We speak frequently of the Ten Commandments’ contents, but how often do we consider what the Lord didn’t say to Moses on that day?
In the original list given on Mt. Sinai, the Lord never directly instructs that we love. It’s implied in the commandments’ nature—honoring our parents, turning from adultery, bearing honest statements regarding our neighbors—but never explicitly stated.
It is not until centuries later that God seems to add to those original commandments. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus tells his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).
The newness of this commandment does not mean it’s simply an add-on. Jesus wasn’t trying to toss an eleventh commandment at his disciples with a light-hearted, “Oh, by the way, do this one, too.” Instead, he was providing a deeper understanding of the already existing law.
If we wanted, we could obey all ten commandments simply as acts of duty—just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. I could honor my parents, heeding their wisdom and obeying their rules, while my heart harbors bitterness toward them. I could stay faithful to my husband and refrain from adultery, but without any respect for him.
However, the Lord makes it perfectly clear that he is far more concerned with the intentions of our hearts than the acts of our hands. Sin stems from the heart. Even a good deed, if committed with sinful intentions, needs the redeeming power of the cross.
Jesus’ “new” commandment presented in John 13 gives his disciples—and us—a deeper understanding of the law, opening our eyes to our utterly helpless situation. We could never obey his law. Loveless duty to my command is not obedience, Jesus tells us. We cannot obey in love unless he gives love to us.
The new commandment, then, leads us to the good news of the gospel. We cannot do anything to make our hearts right before God. Jesus must bring our hearts from death to life, from darkness to light, and transform them from cold stone into living flesh. In his own body and by his Spirit, he has given us the Love that the law required.
He is our Love, and he is also our example.
Imagine giving somebody this task: paint a picture, any picture at all, as long as it is saturated with certain colors. Easy peasy, right? Now imagine giving the same task to a person who has been blind their entire life. How would you explain that, while each jar of paint feels, smells, and glides on paper the same way, they are actually completely different? How would you explain why red contrasts with green or why mixing paints together creates new hues?
When it comes to love, we too are blind. We can swipe a brush across the canvas, but we will make an ugly mess. Thankfully, those of us who are in Christ have been brought out of darkness and given the light of life ( John 8:12). He has opened our eyes to see who Love is and what love does.
Jesus was the Ten Commandments incarnate. In love, he perfectly adhered to the law in a way our feeble hearts could never master in this sin-soaked world. He showed us what love looks like: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” His life, death, and resurrection are one beautiful revelation of love. Now, we can see the most beautifully vibrant kaleidoscope of a painting in front of us and we’ve been given every art supply needed to imitate it. We’ve been given a Helper to shepherd us, we’ve been given the cross because we will fail, and above all, we’ve been given a redeemed heart in Christ. Fulfillment of the law displays his glory, not our own.
Jesus gave this commandment near his death because the cross is the ultimate revelation of love. Out of love to the Father, the servant Jesus took the cup of suffering and died for the unworthy.
Now, through his life in us, he leads us to love through service. He gives us grace to humble ourselves to wash the dirty, sweaty feet of even those who would betray us. John 13:35 says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So we love like Jesus loves, a countercultural, lay-down-your-life kind of love. And those who see our love will be pointed back to the ultimate act of love—the cross.