Fulfilling the New Commandment of Love
“I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”—John 13:34.
1. According to the apostle Paul’s argument, what kind of love did God express in providing the ransom?
THE basis for God’s greatest gift to mankind was principled love, not affection. This is what the apostle Paul argues at Romans 5:7-10, saying: “For hardly will anyone die for a righteous man; indeed, for the good man, perhaps, someone even dares to die. But God recommends his own love [agápe] to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For if, when we were enemies [not friends], we became reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, now that we have become reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” No, it was not fondness that Jehovah God expressed for imperfect, sinful mankind by the gift of his Son. What qualities did they have for which to feel fondness? But he did exercise love, a principled, unselfish interest in their welfare and their needs. He provided their paramount need, the means by which they could gain reconciliation with him, the Fountain of life, by his Son’s ransom sacrifice.
2, 3. (a) Why is such principled love needed to carry out the command at Matthew 24:14, and how do Jehovah’s witnesses manifest that love? (b) How did Jesus differ from modern philanthropists?
2 Our being Christian followers of God’s Son requires that kind of love today. Without it Jesus’ prophecy, that “this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations” before the end of this system of things, would never be accomplished. He warned the bearers of this good news that “people will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.”—Matt. 24:9, 14.
3 Today in 194 lands and islands Jehovah’s witnesses are bearing the good news of the Kingdom and are doing it out of unselfish love. What else could keep them going to the people in their cities, towns and villages, using their time and energy, and yet in so many homes being met with rebuffs or abuses? They do not have the easy way of modern philanthropists who pave their path into a place of affection with the people by gifts of money, food or works that appeal to the people’s human fleshly interests. True, on two occasions Christ Jesus did cause food to be miraculously multiplied for the benefit of crowds who had come a long distance to hear him. But he made no practice of this and showed he wanted no “rice Christians” among his followers. To a crowd of such ones he said: “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate from the loaves and were satisfied. Work, not for the food that perishes, but for the food that remains for life everlasting, which the Son of man will give you.” He then went on to speak strong truths that many found “shocking,” with the result that “many of his disciples went off to the things behind and would no longer walk with him.” They loved the bread that perishes, but not the truth, which “remains for life everlasting.”—John 6:25-27, 60, 66.
4, 5. What shows that Jesus was not referring to a general love of neighbor when he gave his new commandment of love?
4 Others of his disciples stayed with him to the end of his ministry. On his last night with them he said: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) How can it be said that this was a “new commandment”?
5 The Law given to Israel through Moses some fifteen centuries before had stated: “You must love your fellow as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) Though the history of that nation showed they had failed miserably in carrying out this law, still it had been there in their law code all during those centuries. So mere neighbor love was certainly not a new commandment. Jesus quoted this law when answering an inquiring Jewish Law expert who asked him to state the Law’s greatest commandment. Jesus replied: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.’ The second is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:29-31) Even though that law covenant with Israel was fulfilled and moved out of the way following Jesus’ death and the institution of a new covenant, still the principles of these two great commandments carried right over to the newly established Christian congregation. (Rom. 12:1, 2; 13:8-10; Jas. 2:8) To understand what Jesus’ new commandment meant we would do well to see first what these prior commandments required.
MIND, HEART, SOUL AND STRENGTH
6. What does love of God with our whole mind require of us?
6 How all-embracing to say that we must love Jehovah with our whole mind, heart, soul and strength! (Mark 12:30; Matt. 22:37) The mind is the seat of intelligence, and to love God with our whole mind would certainly require our using all our intelligence to learn about our Creator and his purposes and principles, and then intelligently applying this knowledge in all things of life in harmony with his will. This could never be done with a ritualistic way of life, going through routine ceremonies or the repetition of prayers and praises learned by memory, things that require no more exercise of intelligence than a mere child might use. Surely the All-wise God who made this vast and marvelous universe with all its grandeur and variety could never accept such a stunted expression as worthy of being called true love for him. Love for God with the whole mind calls for being “transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”—Rom. 12:2.
7. Will mental acceptance of our obligation to serve God and our obedience on that basis be sufficient to demonstrate true love for him? Why?
7 The heart is an expressive unselfish, altruistic quality of an individual, the powerhouse of one’s affection and motives, of conscience and moral conduct. Our loving God with the whole heart will never allow us to give obedience and service to him merely because of a feeling of obligation or necessity to do what pleases him. A halfhearted expression like that would show one was interested in but one thing: getting benefits from God, much like the man who works for another with sole interest in the wages he will receive. The one who loves Jehovah God with his whole heart will do his Creator’s will, not only because he knows that he should do so and that his very life depends on his doing so, but also because he wants to do so, he longs to do so. Strong heart affection motivates him to please his heavenly Father.—1 John 5:3.
8. How can we love God ‘with our whole soul’?
8 To love God with your whole soul is equivalent to saying you are to love him with your very life as an intelligent creature. This certainly eliminates being a mere Sabbath-worshiper, a one-day-a-week lover of God, or one who worships God just at stated times during the year. Life and time are inseparable for us; while we live we have time at our disposal and, when we die, time has run out for us, at least until such time as our heavenly Father may see fit to awaken us to life again by a resurrection. If we love God with our whole soul, then our entire life will revolve around the doing of his will. We will not think we can reserve the first half for ourselves and give the second half, our old age, to him.—Eccl. 12:1.
