12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
It is not possible to experience depth and fruitfulness in our Christian lives without daily engagement with God through the Scriptures and prayer. However, this does not mean that the Christian faith is just about “me and Jesus.” Jesus’ call to abide in him was originally given to a group of his followers. Jesus expects us to remain (collectively) in him. How? He tells us in verse 12: “12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
This command is a powerfully clarifying one within a society and culture that holds out many definitions of love to us. Jesus makes it clear that he and his example are what love looks like.
What does this command lead us into as followers of Jesus?
- It leads us into a commitment to a local church. While it’s a popular option to make faith nothing more than a personal matter, a Christian cannot follow Jesus alone. Jesus calls us to love other members of his body. The local church is the arena of learning with and from each other how to love each other well. It’s not without its headaches and hardships, but we cannot jettison meaningful commitment to a local group of Christians while also expecting depth and fruitfulness in our Christian walk.
- It leads us into greater spiritual maturity. This process of learning to love one another in the same self-giving, sacrificial, courageous, and generous way Jesus modeled takes time. We’ll have to learn patience. We’ll have to learn to forgive others and bear each other’s immaturities and fault lines. We’ll have to be prepared to be hurt as we enter into relationships that require vulnerability. Perhaps most challenging of all, we’ll need to abandon a transactional view of relationships (i.e. “what’s in this for me?”) and adopt a covenantal expression of love (“how can I give and serve without strings attached?”). Being meaningfully engaged in a local church isn’t easy, but it’s critical for any Christian. As we obey this command Jesus will honour our commitment and bless us with depth of character and spiritual maturity that can be cultivated in no other way.
- It will lead us back into communion with Christ. To love others as Jesus loves us, we’ll need to return to the gospels again and again and discover how to love like Jesus. But more so, we’ll have to return to Jesus in prayer again and again as we come to see all of the ways we fail to love each other well. We will learn very quickly that one cannot build genuine Christian community without building intimacy with Jesus.
Note: This reflection first appeared in the January 26th edition of the Nelson Star News.