“By This All Will Know That You Are My Disciples”
IT WAS Nisan 14, 33 C.E., the final night of Jesus’ earthly life. He knew that his death was near, but he was not thinking of himself. Instead, he took advantage of this opportunity to encourage his disciples.
Jesus knew that it would not be easy for them after his departure. They would be “objects of hatred by all the nations” on account of his name. (Matt. 24:9) Satan would try to divide and corrupt them. (Luke 22:31) As a result of apostasy, imitation Christians would spring up. (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43) And ‘because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number would cool off.’ (Matt. 24:12) In the face of all of this, what would hold his genuine disciples together? Above all, their love for Jehovah would serve as a uniting bond for them. (Matt. 22:37, 38) But they would also have to love one another and do so in a way that would distinguish them from the rest of the world. (Col. 3:14; 1 John 4:20) What sort of love did Jesus say would clearly identify his true followers?
That final evening, Jesus laid this command upon them: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) Jesus spoke of love more than 20 times that night. And three times he stated the command that they “love one another.” (John 15:12, 17) Clearly, Jesus had in mind not just his 11 faithful apostles who were with him that evening but all others who would eventually embrace true Christianity. (Compare John 17:20, 21.) The command to love one another would be binding upon genuine Christians “all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”—Matt. 28:20.
But did Jesus mean that just any individual anywhere in the world who showed kindness and love to his fellowman would thereby be identified as one of Jesus’ genuine disciples?
“Have Love Among Yourselves”
On that same evening, Jesus also had much to say about unity. “Remain in union with me,” he told his disciples. (John 15:4) He prayed that his followers would “all be one,” and added, “just as you, Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you, that they also may be in union with us.” (John 17:21) In this context he commanded them: “Have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) So their love would be expressed not simply toward a few close friends or within a single congregation. Echoing Jesus’ command, the apostle Peter later wrote: “Have love for the whole association of brothers [or, ‘the brotherhood’].” (1 Pet. 2:17, Kingdom Interlinear; compare 1 Peter 5:9.) So they would be a close-knit, worldwide brotherhood. Special love would be due all within the global family of believers because they would be viewed as brothers and sisters.
How would such love be manifest? What would be so distinctive, so different, about their love for one another that others would see in it clear evidence of true Christianity?
“As I Have Loved You”
“You must love your fellow as yourself,” stated God’s Law to Israel more than 1,500 years before Jesus lived on earth. (Lev. 19:18) Such love of neighbor, though, was not the kind of love that would distinguish Jesus’ followers. Jesus had in mind a love that would go far beyond loving others as yourself.
The command to love one another was, as Jesus said, “a new commandment.” New, not because it was more recent than the Mosaic Law, but new in the extent to which the love was to be carried out. Love one another “as I have loved you,” explained Jesus. (John 13:34) His love for his disciples was strong, constant. It was a self-sacrificing love. He demonstrated it by doing more than just a few good deeds for them. He fed them spiritually and, when necessary, cared for their physical needs. (Matt. 15:32-38; Mark 6:30-34) And in ultimate proof of his love, he gave his life for them.—John 15:13.
Such is the outstanding kind of love that the “new commandment” calls for, the love that Jesus’ true followers would have for one another. (1 John 3:16) Who today give clear proof of obeying the “new commandment”? The evidence presented earlier in this publication unequivocally points to one worldwide association of Christians.
They are known, not by a peculiar form of dress or some unusual customs, but by the strong and warm attachment that they have to one another. They have a reputation for demonstrating a love that surmounts racial differences and national boundaries. They are known for refusing to fight against one another even when the nations in which they live go to war. Others have been impressed at how they reach out to one another in times of adversity, such as when natural disasters strike or when some members of their brotherhood are persecuted for maintaining integrity to God. They are ready to endure hardship or encounter danger to help their brothers and sisters for whom Christ laid down his life. And, yes, they are willing to die for one another. The love that they demonstrate is unique in a world of increasing selfishness. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses.a
An example of such love in action was seen following Hurricane Andrew, which hit the coast of Florida, U.S.A., in the early morning hours of Monday, August 24, 1992. In its wake some 250,000 people were left homeless. Among the victims were thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Almost immediately the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses acted by appointing a relief committee and arranging to make relief funds available. Christian overseers in the stricken area quickly contacted individual Witnesses to assess their needs and render assistance. Already on Monday morning, the day of the storm, Witnesses in South Carolina, hundreds of miles away, dispatched to the disaster area a truck loaded with generators, chain saws, and drinking water. On Tuesday, along with more supplies that had been donated, hundreds of out-of-town volunteers arrived to assist the local brothers in repairing Kingdom Halls and private homes. Regarding the relief efforts, a non-Witness woman who lived near a Kingdom Hall remarked: “This truly has to be the Christian love the Bible speaks of.”
Would such love subside after one or two acts of kindness? Would it be directed only toward people of the same race or nationality? Certainly not! As a result of unstable political and economic conditions in Zaire, during 1992 over 1,200 Witnesses there lost their homes and all their belongings. Other Witnesses in Zaire quickly came to their aid. Even though hard-pressed themselves, they also shared with refugees that came into Zaire from Sudan. Soon, relief supplies arrived from South Africa and France; these included cornmeal, salted fish, and medical supplies—items that they could really use. Again and again, help was provided, as conditions required. And while this was going on, similar help was being provided in many other lands.
Yet, their having such love does not make Jehovah’s Witnesses complacent. They realize that, as followers of Jesus Christ, they must continue to keep on the watch.
a See Chapter 19, “Growing Together in Love.”
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What sort of love did Jesus say would clearly identify his true followers?
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They would be a close-knit, worldwide brotherhood
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“Witnesses Care for Their Own—And Others”
Under that heading, “The Miami Herald” reported on the relief efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses in South Florida following the devastation caused by Hurricane Andrew in August 1992. The article stated: “No one in Homestead is slamming doors on the Jehovah’s Witnesses this week—even if they still have doors to slam. About 3,000 Witness volunteers from across the country have converged on the disaster area, first to help their own, then to help others. . . . About 150 tons of food and supplies have funneled through a command post at the Assembly Hall in western Broward County to two Kingdom Halls in the Homestead area. From the halls, crews fan out each morning to repair the battered homes of Witness brethren. . . . A field kitchen churns out meals for up to 1,500 persons, three times a day. And it’s not just hot dogs and doughnuts. Volunteers are treated to home-baked bread, lasagna from scratch, tossed salads, stew, flapjacks and French toast—all from donated ingredients.”—August 31, 1992, page 15A.