“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)
So many commentaries have been written on this verse. Here we learn the love Paul talked about in 1 Cor 13 is commanded, not merely nice thoughts. It is to be our trademark. But what kind of love?
Jesus illustrates the love he means in this chapter when he takes off his outer garment and, confident in his knowledge he is the king of all creation, he performs the most humiliating task that could be assigned to a household slave–washing his disciples’ filthy feet. Not because anyone asked or wanted him to. Not because that was all he was good for. Not because he wasn’t worth better. But because he loved them and it needed done.
He affirms we are to do likewise, male and female both. Probably the most challenging aspect of his example is he washes the feet of Judas Iscariot, knowing Iscariot is about to betray him. He loves his enemy by seeing to the welfare of his enemy, just as he had taught others to do, and we know it cost him emotionally for scripture tells us he was deeply troubled in his spirit, and shares his grief by testifying that one of the disciples whose feet he has washed will betray him.
Before you go around informing other Christians they need to wash your feet and do whatever you ask, that is an ungodly attitude. Your job is to imitate the rabbi and meet others’ needs, not to twist the Bible to get what you want. Christian love does not mean being a doormat or a yesman. God in his love gives us what we need, not what we want, so we should be the same. It should however effect how we say no. If we personally, due to being finite and limited, cannot meet someone’s need, we should do our best to point them to where they can get their need met.
Incidentally, this is also why, though the bible teaches wives should submit to their husbands, it does not condone her being treated like a doormat. The command for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church echoes back to this passage. Christ served the church and met her needs in the most humblest of ways, first by washing our feet, and later by laying down his life.
Lord, grant us the emotional strength to love each other, even Christians who have betrayed or hurt us. Give us wisdom to seek each other’s welfare and best and to know when you want us to say yes and how to say no. Enable us to cast aside all bitterness and malice and take the risk of loving those who have hurt us or might hurt us even as you love them. Show us how we can best seek what is good for them. Strengthen us to trust you to take care of us.