How many commandments has God given to the human race? Why should we even care? Of course, for those who believe that a personal Creator exists (mostly monotheists), and that He has an interest in the well being of conscious creation, this is a very important question indeed.
For Orthodox Jews the answer to that question might be somewhere in the vicinity of 615 (365 negative and 248 positive). Islam’s requirements are equally exhaustive (governing every aspect of life). For many Judeo-Christian believers the response is often the number 10 — as in the famous 10 Commandments (the only portion of the Bible believed to be written personally by God). For other Christians the number may be reduced to the number two — the so called “great commandments” found in the Torah or Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18) and quoted by Jesus in the New. Some might even go so far as to reduce the Divine commands to the singular “golden rule,” a universal ethic found in many of the world’s religions and philosophies.
I would like to focus on a neglected commandment — one unique to Christianity, and one often uniquely neglected by Christians. A commandment sometimes referred to as the 11th Commandment. In John 13:34-35 Jesus says this:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV)
How is this command new? What makes it different than the second Great Commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Well, this command was given personally by Jesus to His disciples. He was soon to suffer His passion and subsequently leave this earth. In essence, He is telling them, “When I am gone you will have to carry on my work and show my love to the world.” “The world will come to know Me through you.” “You must be my hands and feet and voice.”
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” He says. It is the example of Jesus’ love while He lived on this earth that makes this command new. What was it that characterized His love? Firstly, Jesus was no “respecter of persons” (an old-fashioned way of saying that he was without prejudice). He lived in a society that was completely saturated with division and bigotry of every sort — yet Jesus’ love transcended all racial, religious, national, political, gender and disease barriers. If Jesus was a “respecter of persons,” it was toward the least respected — toward the outcasts and oppressed, toward those with the greatest needs. His closest associates were illiterate Galilean fishermen who spoke with an accent so thick you could barely understand it. He had a reputation for hanging out with people considered to be reprobates and hopeless cases.
How else was His love characterized? His love was expressed in deeds, not just words. Most of His ministry was spent in healing, rather than preaching or teaching. A famous statement often attributed to St. Francis would be appropriate here: “Preach the gospel, always preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” In verse 15 Jesus told His disciples: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
The immediate example he had set was to wash His disciples’ feet. This was an object lesson in servanthood, humility and self-sacrificial love. Considered the most menial of tasks, He deigned to wash the dirt and dung from His pride-filled, bickering, backbiting, denying, deserting friends. Yes, He even washed the feet of His enemy Judas who would betray Him to be crucified for a fistful of silver.
The greatest exhibition of Christ’s love was on the cross. It was here that Jesus not only loved His neighbors as Himself, He loved them more than Himself — He gave His life for them. In John 15:12-13 He said: “…Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This kind of love would be the sign that the early Christians knew Jesus, and that they were truly His disciples. Through this kind of love they would turn the civilized world upside down.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Oh, I don’t reject Christ. I love Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ. If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.”
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