What’s So New About Love? A Look at Christian Caregiving and Burden Sharing
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, Christian Life Resources National Director
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35)
This familiar account often takes a central place in our Maundy Thursday worship services. After washing the feet of His disciples in a dramatic display of humility, Jesus dismisses Judas, knowing his actions will begin the process of events that will lead to tremendous physical suffering. And now Jesus issues a “new command.”
How many of you were struck that the command really did not sound so new?
Old Testament Directives
God gave the Law through Moses 2,000 years earlier, a portion of which is stated: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18) and “And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19).
The theme of “love” is echoed throughout the Old Testament. Proverbs says that love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12), and it keeps the tongue from gossiping (Proverbs 17:9).
Prior to the events of Maundy Thursday, the directive to love was often echoed. Jesus used it to summarize the Law and the prophets (Mark 12:30-31). He commanded believers to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44) and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). When Jesus described the final judgment, love was evident in the lives of those who are saved (Matthew 25:34-40).
So What’s New?
All of this “love talk” prior to Maundy Thursday prompts us to ask, “So, what’s new about that? How could Jesus call it a ‘new command’ when it has been repeated for thousands of years?”
Martin Luther said the command to love is new every time it is spoken because it never grows old. It is a foundational command on which all commands of Scripture are based. As such it is a command certainly worthy of repetition.
Love also faces great challenges in our world. As we see the nature of people steering further and further away from God, wickedness increases. We are told, in fact, the “love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).
A Change of Perspective
Practicing love has been a lifestyle intertwined with the true nature of worship from the very beginning of time. What had happened, however, was that the influences of sin eroded worship and the culture. Sacrifices and practices to point to God’s loving solution to sin became not acts of love or worship but deeds of work righteousness. In time even the religious leaders were blinded to their loveless practices.
By the time Jesus walked the earth the situation had become deplorable. Experts of the law asked who might be the neighbor they were to love. Pharisees boasted in the synagogue as they self-righteously compared themselves to the tax collectors of their time. Religious leaders were quick to throw the first stone of condemnation and point out the plank in the eyes of others, all without seeing their own sin.
Even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t get it. Jesus would explain the plan of salvation, but it didn’t sink in. They denied Him, lamented the loss, were confused by the mission, and just plain didn’t understand this “new command” to love.
A Different Kind of Love
The love spoken by Jesus was more than affection, the tight-knit nature of family, or the loyalty of good friends. The Apostle Paul spoke of this special kind of love in this way: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
The kind of love that comes as a “new” command is the unconditional and sacrificial commitment to others without the need or expectation that it will be returned. Jesus died for sinners – not only those who disappoint Him on a daily basis with more sin – but He also cried out for the forgiveness of those who were killing Him!
When we learn to understand this kind of love and practice this kind of commitment, it shapes our approach with the dying, the struggling, the unborn, and the needy. We love, care, and sacrifice not because it is easy, it is fun or we are rewarded for it. We do this because we know what it means to be the object of this kind of love.
As our society grows colder in its love, the disabled and aging face increased danger. They become burdens not to be “loved” but to be dispensed with. Hitler’s associates referred to them as “useless eaters.” In a world that venerates productivity and progress, those who require care and resources are deemed too burdensome.
Love is All About God and Others
All of us need to reflect on the “new command” we have been given. Despite the world’s programming to look out for ourselves, the heart of the “new command” is that it is all about others. We think of others more than ourselves and show them the same concern as we do ourselves.
Yes, that means at times we must sacrifice. We must give up worldly treasure here and there in order to care for others. And in the process, as one walks closer with the Lord while showing love to others, God incredibly makes everything work out for our good.
Care for a disabled or dying loved one strains us in many ways. It sometimes interferes with our own battle plan for life. Yet, respecting God’s gift of life by practicing sacrificial love telegraphs to the world you have a hope that exceeds beyond what this world can offer. God cares for those who care for others.
While it may seem like an endurance test it is, in fact, an instrument God uses to strengthen us and communicate a hope that others can see. Perhaps someone may ask you how you do it and why you do it. That is when you can tell them about what Jesus did for us (1 Peter 3:15).
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