John approaches Jesus very differently. Perhaps he was familiar with one or more of the other gospels and had no intention of duplicating them, but rather adding what was left out. Perhaps it is because of his focus on what Jesus did and taught that most of Jesus’ imperatives are expressed as “if…then” or “unless … then” statements, or promises of what He will do for us, or both.
- “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
- “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
- “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
- “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.”
- “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (to those about to stone an adulterous woman)
- “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (to the woman caught in the act)
- “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (upon washing his followers’ feet)
- “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”
- “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”
- “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”
- “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
- “Now remain in my love.”
- “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” … “This is my command: Love each other.”
- “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (to His disciples)
I’ve left out a lot of the “if…then” imperatives, because they are really more promissory in nature than commands. I’ve stretched (again) to include some items spoken directly to individuals or His closest followers/apostles rather than as general pronouncements. If I hadn’t, this summary of John’s telling of the good news would seem almost void of imperatives.
But one command stands out – and I’ve boldfaced it because it does stand out in the absence (or at least, rarity) of other imperatives or commandments in John’s gospel.
It stands out in contrast because it is foundational to all Christian relationships. It is the intersection of our relationship with God and others. It is the crossing point of the cross, where God and man meet face-to-face.
We love others as He has loved us. Sacrificially, unselfishly, unquestioningly, undeservedly as we love Him undeservingly. We make the first move toward others in proactive love, just as God did in Christ. Then they choose.
Just as so many of those “if … then” statements imply, Christ has done the work in love … we choose what we wish to do in response to it. Once we’ve chosen, we become ambassadors of that love to others so that they choose.
One, simple, extremely complicated and difficult commandment.