John 13:34

By Ian Potts


"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." John 13:34-35

At the commencement of the Gospel of John the Lord Jesus Christ is introduced as the Word of God, He who is life, who is the light of men, which shineth in darkness “and the darkness comprehended it not”. He was sent unto His own, the Jews, but His own received him not.

Despite all the religion which the Jews had - the priesthood, the law, the tabernacle, the promises - they are still depicted in John chapter one as being in darkness when Christ came into the world, and they received not Him who is the light of men. That’s where their enlightenment in religion and in the law of Moses brought them – into darkness.

But Christ is LIGHT. The Gospel of John sets forth Christ as light. It is a book about light and about life – eternal life.

Christ is described as being full of grace and truth. This is contrasted with the law and Moses in John 1:17: “For the law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”. Clearly there is light in Christ which wasn’t revealed in the law. Though there was a glory to the law, it was veiled compared to the light in Christ; compared to the glory which excelleth, which is revealed in the Gospel, the law is but a shadow - like a candle held up to the light of the sun it is but darkness.

This point is picked up on in John 14 verse 6 which reads, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me”. Again we see here that Christ is “the life”. He is the Word of God and His words are life as we read in John 6:63:

“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”  

We can see from this that there is something different about Christ’s words, His commandments. They are life and they are life-giving commandments. They are attended with power. Why? Because of who Christ is – The Son of the Living God.

In John chapter 14 Christ demonstrates how He is the revelation of the Father, that He and His Father are one. That he who believes on Christ believes on the Father, and he who rejects Him rejects the Father. The Father is glorified in the Son, 14:13.

In verses 16-19 Christ talks of sending the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, as He Himself is about to depart from the disciples. It is the Spirit who leads God’s people into truth. So we have here a chapter in which the great truth of One God in Three Persons is set forth.

It is in this context that we read the following:

If ye love me, keep my commandments... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” John 14:15,21

In verse 23 we go on to read “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him”, whereas in verse 24 “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.”

The key to understanding what these commandments, these sayings, are, and what ‘keeping’ them means is picked up in verse 26, where the Comforter’s role is developed:

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

This is the keeping of Christ’s commandments, His sayings. It is to ‘keep’ them in remembrance, to be taught them, to believe them, and consequently to walk in obedience to them. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to teach us these things, to bring them to our remembrance.

The only people who will ‘keep’ Christ’s words, sayings, commandments, are those who have the Spirit sent unto them, who receive from Him FAITH. But not all men do – see verse 17. The Jews who rested in the law and rejected Christ didn’t know the Spirit, or His leading into truth, and they didn’t believe Christ’s words, or receive them, let alone ‘keep’ them.

The end of all these commandments, these words, is that we love God; we love Christ; we dwell in Him. We have eternal life because Christ IS our life. The union of Father, Son and Holy Ghost is set forth in John 14, and our union with God, as those who ‘keep’ (believe, remember, treasure up) Christ’s commandments, words, sayings, is shown forth in the love we have for God and our brethren.

All of these ideas of union, of abiding in Christ, in His love, in His life, in His light, keeping, loving His words, as the words of grace and truth, are developed in chapter 15 where we read of the true vine and the branches. Our life as believers is inextricably linked with Christ’s. We are branches on His vine. We abide in Him and His love, and thus we love His words, His sayings, His commandments - we ‘keep’ them. As it says:-  

As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.”John 15:9-10

So, if we ‘keep’ Christ’s words of grace and truth in our minds and hearts, if we abide in Him, then we shall abide in Christ’s love. There is no other way to remain in His love. And out of love we willingly do all that Christ asks us to. We love His word, we treasure it and we believe it by faith. We walk in faith and faith produces works, “works of faith”. It is all a matter of abiding, of walking in the light, which only those chosen of God, born of the Spirit can do - for they have eternal life.

This is the message of John, that light has shone in the darkness. That Christ is that light, that He has revealed the Father, that to love God we must be in that light, we must partake of that life, we must abide in Christ’s love, we must walk in the Spirit, and believe in Christ by faith. And it is the work of God that we do just that – not of the will of man, but of God.

It is these truths, these sayings, which God’s people believe. That Christ is the light of men. That He is eternal life. That we can only know the Father through the Son. That those who abide in Christ will love the Father. That Jesus has the words of eternal life. These sayings, are at the heart, they are the essence, of the commandments mentioned in the Gospel of John and in the First Epistle of John.

