DNA: Called To Care For One Another

(John 13:34-35)

February 11, 2024

Show of hands, how many of you know the name Tertullian?


It’s not a real popular name, it’s not like everybody names their first born son after him.

Tertullian lived and ministered in the early years of the third century AD.

He was one of the greatest of the early church fathers and was actually the first man to use the word “Trinity” to describe the nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

He lived and wrote at a time when opposition to Christianity and the Church was intensifying.

Although Tertullian was an apologist, which is to say he devoted himself to defining and defending the Christian faith against its critics, he was quick to point out that it wasn’t any particular theological or philosophical argument that would ultimately persuade pagans of the truth about Jesus.

Rather it was the seemingly inexplicable love that Christians had one for another that initially baffled and finally captivated non-Christians.

In one memorable statement, Tertullian said this:

“It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. ‘See,’ they say, “[see] how they love one another, . . . How they are ready even to die for one another!’ No tragedy causes trouble in our brotherhood, [and] the family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bonds among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us [except] our wives[1]. (Apologeticus 39).

Can we with honesty say the same thing today?

I wish we could, but I doubt it.

I don’t think our love for one another has quite the effect on the non-Christian world today as did the love that Christians had for one another in the time when Tertullian lived. And that is profoundly sad.

Today we come to one of the most famous declarations ever to have come from the lips of Jesus.

And yet, despite its fame, despite the ease with which most people can recite from memory such words, I wonder how faithful we have been in putting it into practice.

I’m talking about John 13:34-35.

Before we dive into this I want you to notice something Jesus says.

Our responsibility to love one another is a “commandment,” not a suggestion or good advice or one among many options from which you can choose.

Jesus is commanding us to do something.

We are subject to the authority of Jesus Christ.

We are not the masters of our own lives.

We are not free to live however we please.

In fact, he will later declare that obedience is how it is known if one genuinely believes in Jesus and truly loves Jesus:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

So, if you bristle at the idea that Christians are saved by grace but still must obey the commandments of Christ, this passage in John 13 will bug you.

Of course, Jesus isn’t saying that by keeping his commands you receive salvation.

He’s saying that if you have received his salvation, you will keep his commands!

Jesus calls us to a life that values others, serves others, and loves others.

Not only does he call us to live this way, he modeled it for us.

Yet many Christians fail to actually live this way and look no different from the world around them.

And I believe the meaning of John 13:34-35 is a powerful reminder and challenge to follow the example of Christ.

John 13:34-35

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”


Fellowship with one another is the natural result of a healthy relationship with Jesus.

It follows that, in the church, every Christian is


In John 13 Jesus is getting increasingly closer to the cross; his time is coming and things are intensifying.

In the verses prior Jesus is sharing a meal with his disciples.

He’s once again predicting his death and Judas’ betrayal.

In John 13:30 Judas leaves to go betray Jesus.

Now Jesus shifts gears; he begins to explain to the remaining disciples what he expects during his absence.

The disciples don’t really understand the gravity of the moment.

But in the coming days they will begin to understand exactly what Jesus came to do and how everything is about to change.

And the meaning of John 13:34-35 will take on a whole new life for them.

These words that Jesus says should carry with them some weight.

We should lean in on what he’s saying because it’s important that we understand AND live out this command.

To help us better understand the John 13:34-35 meaning we are going to break down these two verses to see what they can teach us today.


The commandment of God that his people are to love one another is not new.

Everyone in that day was familiar with Leviticus 19:17-18. There God spoke to the children of Israel and said: 17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. 18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

The Old Testament Law carries a similar heart, but what’s new is that Jesus is about to up the requirement.

And He’s going to do so by leading by example.

Clearly the “newness” of the command to love isn’t in the command itself.

It is instead in the pattern or standard or model of our love for one another.

It is the “way” in which we are to love that is different due to the coming of Jesus Christ.

Never in the history of mankind had God appeared in human flesh and demonstrated his love for sinful and broken people by sacrificing himself on a cross so that they might live forever.

Love may well have been required prior to the coming of Christ.

