Christian Vs Christian: John 13:34-35
Last week (link here) I introduced a new series of posts that I am going to write on passages of scripture which tell us Christians how we should treat one another. The reason I am interested in this topic is that I have witnessed too many Christians treating other Christians in a very ungracious way.
The first passage that I want to post about is John 13:34-35 which says:
34 “I give you a new commandment: love [agapaō] one another. Just as I have loved [agapaō] you, you must also love [agapaō] one another.
35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love [agapaō] for one another.”
I have inserted the Greek word translated love into the quote above. There are four different Koine Greek words that are translated “love” in the English. I think it is important to understand exactly which kind of love we are supposed to have for each other. My “go to” resource for this is a word study on agapaō done by Pastor Bill Wenstrom. I would like to provide a couple of quotes from that study, this first one is from page 1:
2. Classical Greek has 4 verbs that denote “to love”:
**a. Erao (verb), “to love passionately, to desire, to yearn”
**b. Stergo (verb), “to affectionately love parents or children”
**c. Phileo (verb), “to personally love friends or family members”
**d. Agapao (verb), “to be satisfied with, to honor, to receive, to greet, to prefer”
The point I want to make here is that most modern Christians think “phileo” when they read this passage from John 13 and not “agapaō.” I actually believe that it is impossible for us to “phileo” every other Christian. There are Christians who I do “phileo” but there are others that I have never been able to work up much “phileo” for. Fortunately I don’t have to “phileo” all of the brethren (I am sure that will change in heaven).
To get a bit more depth about agapaō really is here is an expanded definition from page 4 of his word study:
The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon lists the following for the noun agape (page 4):
a. Affection, good-will, love, benevolence; Of the love of men to men; especially of that love of Christians towards Christians, which is enjoined and prompted by their religion, whether the love be viewed as in the soul or as expressed; of the love of men towards God; of the love of God towards Christ; of the love of Christ towards men
b. Plural, love-feasts expressing and fostering mutual love, which used to be held by Christians before the celebration of the Lord’s supper, at which the poorer Christians mingled with the wealthier and partook in common with the rest of food provided at the expense of the wealthy.
Am I commanded to treat other believers as I would family members? No, but I believe that I am commanded to seek the best for other Christians even if they are unlikeable in some way. Remember that this command from Jesus is about the attitude we (that means you and I) are to have toward other believers. This attitude will result in behavior so that “all people” will know that we are Christ’s disciples.
I would also like to quote from the transcript of Pastor Robert Dean on this passage (the transcript in its entirety can be found here):
John 13:34 NASB “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” It is by the love. This is not just talking about the impersonal love for all mankind. The standard here is bumped up a little bit just a notch or two: “even as I have loved you.” It is by this believer to believer love that all men, i.e. unbelievers, will know that you are my disciples. The term disciple is not synonymous with being a believer, it is someone who is advancing and growing in the spiritual life. So what is the greatest testimony that believers in the body of Christ have to unbelievers outside the body of Christ? Jesus said that it is the love they have one toward another. There is some sense in this passage in which God has placed it in the souls of unbelievers that this is a testimony that they recognise. They see that and they know what this means when they see the way that one believer treats another believer. So Jesus says that this is the highest form of witnessing and evidence for Christianity that we can have.
1) It is an objective love with an objective standard of evaluation. It is a thinking attitude, not an emotion.
2) It [is] not the symbol of the cross. It is not talking about Jesus going to the cross.
3) It is not emotion.
4) It is based on character, and this character is uniquely produced in us as part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
5) It challenges unbelievers. It is more, therefore, than simply kindness, politeness, courtesy to one another. Even unbelievers can have an element of kindness, generosity, politeness and courtesy towards one another.
6) Verse 35 presupposes that the world knows this, that just as God has made His character evident in the unbeliever (Romans 1) the unbeliever has something in his soul that recognizes this love of one believer to another when they see it.
7) This is the greatest apologetic or defense of our faith.
Wow! I haven’t found much of this kind of love between the Christians I have interacted with. I am not advocating deference to every idea that every Christian on the internet advocates. There is a lot of heresy out there. Instead I am saying to go ahead and call Christians on that heresy if you feel you must but don’t treat them worse than you would an unbeliever. I do believe that it is possible to treat another believer like a fellow member of the body of Christ while telling them they have made a mistake. If a sterner hand is required please keep in mind that Christ is watching from the Father’s right hand and He is quite capable of disciplining us without our help. Pointing out problems with someone’s doctrine can be done with grace!