John 13:34, 35
Have we the right to assert that in the final hours of His earthly ministry Jesus added to the commandments of God? Yes, certainly, if we believe His statement that He was giving a new commandment. Obviously that must increase the number.
But was it really new? What was so novel about telling people to love one another? All great religions in the history of the world say something of the sort. The Old Testament certainly did, as Jesus was well aware. For, when asked to identify the greatest commandment He declared that it was the injunction to love God with all one’s heart (Deuteronomy 6:5). He went on to quote from Leviticus 19:18: “The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
Religious teachers have always inculcated the principle of benevolence or goodwill or love to one’s fellows. What was so new about the words of Jesus at the Last Supper?
The novelty was twofold. First, Jesus added a cutting edge to an old ideal. If you preach about love no one quarrels with what you say—so long as you keep it vague and abstract. It is when you get down to the practical application of the idea that you provoke people. (He’s getting personal now!) Everyone will agree that loving the human race is hugely desirable. It is loving the people next to us that we cannot stomach.
The command Jesus gives will not let us get away with that. It takes our eyes away from distant horizons and fastens them on the person next door. When we ponder these words we begin to see that there is certainly a new commandment because it is linked with the life of the new community which Jesus is beginning—
His Church. They must love one another or the whole thing would be a sham.
But He did not leave it there. The greater novelty, indeed the essential newness, lay in the force of His personal example and the demand that they measure up to it. “Love… as I have loved you” (John 13:34, 35).
In greater measure, this is a new commandment because Jesus gives His personal image to the ideal of love. “Love as I have loved you” must mean a costly, caring love.
This is the eleventh commandment. Orthodoxy is important; moral rectitude is a vital foundation for the Christian life; faith needs works and is dead without them. But above all there must be love for the brethren, for by this are Christ’s disciples to be known.
David Guy, The Eleven Commandments