But love to the degree and in the same fashion as was seen in the self-sacrifice of Jesus for his church is altogether new.

Quite simply it has changed loving forever.

Jesus is introducing us to a new way of living and entering into what God has for us.

So, what is this new command?


Love one another as I have loved you…

Love is something John talks a lot about in his Gospel, especially at the end.

The Greek words for “love” appear only 11 times in John 1-12, but in chapters 13-21 we find them 43 times.[2]

The specific words Jesus uses in our verses this morning are the Greek words ἀγάπη and ἀγαπάω.

Both of these words, according to the Greek New Testament, pertain to Christian love.

ἀγαπάω means to show or prove one’s love; to place first in ones affections.

ἀγάπη means to show concern or interest.

For John, ἀγάπη is the principle of the world of Christ which is being built up in the cosmic crisis of the present.[3]

This isn’t any kind of love; Jesus tells us we are to love as he loved.

Remember he’s about to go to the cross, the greatest act of love.

And it’s to this extent that we are to love those around us.

Jesus displayed his love for us by going to the cross.

Therefore we are to love those around us with the same sacrificial love.

That is being called to care for one another, through our love for each other.

Today Christians are known for a lot of things.

But our love is not normally at the top of the list, unfortunately.

But the meaning of John 13:34-35 challenges this.

It’s our sacrificial love that should be the distinguishing characteristic for followers of Jesus.

Let’s just pause and reflect on this question for just a moment: What is love?

Love is being willing to confront the hard things and heart issues in order see that person restored back into a right relationship with God and others!

We follow a God that gave up his life, not because we deserved it, but because we needed it.

But today many of his followers would rather give people what they deserve.

We’ve got some work to do.

I’ve got some work to do in that area myself.

If you are a follower of Jesus then people should be able to look at how you love and know who you follow.

We love because we were first loved.

So, the logical question we need to ask is, HOW DID JESUS LOVE HIS DISCIPLES?

First, he loves his own by SPENDING TIME WITH THEM.

Quality time is one of the five love languages.

Jesus spent a ton of quality time with His disciples.

Jesus has spent three years with these men, and he is now just hours from the end of this life on earth with these friends.

In spite of knowing that Peter — one of his closest companions — would deny him, Judas would betray him, and Thomas would doubt him, Jesus drew them all close with his words and bared his heart.

It’s possible to put on an act in public and fool some.

But you and I know we can’t fool our friends, at least not for any length of time.

The twelve knew him the best.

They had ministered together, shared all their meals, slept side by side, and suffered the hardships of traveling together.

A person’s real character comes out in those circumstances.

What had the disciples seen of Jesus’ character, what had they observed over the three years?

They had heard him preach and teach from Sidon to Jericho, had seen the miracles, the feeding of the multitudes; they had seen him walk on water, speak to the elements and watch them come under his control; he demonstrated again and again that he was the Lord over all creation.

They knew what it was like to work all day together in the heat of the Middle-Eastern sun, and then for Jesus to stay up all night praying.

Some of them had seen Jesus transformed in a marvelous and supernatural way.

They had seen visitations from historic (dead) people.

They had heard Jesus defend his Messiahship and dumbfound the most brilliant minds of Israel.

Jesus, out of his love for them, spent time with them, teaching them who he was.

See if you can relate to this next one: he loves his own by BEARING PATIENTLY WITH THEIR STRUGGLES AND STUMBLES AND STUPID RESPONSES.

Not one among the twelve was ready or prepared for leadership when he called them.

But Jesus was committed to helping them grow up spiritually.

He didn’t let his own frustration with their immaturity undermine his determination to love them well.

At one point several of them got into an argument about which of them was the greatest (Luke 9:46).

Instead of taking their cues from Jesus and learning from his humility, they became competitive and played the game of one-upmanship, arguing about who was more important and who would sit closer to Jesus in the coming kingdom.

Listen to what Jesus said in response in Luke 9:48, Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

On another occasion, after Jesus had been rejected by the Samarians, James and John asked Jesus in Luke 9:54, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”

Jesus was disappointed by their immaturity and probably more than a little offended.

