest commandments (see Matthew 26:36-40), the second being to love others. Once again, in the upper room with his disciples, he taught on the magnitude of love. In fact, as Jesus went on, he made it clear that their love toward others would be what sets them apart. Their love toward others would be the very thing that marked them as believers and followers of his.
Before Jesus made this statement, He had just finished washing the disciples’ feet. Washing feet was a common practice for visiting guests in Jesus’ time, but it was a servant of low esteem that would have been assigned such a chore. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, demonstrating both his humility and his great love.
This is what Jesus did before instructing the disciples to love others just as he loved them. He waited until after he washed the disciples’ feet and predicted his death to make this statement, because both washing their feet and laying down his own life were intrinsically tied to the way in which his disciples were to love others.
As much as Jesus was speaking to his disciples in that room, through Scripture passed from generation to generation, Jesus spoke this command to every believer from then until now. Still true today, our unconditional and selfless love will be the thing that sets believers apart, as well.
Do Different Translations Impact the Meaning?
The verse is consistently translated among the different English versions of the Bible with little variation. This uniformity among translations reassures us that the verse is clear and precise in how it is interpreted and prompts us to consider then what it means for us to love as Jesus loved.
“I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another.”
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
“So, now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”
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How Will Others Know That We Are Disciples by Our Love?
After Jesus instructed his disciples with this new command, he explained that when they love as he loved, that is how others would know they are his followers. That means when we love people just as Jesus loves us, they too will know that we are his disciples because of the radical love we show.
Scripture teaches that we should be different than the world (see: Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 2:9, Psalm 1:1, Proverbs 4:14), and the way we love is a major indicator of being set apart as followers of Jesus.
The early church was often noted for the way they loved others and their love was a witness to the validity of the Gospel message that drew people to give their lives to Jesus. These early Christians shared a life-transforming Gospel message and they shared a life-transforming kind of love. Today, we as believers can allow the Spirit to work through us and demonstrate that same life-giving and selfless love that will draw others to Jesus and serve as a powerful testimony to Jesus’ power and goodness.
How Does Jesus Love Us?
The command to love others in this verse surely wasn’t a new command. The newness of this command is found in the condition to not only love, but that they were to love others as Jesus loved. Jesus’ love was servant-hearted and sacrificial even unto death. Jesus’ love was selfless, counter-cultural, and good in every way. Jesus instructs us as his followers to love in that same way: unconditional, self-sacrificial, and servant-hearted.
Jesus walked this earth teaching, serving, and embracing people. Jesus tore down barriers and hate, approached the oppressed and marginalized, and invited those who wanted to follow him to do the same. Out of his love for us, Jesus spoke the truth about God and preached a message of repentance and eternal life. His great love prompted his final hours to be spent arrested and brutally beaten and murdered. Jesus loves each of us so much that he went to the cross and laid down his life.
How Can We Show That Love to Others?
When we consider the magnitude of Jesus’ love, it may seem near impossible to demonstrate that same kind of love. But Jesus sent His spirit to empower us to live as he lived and to love as he loved. Loving as Jesus loves will require lifelong learning, and each day we get to make that choice to follow his command.
We can show others the same kind of love Jesus showed by being humble, selfless, and serving others. We love others like Jesus loved by sharing the Gospel, by taking care of the persecuted, the orphans, and the widows. We show Jesus’ love through bearing the fruit of the Spirit to serve and take care of others, instead of indulging our flesh and putting ourselves first. And when we do love like Jesus loved, others will know that we are indeed his followers.
Not an Impossible Instruction
What an honor that Jesus welcomes us and empowers us to love as He loves. This verse does not have to seem like an impossible instruction. It is a gentle and revolutionary nudging to walk in his ways rather than our own. It is an invitation to love beyond ourselves, and to focus on the interests of others instead of only our own desires. To love as Jesus loves means we will live the most fulfilling and satisfying versions of our lives knowing that we furthered the kingdom of God rather than leaving our own legacy.
Jesus modeled humility as he lovingly washed the feet of the disciples, and when he went to the cross, he made the greatest sacrifice out of love known to humankind. We won’t have to die for the sins of every human being, but because Jesus did, we have the opportunity to spend an eternity with him, and we have the chance to love others here and now with a love that is pure and selfless.
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Pamela Palmer is a writer, chaplain, and the founder of upheldlife.com, the platform on which she produces weekly devotionals and faith resource articles to inspire keeping faith at the center of it all. She lives and thrives on Jesus, coffee, and music. She is in pastoral ministry and gets to share in the emotional and spiritual lives of many people, being a small piece of each journey. Pamela married the perfect man for her and they have two beautiful kiddos. She has been published on herviewfromhome.com and you can follow her at upheldlife.com, or on Facebook.com/upheldlife.