9, 10. (a) Can we love Jehovah God with our “whole strength” and still work for our physical necessities or those of our family? How? (b) Why is genuine love for God such an intimate expression?
9 Our whole strength used to love God will mean an energetic service to him, real effort put forth to do his good pleasure. While strength may properly be employed in earning a living, in caring for a home, or even in occasional recreation, yet Jehovah God will always have prior claim to our vital forces. Writing to persons who had already dedicated their lives to God, the apostle said: “I entreat you by the compassions of God, brothers, to present your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason.” Is it not only reasonable that, since Jehovah “makes all his works co-operate together for the good of those who love God,” we should try to make all our works cooperate to his praise and to the good of all others who love him?—Rom. 12:1; 8:28.
10 What could be more intimate than this love that the Bible says we must have for God? We may discuss the part the mind, the heart, the soul and the strength play separately in expressing it, yet in reality they must all be combined for it to be genuine. It involves the whole of us, with nothing left out.
LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR AS OURSELVES
11. In what ways can we ‘love our neighbor as ourselves’?
11 Jesus said we must love our neighbor, not instead of ourselves, but as ourselves, doing for him what we would want him to do for us. We do not expect, nor would we want, others to provide us with all needed things with no effort on our part. Life would be robbed of most of its interest if others waited on us hand and foot. But we do appreciate generosity, a sharing of good things, not merely physical, material things, but even more so those things that satisfy our mental and spiritual needs, stimulating conversation, upbuilding words of encouragement. We appreciate protection from harm, or warnings when we are unaware of danger, guidance when we are in doubt, counsel when we are confused. But we also appreciate it when others do not deprive us of our right to make our own final decisions or exercise our own judgment in personal matters when we have the facts at hand. We would not want others to interfere with our property rights by theft or misuse of the things we own, and even more so would we not want their selfishly coming between us and those whom we love: marriage mate, family members or friends. We want all these things and privileges for ourselves. We should also want our neighbor to enjoy similar things, and we should do what we can to see that he does. As Jesus put it, “this, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.”—Matt. 7:12.
THE NEW COMMANDMENT
12, 13. (a) Jesus’ new commandment of love meant to express it in what special way? (b) How did Jesus show extraordinary love during his missionary work on earth?
12 Since for centuries the Law and the Prophets had urged this love of neighbor in the sense of having a general regard for his well-being, then Jesus must have meant something else when he told his disciples that he was giving them a “new commandment.” What? His words tell us: to love one another “just as I have loved you.” Even they did not fully appreciate just how much that meant, but they soon learned.—John 13:34.
13 As his disciples later understood, Jesus had left his home to be with them, yes, left his Father, his brothers, his closest associates and warmest friends, and all his possessions and privileges. These were all in the heavenly realm from which he had come on a missionary assignment by giving up his spirit life as the “Word of God” and being born as a human in a common stable. (John 1:14; Luke 2:7) It was indeed a drastic change, vastly greater than one could experience by leaving the most progressive, most prosperous country today and then going into the most backward, most poverty-stricken land on earth. But his love did not culminate there; that was just the beginning. Though he became a perfect man, sinless, superior in every respect to those around him, he lived and worked, ate, drank and slept among people who were imperfect, sinful, sick and dying. If the first thirty years of his life could be called “normal,” the last three and a half years certainly could not. He had loved his neighbors as himself for all those years, but now he loved them in a unique way. From one end of Palestine to the other he tirelessly taught them and poured out his strength on their behalf and on behalf of the truth about his Father’s purposes. When not teaching the public, he was training his disciples; though at times the flow of people to him was such that “it was not convenient even to eat a meal.”—Mark 6:31.
14. What shows that Jesus did not advocate the ascetic way of life even though he was self-sacrificing?
14 Asceticism? Not at all. He accepted many invitations to meals and even banquets, as well as at least one wedding, and he doubtless enjoyed himself. He appreciated good things done for him. When he was having a meal with his friend Lazarus, Lazarus’ sister Mary used about $50 worth of costly oil to anoint his feet. Judas expressed indignation and professed loving concern for the poor who could have benefited by the sale of the oil. But Jesus told him: “Let her alone, that she may keep this observance in view of the day of my burial. For you have the poor always with you, but me you will not have always.” (John 12:1-8) But whether his unselfish love expressed in his ministry incited others to respond with love or not, Jesus’ own love continued undiminished.
15. (a) How did Jesus emphasize the need for love to his disciples? (b) The new commandment called for them to love whom, and on what basis?
15 Do we wonder, then, that on his final night with his disciples he laid such stress on love, genuine principled love? Over thirty times he spoke of love and loving, and three times he repeated the command that they “love one another.” (John 13:34; 15:12, 17) How could they possibly prove themselves his disciples if they lacked such love? Was his command that they ‘love their neighbor as themselves’? They should and did, but this was not the new commandment. They were to love one another, to have love among themselves as Christian disciples, and a love like what Jesus had shown for them as beloved disciples, men who loved his Father, who loved the truth, and who loved him. He told them: “No one has love [agápe] greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends. You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you.” (John 15:13, 14) The next morning they knew what he meant.
