The One Critical Thing
Meditation on John 13:34-35 by Cris Cramer
John 13:34-35 (NIV):
“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.”
Jesus spoke these words during the last meal he shared with his disciples before his arrest and trial, just after he revealed that Judas was turning traitor against him. This is the first instruction he gives them, a new command to govern their conduct in the days to come: that they love each other. Further, that they love each other in the same manner that Jesus has loved each of them. It is an utterly simple instruction, but not an easy one.
Think about all of the things Jesus put up with from his disciples. They believed in him, they stuck with him through a lot of trouble and danger, but they also misunderstood him frequently. They disagreed with him and with each other. There were occasional power struggles and sneaky manipulative plotting among them. There was outright dishonesty and theft, if we can believe John's account (see John 12:4-6). I imagine there were days when they sorely tried Jesus' patience; I imagine he got used to seeing blank looks on their faces as he tried to teach them, tried to help them understand who he was and who God is and how to live in light of those things. He had to rebuke and challenge them and lead them well, in all kinds of circumstances. It was a hard life, and that takes a toll.
But through it all, Jesus stuck with them, kept working with them, encouraged and taught and corrected them, and always, always loved them. He offered them the kind of love that takes hold and doesn't let go for anything, that can survive stupid mistakes and hurtful words and terrible misunderstandings. The kind of love that is transformative, that refuses to see less than the best in a person, and that never stops working to support and draw forth that best. That was the kind of love Jesus had for his disciples, and that was the kind of love he was commanding them to have for each other -- the kind of love that we are still commanded to have for each other.
It's not only for his disciples' sake that he orders us to love this way. This is the standard he says we will be judged by, this is how all humankind will know that we belong to Jesus: by whether or not we love each other. What a responsibility. Too often we try to prove our faith by what we say or where we spend our time or who and what we avoid, and we miss the one critical thing. Love is how we will be known.
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