What was the new commandment?

The writer is pastor of the United Church of God Big Sandy and a regular columnist for The Journal.

By Dave Havir

BIG SANDY, Texas--In John 13:34 Jesus Christ mentioned a "new commandment" that He gave to His disciples. What was it?

Jesus' new commandment was "that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another."

Of course, that is beautiful. But, honestly, what was new about it?

Part of the law

Jesus made a habit of quoting scriptures. The scriptures He quoted were found in the Old Testament manuscripts. This is true about this concept. The concept of love is found in the Old Testament.

In Leviticus 19:18 Moses wrote: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Why, then, did Jesus Christ say He was giving His disciples a new commandment?

Many years later the apostle John wrote an apparent contradiction in consecutive verses. Notice 1 John 2:7-8.

Verse 7: "Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you."

In verse 8, John wrote: "Again, a new commandment I write unto you."

It is easy for people to make wrong assumptions when they believe the apostle John was confused. Was John confused? No, he wasn't. Then what was he saying?

John knew that the words about love had been written in the law and in other parts of the Old Testament. John also knew that Jesus Christ came as the Savior to magnify those words.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ magnified the words about love in a powerful way. That's how the words became new.

'As I have loved you'

The key to the verse in John 13:34 is the phrase "as I have loved you."

Jesus was speaking here to His disciples just before His death. He knew what He was about to face. He knew what He was about to suffer. He knew the sacrifice He was about to offer for His friends and for all of mankind.

In the past, redemption had been largely a financial matter. Peter talked about people being redeemed with silver and gold (1 Peter 1:18).

Redemption subsequently became a matter of having the precious blood of a Savior (1 Peter 1:19).

Jesus described it well in John 15:13: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Jesus Christ set an example of what the word love means.

Follow Christ

Paul talked about how a saint should not have confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3). Paul knew what he was talking about since he had a lot of experience in living a religion that trusted in the flesh (verses 4-6).

On one hand, Paul recognized that his religious background was worthwhile (it was "gain to me" in verse 7).

Yet Paul viewed his past approach as inferior to his new approach (verses 7-8).

In verse 10 Paul mentioned four important concepts he desired. They were:

  • "Know Him."
  • Know "the power of His resurrection."
  • Know "the fellowship of His sufferings."
  • Be "made conformable unto His death."

As saints, we desire to imitate Jesus Christ. Therefore we study the words He said.

Of course, we also study the biblical accounts that describe the lifestyle He lived.

He is our example and role model.

Jesus gave us a characteristic about how to identify one of His disciples (John 13:35).

He talked about "if you have love one to another."

Remember the verse just preceding (verse 34). The new commandment was "as I have loved you."

Through His coming, suffering and death, Jesus proceeded to clearly show His disciples what those words meant.

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