If you had to name the pinnacle of Jesus’ teaching, what would you say it is? We gain some insight from His final night with His disciples before going to the cross. He had only a few hours left with His closest friends, so He concentrated all that He’d taught them into one word: love. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
When we talk about love in the Church—in fact, when we read this verse—our minds go in gentle directions. We think of kindness, generosity, being good to others, and, indeed, the New Testament says a lot about this kind of love. It uses the phrase “one another” about fifty times, with commands to treat each other with patience, encouragement, generosity. The book of Ephesians uses the word “together” often, emphasizing Christ’s great command to love in community.
The disciples would have no problem with this command; in fact, they probably thought they were already pretty good at it. They had just spent three years in full-time ministry with their Master, learning how to do what He taught them.
But in this scene, Jesus speaks of love in a very different context. It becomes clear in His next sentence: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Now that’s a serious kind of love. I picture the disciples looking at each other wondering, “Would I die for this guy next to me? Sometimes he really irritates me.” Maybe they didn’t love each other as well as they thought they did.
My point is that when Jesus commands us to love as He loves, it’s no light thing. It isn’t some romanticized idea based on feelings or ideals. What He commands of us is gospel love—powerful, unconditional, sacrificial love that has its roots in the cross of Christ. Jesus was about to demonstrate for His followers the most powerful act of love anyone could ever experience by going to the cross for our sins. In doing that, He would show how this love applies even to our enemies—because He gave His life for them, too.