The text says that “he turned and rebuked them” (9:55).

But his “rebuke” was motivated by love and a desire that they learn from their mistakes.

He didn’t kick James and John out of the twelve and start looking for their replacements.

His love for them was incredibly patient.

And who can count the number of times that Peter said something ill-timed, or downright stupid?

I identify with Peter a lot, I have what Peter had, foot in mouth disease, sometimes.

Add to this the fact that Peter would deny him three times and the others would run away scared when he needed them most, and you can get a sense for the depth of Christ’s love for them.

He didn’t love them because of their flawless behavior, his love was to draw them out of their flawed behavior.

Finally, he loves his own by TEACHING THEM THE TRUTH

Even when it might be hard to grasp or be offensive to their sensibilities, Jesus taught truth.

He never hid things from them but clearly instructed them on what being his followers entailed: persecution, slander, imprisonment, rejection, perhaps even martyrdom.

Our world today has a terrible problem with love.

They think they know what it means.

It seems as though our culture has hijacked the definition of love.

The idea of love is that you never do or say anything that might be upsetting or offensive to another person.

You never do or say anything that might get in the way of them expressing their own personal desires in however they choose.

To love someone is to affirm and approve whatever it is that they believe about themselves or choose to do with their bodies or their money or their lives as a whole.

In our world today it is virtually impossible to say, “You are wrong, but you are loved.”

To tell someone they are wrong, they are misguided, they are in danger, they are in the process of destroying their lives both for now and for eternity, is to hate them.

To love them is to give them unqualified, unconditional approval and affirmation.

Jesus never did that.

He always spoke and acted with the best interests of his people in mind.

And often those best interests are served only by his speaking harsh things, things we prefer not to hear, things like:

John 3:3, Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.

John 3:18, Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

John 3:36, Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, [now that sounds very loving; but Jesus doesn’t stop there; he goes on to say]; but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Let’s step outside of John for one of the most disturbing and sobering passages of Scripture.

Matthew 7:21-23, 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

True love is teaching people truth through a Biblical Worldview.

Really this command is simple.

It’s really easy to understand.

But man is it hard to live out.

Loving people is hard.

They are difficult and messy.

But let’s not forget… we are too.

And despite our own brokenness Jesus still loved us and went to the cross for us.

When we love people, particularly difficult and messy people, we are showing those around us that the love of Christ is in us.

It’s how we set ourselves apart from the world.

If you love one another the world will know that you follow Jesus.

I want to end by looking at 3 practical ways you can love one another as Jesus loved you.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it is a way that the world will start knowing you by your love.


When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was he gave two: love God and love others.

There’s a reason Jesus listed love God first.

You cannot give away what you don’t have.

If we want to love those around us then we need to first understand the love that God has for us.

Our love for God is shown by how we love those around us.

And if you want to live out the meaning of John 13:34-35 then you need to live in God’s grace.

You need to understand what God has done for you so that you can do the same for others.


Maybe the primary way to live out the meaning of John 13:34-35 is to serve.

If we want our love to be visible then we have to serve people.

We have to place others over ourselves.

If Christians stay centered on themselves and their own needs they will leave Jesus behind.

They will miss out on the incredible life that God has and will fail to make any meaningful impact.

The heart of the Gospel centers around service.

If you want to live out this verse seek ways you can serve the people around you.

It doesn’t have to be something huge; often small gestures make big impacts.

In a world that is increasingly self-centered a selfless people will stand out.

Some ways you can live this out at MACC:

  • Haiti Meal Pack
  • Thanksgiving Bag Giveaway
  • Christmas Eve Dinner
  • Mission Macomb
  • Meal Ministry (from hospitals)
  • Funeral Dinners
  • Prayer Team
  • Prayer Chain

How is God calling you to care for one another?

[1] Tertulian, Apologeticus chp. 39.

[2] Goodrich & Kohlenberger, NIV Exhaustive Concordance,

[3] Quell, G., & Stauffer, E. (1964–). ἀγαπάω, ἀγάπη, ἀγαπητός. G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 1, p. 52). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

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