We have briefly looked at how the Great Commandment guides us in following Jesus. It remains to look at two specific commands Jesus gives elsewhere about loving our neighbor. The first deals with loving neighbors who are our enemies. No doubt many people wish Jesus had not spoken on this topic. Loving friends or even strangers is not nearly so difficult as loving our enemies. But Jesus said,
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:43–48).
We see ourselves as loving people because we love family and friends. But Jesus says that is not enough. Citing the love that God bears even for his enemies, Jesus calls us to resist the fleshly temptation to hate our enemies; instead he asks us to imitate our heavenly Father by loving them. This is an act of the will, not of the feelings. And it is not easy. But as we act in the obedience of faith to please our Father, his Spirit will work in us and change our attitude toward our enemies. Such love glorifies God. Becoming perfect in love means growing into a mature love for others, which is a lifelong journey, but one on which we can make remarkable progress.
Jesus also gives his disciples a new standard for loving one another. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). This lifts love to its highest degree. We are to show the same self-sacrificing love toward fellow believers as Jesus has shown toward us. So important is this that a few verses later he reiterates it and elaborates, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13). Jesus is about to lay down his life for them and tells them that they are to lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters in the family of God. Over the centuries, there have been times when this was fulfilled literally. More often, however, it has been fulfilled in meeting the needs of fellow believers for food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. John, for example, says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16–18). This kind of love, says Jesus, demonstrates to the world that we are truly his disciples (John 13:34-34). And the unity that such love produces witnesses to the world that God has sent Jesus to be the Savior of the world (John 17:21).
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