How is "Love one another" a New Commandment?

In John 13:34-35 Jesus says “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.”

ben-white-190081-unsplash.jpg

Upon reflection I have to ask, “How is this a NEW commandment? Didn’t Jesus talk about and share love all the time? Then what makes this so NEW?”

Yes, Jesus taught about and lived out love in so many different ways so the way this commandment is NEW is the direction of the love.

Notice that Jesus says we are to love one another and that through loving one another we are disciples of Jesus. The direction of the love is toward the other person. More specifically, the direction of the love is NOT toward Jesus.

Perhaps what makes this a NEW commandment is that Jesus is removing himself from the equation of the direction of love and commanding disciples to love the other person. What is new is that Jesus is removing the requirement of direct affection and love of him (the leader) as proof that the disciple follows the leader.

It is much more common for the leader to say, “direct your love toward me and in this way people will know you are my disciples.” Rather Jesus says the opposite.

The more I come to discover about Jesus the more I am amazed at the constant kenosis (self-emptying) of God in Christ. Jesus came down, was obedient to even the point of death, and then when giving his farewell address to his disciples he says - put one another as the direction of your love.

What does it mean for us in the Church to say, “we love you Jesus” and for Jesus to say, “please direct your love to one another”?

The Total Population of Hell

jon-tyson-520863-unsplash.jpg

Some years ago I read a story about a Christian teacher who was asked, “Who do you think is in Hell?” The teacher responded, “There is only one person in hell. Jesus.”

The teacher’s point, to my recollection, was that since it Jesus came to liberate the oppressed, bring sight to the blind and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4: 17-21), the last place to do this work would be hell. Additionally, wherever Jesus goes, there is liberation (Mark 5, for one example). There is no where we can go where the liberating love of God cannot find us (Psalm 139: 7-12).

Not even hell.

Therefore, as I recall the teacher making the point, the total population of hell is clear. Hell’s total population is 1. Jesus stands in the depths of hell as the crucified victim of heinous acts of violence sets all captives free.

Good news: If there is a hell, Jesus empties it.

Trading Hope for Optimism

Dr. Namsoon Kang shared in a recent class the difference between optimism and hope. Dr. Kang noted that optimism is rooted in data. That is when there is a lot of bad news, we might look for data to give us a reason to be optimistic about the future. Data is the basis for our silver linings and we become dependent upon the data to keep us optimistic.

If the stock market is up or our candidates poll numbers are high, then we remain optimistic about our future.

Do we want to settle for optimism? Photo by  Nathan Dumlao  on  Unsplash

Do we want to settle for optimism? Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

It is interesting that if we are not able to find the data to counterbalance the bad news, then we have little to be optimistic about. Thus data is the root of both optimism and pessimism. Data, in our world, has become the idol we look toward to help us make sense and directs us how to feel.

Hope is not rooted in data. Which may be why materialists, skeptics, and many non-theists struggle to be hopeful. If we look for data before we decide to be hopeful then we are not looking for hope, we are looking for optimism. Hope is not rooted in data, it is rooted in the struggle.

Christianity does not talk about optimism at all. Christians are not optimists, we are hopeful. Christians do not dismiss data, for instance Christians ought to be concerned about the recent data of the warming earth. However bad this data is, Christians remain hopeful because the struggle to live with this new reality and change behavior is what we hope for.

The reality is too often we Christians are trading hope for optimism. We are giving up our hope because the data convinces us that the future of the church is not great. Hope and optimism are not interchangeable words/ideas. The struggles in the church now and in the future may not breed optimism, but will surely produce hope.

The Voice of Jesus, Grammatically Speaking - Guest Post

Virginia Parrish (@texpatnj) is among the intelligent people I know. I asked if she would write about the grammatically passive voice of Jesus in the Gospels. What follows is a theological and philosophical exploration of the additional meanings found in the voice of Jesus, grammatically speaking of course. (I added the image and all underlines and bolds to the text.)


How can we make war not war?

How can we make war not war?