16. (a) How did Jesus show superlative love for his friends? (b) What words should his disciples have then remembered?
16 One of them may have seen it, if only from a distance, whereas we can only imagine it: his hands being held, one upon the other, until the spike punctured and tore through the flesh to imbed itself in the wood. The red of his blood beginning to stain his hands when another spike was driven through his feet. Then the stake being swung upright until his whole weight hung on these two points. Six hours later he was dead and thus was spared from having his legs brutally broken. If his disciples did not all see it, they soon heard about it from those who had. (John 19:25-27) Would they be ashamed of him? Would they want to deny that they had followed this man, believed his teachings, believed that he was God’s chosen one to rule in His kingdom? Peter at least should have remembered what Jesus told them after rebuking Peter for his sentimental objections to predictions of these very things. “If anyone wants to come after me,” Jesus said, “let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and follow me continually. For whoever wants to save his soul will lose it; but whoever loses his soul for the sake of me and the good news will save it. . . . For whoever becomes ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him when he arrives in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”—Mark 8:34-38.
17, 18. (a) What loving purposes did Jesus accomplish by his death? (b) Into what wonderful relationship may we now enter, and how?
17 By his death Jesus accomplished his primary purpose in coming to earth: to vindicate his Father’s beloved name. (John 17:6; 18:37) He also provided a ransom for all of mankind who would accept it and to whom he would be able to say: “You are my friends [because] you do what I am commanding you.” (John 15:14) He gained the right to serve as king of a new capital government with its throne in the heavens and serve on behalf of his followers as God’s high priest, “not one who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in all respects like ourselves, but without sin.”—Heb. 4:15.
18 Forty days after his resurrection Jesus went home again to the heavenly realm, but he has never forgotten this missionary assignment where he served for thirty-three and a half years. Today he rules as king toward this earth in his established kingdom, and we can even now enjoy his love and affection and that of his Father, Jehovah God, if we too prove ourselves his disciples. It will take love on our part.—Matt. 25:31-40; John 15:7-10.
19. (a) What quality have people around the world noted as manifest among Jehovah’s witnesses, and why is it unusual? (b) Why does true love oblige them to lead lives that many view as not “normal”?
19 Jesus’ faithful disciples fulfilled the new commandment, and today the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses is sincerely endeavoring to fulfill it also. Their assemblies, national and international, have put them before the public eye, even as their house-to-house activity has brought them in contact with individual families in millions of homes around the globe. Their strong love for God, for neighbor, and for one another has been commented on in newspapers, by radio, and in newsreels in many nations. International frictions, national factions, racial differences are unable to break their bond of love. Persecution and reproach have not embittered them. (1 Cor. 13:6, 7) To many the life they lead may not seem to he “normal” as they regularly attend their congregational meetings three times each week and employ much of their free time on weekends and evenings in Bible instruction work. But Jehovah’s witnesses know that today’s world is not a “normal” world nor are these “normal” times. The unmistakable fulfillment of Bible prophecies, marking this as the most unusual and significant time of earth’s history, provides factors that true love will not ignore. Yes, today, with Armageddon staring us in the face, we must keep in mind the sobering thought that millions, even billions, of lives may shortly come to a swift and decisive end, putting their onetime owners beyond the reach of any expression of love on our part.—Matt. 24:34-42.
20. (a) As regards such “normal” living, what does the new commandment of love require of each of us? (b) Why is it so vital to learn and develop genuine love now?
20 What about us as individuals? Will we individually fulfill the commandment: “Love one another . . . just as I have loved you”? Are we willing to sacrifice what the world calls a “normal” life to devote ourselves to helping our brothers and interested persons who show love for righteousness to gain life everlasting, even risking or losing our own lives on their behalf? Every day some of Jehovah’s witnesses are doing just that, behind the Iron Curtain and elsewhere. Why not? “By this we have come to know love, because that one surrendered his soul for us; and we are under obligation to surrender our souls for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16) We need to learn true love now and learn it well so that in future trials, tempting situations, hard decisions, love will prompt us to do the right thing and to endure. Then, even though the world may try to play on our emotions, stir up sentiment, or blind us to principles and the true life interests of others, we will see clearly what is the loving thing to do.—Jas. 1:12; 1 John 4:17, 18.
21. With God’s new order at hand, of what prospects does true love assure us, and what should we be stimulated to do?
21 God’s new order is at hand and in it his earthly subjects will, by love, produce achievements a thousand times more wonderful than anything selfishness has ever done in this present order. They will make this earth not only a literal paradise but also a spiritual one, filled with the fruitage of God’s spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness and self-control. With your life interests at heart our prayer is “that your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment; that you may make sure of the more important things, so that you may be flawless and not be stumbling others up to the day of Christ, and may be filled with righteous fruit, which is through Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise.”—Phil. 1:9-11.