There is something special and even powerful about old things made new again. Perhaps this is why millions of viewers regularly follow various home makeover shows on HGTV. It is mesmerizing to watch an old, broken, and dilapidated building transform into a shiny and beautiful new home. It is thrilling to celebrate the character of old wood, stone, and brick alongside new plumbing and electricity.

The gospel of John is full of similar beauty. John consistently points his reader to consider how the coming of Jesus transforms old into new. From the opening words, “In the beginning,” John invites us to consider Jesus’ work and ministry as one of new creation. We see the same beauty and emphasis of old things being made new in the Upper Room Discourse when Jesus turns the conversation to love. In John 13:34-35 Jesus says: “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.”

Any reader of Scripture would pause for a second. How is the command to love one another new? In fact, isn’t it as old as the law itself? After all, we find these words in Leviticus 19:18 “you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Love for others has always been at the heart of God. It is woven throughout the law and the prophets and Jesus himself regularly summarized the law as love for God and others (Matthew 22:36-40). Loving others does not seem like a new thing. In fact, it seems rather old.

But like an old thing made new, there is a beautiful weightiness to what Jesus is saying here. He is not referring to something new as in something novel or new with respect to time. The word Jesus uses here (kainos in Greek) refers to “new” in respect to form or quality. And we see this in two particular aspects: how we should love and why we should love.

How we love

Jesus brings quality and depth to an old commandment when he says, “love one another, just as I have loved you.” We are called to love one another in the way that Christ has loved us. This changes everything! Consider the context of these words. Judas has just left the room to finalize the arrangements to betray Jesus (13:30-31). In other words, events are unfolding in such a way that there is no turning back. Jesus knows what is waiting for him after that meal with his friends, and he understands both the cost and the necessity of what is before him. His death, which would accomplish reconciliation and redemption for mankind, was always his mission. But now, the pain and humiliation of the cross is only hours away. Jesus is prepared to love his friends by dying for them. His love is a fully committed, self-sacrificing, courageous, and costly love. There is not an iota of selfishness or a hint of self-preservation as he goes to the cross. And he instructs us to love in the same way.

Love is a popular sentiment these days, but rarely do we hear it defined the way Jesus defines it. We love when it is convenient or easy, when it is fulfilling and sensical. At worst, our love is self-serving. At best, our love is limited. But love as defined by Jesus is completely different. It is not emotional; it is volitional. It is an act of the will to pursue the good of others even at great cost to ourselves.

Why we love

To love in such a way is far from easy, so Jesus reminds us why we love: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The old command to love is given new significance as Jesus directly connects love to the mission of God. He reminds his friends that Christ-like love is the most effective witness to a watching world and the most definitive way to identify a Jesus-follower. In other words, to be an apprentice to the way of Jesus is to practice the way of love. If we want to be identified with Jesus, we must lead the way in sacrificial commitment to the flourishing of others.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus does not emphasize knowing the right information or following the right rules or attending the right small group or church? Instead, in his final hours, his last instruction to his closest friends is that they love one another. And it is his heart for us as well.  Loving others is not a novel idea, but there is a new quality to the love Jesus is talking about because his love changes everything. He shows us the way forward in how to love and he provides a new motivation in why we love.

We enjoy watching home transformations on television because it is amazing to see a broken-down home become something beautiful. What a greater transformation Jesus brings to the church as he takes broken people and changes them into self-giving, self-sacrificing people who love one another. May we yield to his work, knowing that our love for one another shines a light in this dark world.

About the Author:

Stephanie Formenti

Stephanie Formenti serves as the Chapel Associate for Discipleship at Covenant College. She is passionate about Word-based ministry and loves serving the students at Covenant.  She earned an MATS from Covenant Seminary and has had the privilege of living in various places around the world before landing in the Chattanooga area. Her husband, Gustavo, is on staff at New City Fellowship East Lake and they have three young and energetic children.