The First Epistle of John commences in a similar way to John’s Gospel. Christ is set forth as the “Word of life”, the “eternal life” which is manifested and the message which John declares in verse 5 is “that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all”. This sets the tone of John’s epistle just as it did in his Gospel. The believer is pictured as one who walks in the light, who abides in Christ, who has the love of God in him and keeps His commandments.

These commandments are mentioned in 1 John 5:3:

"For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.”

Well, what commandments are these? The law? No, for we are dead to the law by the body of Christ (Romans 7). And these commandments are not grievous whereas the commandments of the law were – they were a burden our fathers could not bear. This easy ‘yoke’ of Christ’s commandments is mentioned in Matthew 11:

“All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:27-30

Who are those who are burdened, who are heavy laden? Why, those who were under the law who found it to be hard labour striving to keep all its demands, who found that the sin within them only multiplied under the law and condemned them so that the good that they would they could not do (Romans 7). But Christ calls them to take his yoke which is easy. This is the yoke of His commandments, which unlike the burdensome law, are easy to bear, they are not ‘grievous’ as 1 John 5:3 tells us.

What commandments are these? Well they are mentioned throughout John’s first epistle, but chapter 3:23-24 summarises them as follows:

“And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us”.1 John 3:23-24

The commandments are summarised as to believe on the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ, and to love one another. How can we do that? Only by the work of the Spirit. No one without the work of the Spirit in granting the gift of faith can believe. And no one can love God or their brethren except the Spirit worketh that fruit, that love, within them. But if the Spirit does work, then we willingly believe on Christ, we love Him and our brethren. We dwell in God and He in us. He abides with us by the Spirit. We walk in the light and not in the darkness. We have eternal life. We BELIEVE these things.

All of this is just the same as that taught in John chapters 14 and 15. The connection between abiding in Christ, and being led into truth by the Spirit, and keeping the commandments of believing in Christ, loving Him and the brethren is so strong in all these passages. When we abide in Him, we love Him. These commandments, these words of Christ, are words of life – they result in the things commanded.

None of this has to do with the law. It simply isn’t mentioned, though we see it contrasted in John 1:17. Christ’s commandments of believing in Him (faith) and loving Him and the brethren will certainly lead to a life that fulfils all the demands of the law, but it is in no way a sending of believers back to Moses. For that would be to have the burden we couldn’t bear put back on our shoulders. Those commandments ARE grievous, and they work wrath. As we see in the following verses:

“Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”

“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.” Acts 15:10, 28-29

“For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.”Romans 7:9-11

But Christ’s commandments are not burdensome, for they are in the light, whereas the law never brought light, it left men in darkness. It is under the Gospel, by the Spirit that we have light, we receive eternal life, we abide in the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, and in which we walk by faith, looking unto Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, ‘keeping’, believing, holding onto His words, sayings and commandments, and by which we love God and our brethren.

In John 13:34-35 we read:-

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

A new commandment? Yes, but an old commandment too. Then why a new commandment? Because although Christ’s commandments of faith and love are a fulfilment of the old (the Law) nevertheless they are new, they are not the law, but the Gospel. They are words of life, they are the living word, the ministration of righteousness, whereas the Old Covenant condemned to death, it was a ministration of death. See 2 Corinthians 3.

There is a huge contrast between the commandments in the Law of Moses and those words of life, full of grace and truth, which come from the lips of Jesus. The Law demanded works from man without ever providing the ability to perform those works. All the ability was demanded from man. But man being full of sin just finds that he is utterly incapable of keeping those commandments. Even the believer who loves them and would desire to keep them finds that when he tries, the good that he would he cannot do. The law simply fires up the sin which is in the flesh, and man finds himself completely condemned by the law. See Romans 7.

The words of Christ however are living words. They are “the words of eternal life”. When Christ commands power attends the command, life attends it, ability to do what is requested is provided. When Christ called to dead Lazarus to “Come forth” Lazarus came forth! Nothing was expected of Lazarus – the words provided the life. When Christ commanded the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda to “Rise, take up thy bed and walk” (John 5:8) “immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked” . Such are the commands of Jesus, life-giving commands, which we are called to ‘keep’.

And who do ‘keep’ these commands? Those disciples whom God has called out of this world, quickened by the Spirit, brought to life at the command of Jesus. At the time when many left Jesus he spoke to his disciples as follows:-

“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God .” John 6:67-69

To whom else shall WE go? Christ has the words of eternal life. May God’s people keep these words in faith and love in the power of an endless life.