Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. 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. Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice (Jn. 13:33b–38 KJV).

The words "as I have loved you" stand out when I read this passage. They qualify the meaning of the new commandment that Jesus has given to his disciples: to love one another. Adding "as I have loved you" make this commandment different from the love that is naturally known in every human heart: love for kith and kin; love for those we admire; or love for those who provide for, participate with, or in any way please us. The words "as I have loved you" bring a new, different meaning to the word "love," and we can no longer let those feelings that we formerly called "love" occupy the prime position in our hearts. For what Jesus commands is not a human but a divine love, what Paul describes as the "love that has flooded our inmost heart through the Holy Spirit he [God] has given us (Rom.5:5).

The contrast between the newly commanded love and the old human love is illustrated by Peter who expresses the human love that comes so naturally to us. Frequently in Scripture stories, Peter is the all-too-human foil for the divine man Jesus. In this passage, Peter first reveals his lack of understanding: Where is Jesus going? Why can't he follow Jesus now? Then quick-on-the-heels comes Peter's avowal to the one he loves and admires: "I will lay down my life for thy sake." Immediately Jesus puts this natural, deeply felt but ungrounded, human love in its rightful place: "The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice." Unlike the divine love that Jesus commands, the natural, human love is weak: contingent upon the needs, desires, powers, and fears of our human nature. Jesus commands us to love in a different way, a way which the natural human cannot grasp, cannot follow (33, 36), and so Jesus prepares the place for us (14:2–3).

The divine love that Jesus commands entails self-sacrifice, as does the love with which we're all familiar: our security or comfort gladly forfeited for the loved one's benefit. Peter's claim that he would lay down his life for Jesus's sake shows his willingness to sacrifice. Relying upon his own will, however, to carry through the sacrifice was Peter's error: human motivation rather than adherence to the divine law of love that Jesus commands. Peter's self-reliance on his own will and sentiment is, in fact, a form of self-exaltation, ironically dooming his intent from the outset: rather than sacrificing himself, he exalts himself believing in the strength of his feelings; he places faith in human power. When the cock crew, his crowing self-exaltation fell, along with his bitter tears (Mt. 26:75). Peter typifies each of us when we put our faith in our own power to love others as he loved us.

When Jesus commands his disciples to love one another as he has loved them, it is a command to know God, for it is only in knowing God that we are in unity with him and his love. Our ability to love depends first on knowing God, a dependence that can be seen in the answer given by Jesus when asked by a scribe for the first commandment:

The first of all the commandments is, HEAR, O ISRAEL; THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD: AND THOU SHALT LOVE THE LORD THY GOD WITH ALL THY HEART, AND WITH ALL THY SOUL, AND WITH ALL THY MIND, AND WITH ALL THY STRENGTH: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF (Mk. 12:29-31a).

"The second is like" the first commandment in that both are enacted by the power of God; in his image and likeness we feel and partake of his love for neighbor and for all, ourselves included.  

The power of God's love is unchanging and not contingent upon the nature or behavior of the recipient. Unlike human love, no fear or resentment can impose upon or diminish it. In unity with God, as was Jesus, we too can love others free of the fear that giving our love will result in our loss or destruction.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute you; That ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust (Mt. 5: 43–45).

In knowing God and his love, we feel no such fear of loss from an enemy; our loss has already occurred and is swallowed up in abundant life.    

When Jesus informs the disciples that he will prepare a place for them that they may follow him, he is speaking of the cross. In undergoing the cross, Jesus affirms that obedience to God, though entailing loss or even death, is preferable to all gratification gained through willful aspiration or enjoyed apart from God. In sacrificing himself on the cross in obedience to God's will, Jesus prepares a place for us: he shows the destruction of that which we call most inherent in human nature (knowledge from self) must precede the new heavenly being (wisdom) that will follow.

The new being, Christ, finds more happiness in knowing and obeying God than Adamic man gains through willfulness—or conforming to the will of the group, be it culture, folk,  tribe, or congregation. The abundant joy in knowing God supersedes any sense of well-being known previously, all of which can be cast aside as no longer worthy of our desire. The completion we sought and pursued with such eager determination is now Given. That gift of faith is peerless as the pearl of great price.

