What is the new commandment?

Jesus said, "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).

During His public ministry, Jesus emphasized love both in His teaching and in His actions. When He was asked what the greatest commandment is, He replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37–40; cf. Luke 10:27; Deuteronomy 6:5). What Jesus was ultimately saying is that love is the fulfillment of everything that God commands us to do. If we love God, we will not violate His commandments, but instead we will keep them (John 14:15). If we love our neighbor, we will not covet his wife, or steal his property, or sin against him in any way (Romans 13:8–10).

When Jesus said He was giving a new commandment, He was really emphasizing that which He had already been teaching—namely that love for one another was the fulfillment of the Law. This wasn't the only time He said this either. In John 15:12 we read, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." And later in the same chapter Jesus tells us that He commands us all of these things so that we will love one another (John 15:17). In his first letter, the apostle John reiterates this, saying that we are commanded to believe in the name of Jesus Christ and "love one another, just as he has commanded us" (1 John 3:23).

Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). He then showed His great love for us by willingly giving His own life in sacrifice for our sins. In Romans 5:8 Paul reminds us of God's great love for us "in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Not only did He give His life for us, but He rose again, proving He is who He claims (fully God and fully human) and that His sacrifice was sufficient payment for our sins. All who put their faith in Him receive eternal life because of God's grace and Jesus' willingness to take on human flesh and die in our place (Philippians 2:5–11; Ephesians 2:1–10; John 3:16–18).

The apostles fully understood what Jesus meant by this new commandment to love one another, and the New Testament is filled with this teaching. Jesus said that "all people" would know that we are His disciples if we "have love for one another" (John 13:35). James said that if we actually love others as we love ourselves, we are doing well (James 2:8). Paul told the Galatians the entire Law is fulfilled in loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (Galatians 5:14). John taught that "God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4:16), and that we love because God loved us first (1 John 4:19).

What we see clearly is that love is the fulfillment of God's commandments. Jesus emphasized this commandment in order to teach us what it means to be conformed to His image (Romans 8:29). Since all of the Law and all of what the prophets taught is fulfilled in the commandment to love one another (Matthew 22:37–40; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:14) then love is the commandment. "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:10–11). We are to love God and love our fellow man. And not just other Christians (1 Thessalonians 4:9), but those who hate us as well (Exodus 23:4; Matthew 5:44–48; Luke 6:27–28; Romans 12:20–21). In Galatians 6:10 we read, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."

The apostle John wrote regarding the new commandment, "Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes" (1 John 2:7–11).

We walk in the new covenant of love (Ephesians 5:2)—love for God and love for our fellow man because of God's great, unwavering love for us. There isn't enough room here to even scratch the surface of how often and eloquently the Bible speaks of love. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible paints a picture of the great love of God. When Jesus spoke of the new commandment, He was emphasizing that love is the fulfillment of everything God commands us to do because we are created in His image and likeness: "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16).

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