What is the New Commandment?

The New Commandment is to love one another, as Christ loves us

How many of us have seen a situation so clearly, in all the complexity that it contains, and conclude how we may best fulfill Christ’s commandment to love another in it?

Not only conclude, but act, and accomplish the action to the benefit of another. For it is assumed that to love another is not mere neutrality towards them 

I might be muddying the waters here and putting undue burden on the topic, but as I thought on Christ’s New Commandment, “love one another, as I have loved you” it dawned on me just how much wisdom and careful attention go into the act of loving.

The New Commandment comes right on the heels of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. So, the commandment to love seems heavily biased towards service. Perhaps for clarity’s sake, the Gospel writer should have included a “go and do likewise” statement shortly after. But the larger context for the commandment is the impending execution in Jerusalem.

Through His execution, Christ acted masterfully to provide the solution to humanity’s greatest problem: our separation and alienation from the Father. To show His love for us in such a way He had to, 1) know us intimately, 2) know what the problem was, 3) know our greatest weakness, and 4) see how to accomplish the best possible solution.

A quick note before moving forward. It may be argued that to love someone isn’t always about providing a solution to their greatest problem. And to some degree I would agree with that. But as the New Commandment to love one another came directly after the practical act of service of washing the disciples’ feet, it may be wise for us to see love in just such a practical way.

In all considerations, it seems that love is active and not neutral. It is not simply not hating someone but actively giving ourselves to another in some capacity, preferably in such a way that is helpful to them. This is the fruitful truth in Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages, that not all receive love in the same way. There is no template to show love to all people. However, there is a wise way of going about love. To love someone as Christ loves us means, at the least, to know the person very well, know how to love them (i.e. how we may serve them), be willing to sacrifice to serve them (this could mean our time, resources, comfort, etc.), have enough wisdom to see how to accomplish the service, and finally accomplish the act of love.

As in Aquinas’ stages of practical reason, these steps, laid out in sequence, seem to be more concrete and complicated than day-to-day reality would allow. Would it be wise to carry around a card with steps 1-4 in our back pockets so we can better love those around us? No. Loving others is much more fluid and relation than bullet points.

As steps in our reasoning often happen quickly, even simultaneously, so our deliberations of love or service towards another come from a relational knowledge of them and a Spirit-guided disposition to serve. How does one explain wisdom in action? We don’t. We simply know, because of experience and our relationship to the situation at hand, how to act.

I realize that all this may sound like the Situational Ethics of the 60’s and 70’s, but that is not my intent. The goal is human flourishing and flourishing takes place in communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is our end, to serve others in discipleship that they may have peace through God’s blessing. He blesses us with Himself; after all, God is love.

Posted by The Rev. Jacob Bottom with

Priests from throughout the diocese explore religious topics with depth and nuance.