The new commandment


Breakfast with the Bible, Chelmsford Cathedral 19 May 2019. Led by Paul Beasley-Murray

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.


A certain Minicius Felix accused Christians of “a vile abomination“: “They fall in love almost before they are acquainted“. Pagans couldn’t get over love Christians had for one another.

It was with amazement – not irony – that they said: “See how they love one another“.

Lucian of Samosata, writing in 1C, described the way Christians visited a man called Peregrinus in prison: “They show incredible speed whenever such public action is taken, for their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another“.

Precisely! Jesus said “I give you a new commandment that you love one another“.

Later Jesus repeated himself: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15.12).


At first sight there appears to be nothing new about this so-called “new commandment” to “love one another”. The OT speaks of love for one’s neighbour: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev 19.18). In his conversation with a teacher of law Jesus said that this commandment along with commandment to love God with all one’s heart/soul/might is the most important command of OT (Mark 12.18)

BUT JX here gives new depth to the command to love one another.

We are not just to love one another as ourselves – but to love “as he loved” us!

That is something very different – it goes far beyond any other kind of love.

Let me remind you of the context: Jesus had just washed feet of disciples – this was their last night together – they were already sitting in the shadow of the Cross – this command is to be interpreted in the light of the Cross. Indeed in Jn 15.13 JX makes this explicit: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

It is this that makes the commandment “new”



When Jesus said “Love one another as I have loved you”, he termed this instruction as “a new commandment”. People have therefore not surprisingly called this the 11th commandment.

This 11th commandment is often contrasted with the 10 commandments.

The first ten are negative. In the words of one little girl re 10 commandments: “They don’t tell you what you ought to do – they just put ideas into your head“.

The new commandment is positive.

But there is also an instructive parallel.

The 10 commandments = an essential part of the covenant God made with his people Israel.

In response to God bringing them out of land of Egypt & freeing them from slavery (Ex 20.6), the Israelites committed themselves to obey the 10 commandments – in the light of which response a covenant was made. “They said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient. Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, ‘See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Ex 24.7f).

Likewise this new commandment = an essential part of the new covenant.

NB the context: Jesus has just washed disciples’ feet – a foreshadowing of cross.

The new covenant is effective in so far as we commit ourselves to obeying the new commandment! I.e. no optional extra! It is part & parcel of being the people of God.


Love one another… by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have loved for one another.“.

Ultimately what counts is not what we believe, but how we express our belief.

It is not so much orthodoxy which counts, but orthopraxis.

It is only in this way that others will know that we are Christ’s disciples

An Indian Hindu once said: “Christians claim that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of sinners, but they show no more signs of being saved than anyone else

Here we have a challenging reminder that non-Christians will never believe in love of God, until they see God’s love in us?

For discussion:

  1. Hate is not the opposite of love – indifference is’. To what extent is this true?

  1. How is the love of Jesus different from romantic love?

  1. How can love be commanded?

  1. What practical difference will this commandment make to the way in which we today treat others in the Cathedral?

  1. How helpful do you find the ‘parable of the frog’ (below) in applying the words of Jesus?

THE PARABLE OF THE FROG (taken from John Mallison)

Have you ever felt like a frog? You know the type of thing I mean – stone cold, clammy, ugly, drooping, green, lifeless – all by yourself in the middle of a pond! I have! And I’ve met plenty of others. We have one in our house nearly every morning. The only thing missing is the pond!

The frog blues (or should I say greens) come when

– you want to be bright, especially first thing in the morning, and you can’t

– you want to share, but are selfish

– you want to feel thankful, but feel resentment

– you want to be honest with others, but keep wearing a mask

– you want to be somebody, but feel a nobody

– you want to care, but the required effort makes you indifferent

– you want to make friends, but will they?

If we are honest we have probably all sat on that lily paid in the middle of the pond. Often we have sat there for ages, too frightened or disgusted to jump off and swim. Maybe you’re still on that lily pond, floating around and round – all froggy like, fed up and lonely.

Others we meet in our small groups or in everyday contact come across as frogs. They are so hard to love. Their personality doesn’t attract others to them. They are either slow, shy, withdrawn and negative, or they are dominant, autocratic, forcing their opinions on others. Cold unattractive frogs. You feel repulsed by them and want to ignore or throw a rock at them.

A parable might help: Once upon a time there was a frog. he was really a handsome prince under the nasty spell of a wicked witch. Only the kiss of a beautiful maiden could save him. So there he sat – the unkissed prince of his lilypond kingdom. But you’ve guessed it! One day a beautiful maiden saw him, was overcome with pity, grabbed him and kissed him. Bingo! In a moment of time he stood transformed before her, a handsome prince. And you can guess the finish!

SO WHAT is the task of the church? To KISS FROGS of course!

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