            I’m a language person, as you know if you’ve seen my Twitter rants on the incorrect usage of words like notorious and fulsome. Words matter. Not only that, but the arrangement of the words matters, giving us that thing we call grammar. I love grammar, partly because I like the orderly structure of it, but even more because grammar allows us to be precise in communication. Grammar is about things like tense, which tells us exactly when something happens. I eat cereal and I’m eating cereal are both present tense sentences, but the first is the simple present and the second is the present progressive. If your friend calls in the middle of breakfast and asks what you’re doing, you automatically respond with the second, even if you never heard of the present progressive tense. Grammar is hardwired into our brains, and we make grammatical choices every time we open our mouths.

            We now also have computer software that checks our grammar, just in case we don’t have English-teacher friends to do it for us. When I write something, I always run a grammar check, just to be sure everything is clear. It usually reminds me not to start sentences with conjunctions. I know that’s incorrect. But sometimes I want to emphasize a point. My grammar check may also tell me not to use sentence fragments. Seriously, though?

            One thing almost everybody gets snagged on with grammar check is the use of passive voice. Most grammar software programs hate passive voice. If you’re not a grammar person, you probably aren’t sure what passive voice even is, but it just sounds like it must be weak writing, right? You don’t want to be a passive person. Software seems to look at sentences as if they were people – let’s make sure they all stay active!

            Except sometimes keeping all sentences in the active voice is ridiculous or impossible. Here’s a sentence in the passive voice, taken from an HGTV show today:

The house was built in 1890.

            It’s passive because the subject of the sentence, the house, performs no action. The actors – those doing the building – aren’t in the sentence. That may well be because we don’t know who they are. If I try to change the sentence to the active voice, I get

Some people whose identities are unknown built the house in 1890.

            That’s a silly sentence, so HGTV’s original passive-voice sentence works much better, and they’re right to use it. When we’re writing sentences about houses, it seems logical not to expect them to be active, but what about human beings?

            There are times when there is a good reason that a sentence focuses on the person receiving the action rather than on the actor.

Thousands of soldiers were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk.

            That headline and others like it in 1940 gave hope to those at home. Later, maybe, they would hear about how the rescue took place and who performed it, but their immediate need was to be reassured that thousands of soldiers, their loved ones, were safe. In that moment, those who had been rescued were the most important.

            Here’s another use of the passive voice.

Stones and bottles were thrown during the demonstration.

            Now things get a little murky. This sentence uses the passive voice to focus on stones and bottles without saying who threw them. We’re writing a journalistically neutral story, and we don’t want to place blame. Besides, it looked like everybody was throwing stones and bottles, so how can we know who started it? The grammar is correct, but the ethics? Maybe not.

            Later, maybe the follow-up story on that demonstration will say things like.

A man was injured.

Arrests were made.

Laws were broken.

            Grammatically, the subjects of these sentences did nothing; something was done to them. They did not act; they were acted upon. We don’t know who injured the man, who made the arrests, or who broke the laws. The passive voice can be a convenient grammatical hiding place. Listen to how often a politician on the news says, “Mistakes were made.”

            In the Gospels, Jesus uses the word forgiven nineteen times; in eighteen of those instances, he uses the passive voice.

You are forgiven.

Your sins are forgiven.

Their sins will be forgiven them.

            There’s no question about who is doing the forgiving. In each instance, Jesus could have said, “I forgive you.” Why did he hide himself grammatically? When he could have been naming himself as the divine actor, he instead excluded himself from the sentence, pointing us back to ourselves.

            We have adopted that use of the passive voice. We are forgiven. We are loved. We are blessed. But have we taken what Jesus did and turned it backward? In grammar, as in all things, God has acted, and we have received. Jesus made us the subject of those sentences, and we accept that gratefully in our repetitions. The difference is that Jesus spoke in the second person – you – and we repeat in the first person – we. Jesus kept himself out of the sentence to focus on us; our repetition in the passive voice focuses us on – us.

            Maybe Jesus put us in that grammatical place because it’s usually the subject that performs the action. His use of you as subject moves us into an active role. If we are forgiven, loved, blessed, it’s because God has acted on our behalf. If Jesus makes us the subjects, it’s because we are to act in his name. We forgive. We love. We bless.