"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.” ~ John 13:34
In Matt 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31 and Luke 10:27, Jesus summarized the Law and the Prophets into two commandments. First, we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength. Second, we shall love our neighbour as ourselves. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. This is a concise summary of the Old Covenant and there is no novelty in the two commandments. In fact, the first commandment can be found in Deut 6:5, while the second commandment can be found in Lev 19:18. There is nothing new in them when Jesus endorsed an authoritative summary of them in the New Testament pages.
However during the Last Supper, right after Judas had left to carry out his hideous scheme, Jesus gave the disciplines a new commandment. He said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). But where exactly is the newness of this new commandment? Afterall, the Law and the Prophets have already provided that we should love our neighbour as ourselves. If we do compare these two statements carefully, we will notice the similarity and differences.
Old Covenant: Love our neighbour as ourselves
New Commandment: Love one another as Jesus has loved us
The similarity is love, for God is love (1 John 4:8, 16) and we being created in the image of God (Gen 1:26) are supposed to exhibit the love of God. However, the key difference lies in the reference point of love. Under the Old Covenant, we love others as ourselves. If we think about it deeper, the fact is that everyone loves themselves with different intensity and in different ways. If we love ourselves very much, it works fine to apply the same measure of love to others. But even then, we may not love them in the most appropriate manner as our love languages are different. And if we love ourselves very little, then we would also correspondingly love others little too. We could say that the loving of others under the Old Covenant is subjective, and is anchored to the self. This is also demonstrated in the Golden Rule (Matt 7:12): “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Nevertheless, with the introduction of the new commandment, we are to measure ourselves against Christ the Ruler. We are no longer the reference point, but Christ. So we love one another just as Jesus has loved us. The reference point is no longer multiple subjectives but one objective, as there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ. And so we cease to measure ourselves by one another and compare ourselves with one another (2 Cor 10:12). Instead, we look to Jesus to know what love is. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12-13). And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16). It is about having the same mindset as the Lord, in our relationships with one another (Phil 2:5).
Hence, this is the new commandment. It couldn’t be new before Christ came, suffered and died on the cross for us. But when He came, the Old Covenant found its fulfilment in Him. And He not just fulfilled but also raised the bar of the Old Covenant. The Parable of the Good Samaritan shows the higher bar when a question was posed on who exactly is our neighbour (Luke 10:29). Under the Old Covenant, most would be contended to love our neighbours and hate our enemies. But Christ said to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:43-44). Love enlarges our hearts and prompts us to go the extra miles.
With the new commandment serving as the foundation, of which the New Covenant is hang upon, outflows the rest of the New Testament teachings. Consider Eph 5:1-2, which we are exhorted to follow God’s example to walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Christian obedience then is always appealed on the basis of the love of Jesus for us, and not out of obligations or sense of duty which in that case would become legalism. And such appeal should rightly rouse our voluntary response towards Him, which we know this unfettered antiphony by the name of love. We keep His commandments because we love Him (John 14:15). And so we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21), husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25-27), and wives submit to husbands as unto the Lord (Eph 5:22). It is all about Jesus, and loving Him.
In summary, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Gal 5:6). The object of faith is Christ, and we expressed our faith by loving Him and others. Let us then run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:1-2). And as we carry each other's burdens, we will fulfil the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).