The new commandment: To love as Jesus loved
Every time I came across the “new commandment” Christ Jesus gave his followers, “that ye love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34), I would groan because I felt not only incapable of doing so but unwilling. Although I desperately wanted to be obedient and love more, I just couldn’t summon up the love I thought I was supposed to feel for others. So, I prayed for God to help me understand how to love more fully and purely.
What came to me was that love isn’t an emotion or a feeling. The Bible clearly states that “God is love” (I John 4:16). So love is not a person and is not dependent on a person to call it forth; Love is God. The Bible also declares that we are God’s offspring and that everything comes from Him, so real love comes directly from God to each of us.
A passage in Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896 by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, helped me see that I must already have the God-bestowed capacity to love. In fact, I couldn’t not have it. She writes, “That man can break the forever-law of infinite Love, was, and is, the serpent’s biggest lie! . . .” (p. 123). This meant that Love is the law of God, a law that I was unable to break. This epiphany was huge!
Still, I needed to grapple with the question that if love isn’t an emotion or feeling, how is it expressed? Our love for others can be seen as our recognition that each individual comes from God and has the mind that was in Christ Jesus—that they reflect the divine Mind, God. This recognition of all individuals as God’s children was the way Jesus, who most perfectly exemplified the expression of God’s love, identified those he healed.
For example, when Jesus healed a man of palsy, he said to him, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matthew 9:2). The way Jesus used the word son really touched me. It was so comforting and gentle, and I realized that Jesus must have been speaking to this man the way he’d heard God speak to him. Jesus was identifying the man as a son of God. Then he healed him.
Another time, Jesus encountered a woman who reached out in faith to touch his clothing, hoping to be healed. The account continues: “Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour” (Matthew 9:22). Jesus had spoken to her in the same manner, identifying her as a daughter of God. Here were two individuals in desperate need, reaching out for help. One can only imagine what it must have felt like to be addressed in this fashion, especially for those who were already ostracized by society because of their afflictions.
What a difference I saw in those around me.
Jesus must have known something of the magnitude of receiving that recognition, since he’d heard it himself from God after he was baptized: “And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). How comforting this message must have been later, in his most difficult hours. He needed to hear this at the beginning of his holy ministry because it was going to sustain him in the trials he would face. And now he was addressing those he healed in the same way, showing he didn’t have an exclusive right to the title of son or daughter of God.
To become aware of this truth, that all are precious to God, is to love divinely in the way Christ Jesus taught when he said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).
In what way was this new commandment different from what Jesus identified as “the first and great commandment”: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37, 38)? The first, great commandment and the second, described by Jesus as “like unto it,” “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (verse 39), taught us whom to love—God and our neighbor—but the new commandment taught how to love: We love divinely, as God loves—the way of loving that Jesus exemplified. This means we recognize the value, worth, and goodness that God sees as the spiritual identity of every one of His children.
In this sense of all being equal sons and daughters of God, I saw that I could recognize everyone I came in contact with as having the same spiritual status and standing with the Father that Jesus demonstrated, because God loves everyone as His child, just as He loved Jesus.
As I began to test this insight, the effect was immediate. What a difference I saw in those around me. It helped me understand that love isn’t a feeling but a realization of God’s holy, good creation. Loving others in this way was something I could do consistently. Recognizing the value, worth, and goodness of each person—even in small ways and even if they were strangers—brought amazing results.
For instance, someone who had for years seemed to be cold and indifferent to me no matter what I did suddenly invited me to get together with her. In a short time, we became close friends. This occurred when I determined to identify her correctly as the beloved daughter of God. I realized that the good qualities she possessed, such as dedication and creativity, were not personally hers but came from God and reflected divine Love. This was wonderful evidence to me that loving divinely is the spiritual basis for love and brings transformation and healing.
Now I saw tenderness instead of harshness, intelligence instead of ignorance, and innocence instead of corruption in my fellow men and women. My perspective had dramatically changed. The added blessing was that along with this recognition came the tender love for others that I had longed to feel for so long.
My whole world looked brighter, and I felt freer.
I knew I was making progress when I noticed how my reaction to rejection had changed. I had gone out of my way during a busy workweek to help someone with a writing project. Although I was busy with my own work, I took the time to write up an extensive outline that could work. This was flatly rejected. Yet, I was able to hold to the Christly standard Jesus exemplified and let it go without resentment. No hurt or hard feelings took root in my heart or mind. I also learned to love more wisely and not be impetuous in my giving.
Loving divinely is not an abstraction. It’s a crucial step in following Jesus in the way he mapped out. And he told us that loving divinely was what would define us as his followers when he said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
When we learn to love in this way, new vistas of Love open up. We will find fresh inspiration on what it means to love divinely. Where before I had been seeing tired and discouraged humanity, I was now seeing enthusiastic, happy, helpful individuals showing consideration and friendship for one another. My whole world looked brighter, and I felt freer. More importantly, I finally felt I was being obedient to God’s demand to love, genuinely and sincerely. Now instead of trying to summon up love, I feel God’s love flowing through me to the whole world.
Looking for deeper, higher ways to obey the new commandment is a blessing. God’s law of love obeyed and cherished will continually unfold new views of God’s heavenly kingdom come on earth.