As Jesus drew near to the day when he would die upon a cross for the sins of the world, he said this to his followers: “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). On the one hand, there’s nothing new about this command because God instructed his people through Moses to love him above all things and to love one another as they loved themselves. The love of God and neighbor has always been the heart and fulfillment of the law of God.
But what’s new in Jesus’ words is that he’s commanding his blood-bought followers to love one another in the same way that he loved us. He’s calling upon us to take up our cross on a daily basis, to die to our own interests and wants and needs, and to give our attention to loving and serving and sacrificing for others. He wants us to live God-centered and other-focused lives. He does not want us to live for our own desires but rather for his desires in the blessing of others.
As Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” And then he goes on to say that we should grasp on to the mind of Christ that belongs to us because of Christ, and we should empty ourselves, sacrifice ourselves, and be obedient to our Father until our dying day, knowing that he will give us our just reward in Christ for the glory of his name.
This call to die to ourselves that we might love others is the call to come and be like Jesus. Jesus gave it all that we might gain it all, and part of what we gain in him is the incomprehensible privilege of becoming like him. Every time we die to ourselves in order to love somebody else for the glory of Christ, we become a little bit more like Christ, and this indeed is his aim. And over time as we die to ourselves in order to love somebody else for the glory of Christ, Jesus says that this love proclaims to the world that we belong to him. This love actually proclaims the gospel.
As Tim Keller wrote, “[Christian] Community is more than just the result of preaching the gospel; it is itself a declaration and expression of the gospel.” And the reason this is true is because our self-sacrificial love for one another is tangible evidence that Christ is in us, that he is with us, and that he’s working through us for the glory of his name. It is not normal to love as Christ loved. In fact, it’s not possible in ourselves to love as Christ loved. So when we do that, it shouts to the church and to the world that Christ is in our midst.