In “preaching study” posts, I’m really interested in fostering a “community” approach to study and prep for the sermon, so please interact as much as you like. All Scripture quotes are from the TNIV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!
As I said in part 1 of this series for the week (update: here’s part 3 as well), I’m back in the preaching cycle at my church for the next 4 weeks, 3 in contemporary and 1 in traditional. The text for this week is John 13:31-38. We are focusing our messages around questions for the season of Lent and the question for this week is: “Will you lay down your life?”
I should have picked up on a third canonical echo in vv34-35 in my first reading of this passage (NT Wright called my attention to it when I was reading his For Everyone book for John 11-21 today). That is the reference to Leviticus 19:18, in which love for neighbor is commanded: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” When we hear Jesus say that he’s giving them a new commandment to love one another, my first thought is, wait, that’s not a new command… But the significance is in the point of reference. In Leviticus, the reference point is human–“love your neighbor as yourself.” This is fairly radical idea when actually applied–no doubt when first given, not excluding its ongoing impact. But in John, the reference point is Jesus himself, and because of that, divine–“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Ah. Now the stakes are raised, especially when Jesus has just made a point to demonstrate what love is in practice by playing the slave and washing their feet in order to practice the ethic of welcome and hospitality.
Not only this, but Jesus takes it a further step and adds a missional component to the equation: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Loving as Christ loves is certainly a good in and of itself, but there is a broader purpose that it serves too–explicitly, disclosure of their affiliation with him and, implicity, revelation of God to others by the sort of community God creates, nurtures, and sustains.