All ancient religions see love as essential for happiness; only in Christianity does love become more than a virtue; it becomes a law, a commandment, which Jesus acknowledges, we cannot follow. It is the example that he has set for us that alerts us of something new, prepared, and waiting for us to come into: the knowledge of God and of his love.

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love (1 Jn. 4:7–8).

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Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 13, 2015 at 10:40am

"Love" is not definable as a physical thing (although that was what Jesus and his contemporaries usually meant by the word as a 'commandment', ie that they should treat each other lovingly) nor as an emotion (although that's generally how we recognize it, and it would be a pretty dry thing without such emotion) nor as a thought (though thoughts do influence and are influenced by it.)

There is the kabbalistic idea of 'four worlds' corresponding to the ancient four elements of earth, water, air and fire... We've come to try to express everything in terms of the first, earth or physically-observable things, but there is also the emotional (water) and intellectual (air) -- and love (like truth and beauty)  seems to actually be a thing of that fourth world of 'spirit', 'fire'. So people flail helplessly when they try to define it.

Moderns typically assume that causation proceeds 'upward' from physical phenomena; but the alternative, that spirit is the primary 'force', has got to be the actual case. Friends have been right to emphasize spirit; what I think we've tended to miss is that God is present and active in all elements, so that all are potentially sacred.

You can't command a spiritual 'act'; the Spirit has to make it happen & live.

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 5th mo. 14, 2015 at 8:00am

Thanks for your comment, Forrest. Love is commanded but is not capable of being realized without the knowledge and power of God. This catch-22 is to teach us the hard, humbling lesson we all need to learn, that Paul acknowledged when he heard: My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

Comment by James C Schultz on 5th mo. 14, 2015 at 12:53pm

It helps to think of love as a muscle and acts of love as exercises that improve that muscle.  non-loving acts of either omission or commission on the other hand act as idleness that allows that muscle to atrophy.

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 5th mo. 15, 2015 at 9:35am

Thank you, James. In our humanity, we do need to strive to be loving toward those for whom we have no natural affinity. But the divine love that Christ  commanded his disciples to have for one another can only be given by God whose power it is to make "the creature most like unto himself." The following is Isaac Penington's writing on divine love:

What shall I say of it, or how shall I in words express its nature! It is the sweetness of life; it is the sweet, tender, melting nature of God, flowing up through his seed of life into the creature, and of all things making the creature most like unto himself, both in nature and operation. It fulfils the Law, it fulfils the Gospel; it wraps up all in one, and brings forth all in the oneness. It excludes all evil out of the heart, it perfects all good in the heart. A touch of love doth this in measure; perfect love doth this in fulness. But how can I proceed to speak of it! Oh! that the souls of all that fear and wait on the Lord might feel its nature fully; and then would they not fail of its sweet overcoming operations, both towards one another, and towards enemies. The great healing, the great conquest, the great salvation, is reserved for the full manifestation of the love of God. His judgments, his cuttings, his hewings by the word of his mouth, are but to prepare for, but not to do, the great work of raising up the sweet building of his life; which is to be done in love, and in peace, and by the power thereof. And this my soul waits and cries after, even the full springing up of eternal love in my heart, and in the swallowing of me wholly into it, and the bringing of my soul wholly forth in it, that the life of God, in its own perfect sweetness, may fully run forth through this vessel, and not to be at all tinctured by the vessel, but perfectly tincture and change the vessel into its own nature: and then shall no fault be found in my soul before the Lord, but the spotless life be fully enjoyed by me, and become a perfectly pleasant sacrifice to my God. 

Comment by James C Schultz on 5th mo. 15, 2015 at 4:06pm

Sorry but God gives everyone at least one talent of divine love.  It's what we do with what we are given that determines whether we get more or lose what amount we have.  John says that God is love and most Quakers I know say they believe that there is that of God in everyone.

Mat_13:12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

We need to spend more time loving and less time praying for love, although Mr. Pennington's prose is eloquent.  However,it's like a politician giving a great speech on income disparity and then going ahead and voting for a tax break for one of his corporate sponsors.  The Quakers who visited those imprisoned and helped support their families may not get quoted but I know what side of God they are on - Mathew 25:33.  Now praying for grace so we can say yes to the call to love is another story.  Like the song says: Let me say Yes to Love.

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