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A sermon written by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr., Pastor Emeritus
and given by Jack Ngann, Pastor
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Afternoon, February 27, 2022

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35; p. 1135 Scofield).

The Passover meal had ended. But Jesus paused before He instituted the Lord’s Supper. He took a towel, filled a basin with water, and began to wash the Disciples’ feet. He washed and dried them all, including the feet of Judas, the one who would betray Him. Then He said,

“I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15; p. 1134).

What did He mean? It was a symbolic act which showed, like a picture, the meaning of our text,

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).

Christ said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another.” What was new about His commandment? The Old Testament, in Leviticus 19:18, said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” How is this, then, a new commandment? The old commandment said to love your neighbor “as thyself.” The new commandment is, “That ye love one another; as I have loved you.” Spurgeon said, “That [the old commandment] is the love of benevolence [or kindness], but this [new commandment] is a love of affinity [of connection] and close relationship” (C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ’s New Commandment,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, number 2,936, volume 51, p. 242). Furthermore Christ’s “new” commandment refers not to being kind to others in general, but “That ye love one another.” It refers to Christians loving each other in the local church.

After all, were not these 12 disciples the very heart of the first New Testament church? Of course they were! And, so, Christ’s “new” commandment tells Christians in a local church to “love one another; as I have loved you.” The brothers and sisters in a local congregation are told by Christ to love each other in the same way He loved the Disciples. His love for them was not just a passing emotion. It was real. He shared Himself with them. He cared for them. He even washed their feet. He gave up His life for them. And He says that we are to “love one another; as I have loved you.”

We work and pray for our local church to obey Christ’s new commandment. We try with all our hearts to share ourselves with each other, to care for each other, to serve each other.

A new young person comes in and gets saved. We should embrace him as a brother. They should be treasured and cared for, and loved deeply.

Before we were married [Jack Ngann and his wife], when my wife and I were still college students, Dr. and Mrs. Hymers took me into their home. Mr. and Mrs. Sanders took my wife into their home. It was an act of love and kindness that we cherish even to this day.

These expressions of Christian love go far in fulfilling Christ’s new commandment, “That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”

But these expressions of Christian love in the local church have an effect on the lost which is quite profound. Here are three of the effects of love in the local church upon unbelievers, unconverted people who have been brought into our midst by evangelism.

I. First, Christian love in the local church is a sign to the
unbelieving world that we are Christ’s disciples.

Look at verse 35 of the text.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

This love we have to each other is the greatest sign the world will ever see that we are the disciples and followers of Christ Jesus.

We can preach doctrinal sermons, sermons that are perfectly orthodox and perfectly sound, and strongly evangelistic, but if those lost people who come into our services do not see a profound outpouring of Christian love in our church, they will not see in us anything unusual, they will not think that there is anything very important going on here. But when they come into the services and fellowship times and actually see us loving each other – then will they be impressed to say, “These are the people of God. These are the people who know Jesus and follow Him.”

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

Spurgeon said, “Let me tell you a very remarkable instance of this. In the early days of Christianity, a terrible [pestilence] broke out in Alexandria. It was very dangerous to be near a person smitten with the disease, and to touch such a person meant almost certain death. When the [pestilence] broke out, the heathen in Alexandria [pushed] out of their houses every person who had the slightest sign of the disease upon him, and left him to starve, and would not even bury their bodies for fear of contagion. But the Christians visited one another when they were sick of the [pestilence], and no Christian was left to die [alone]. They were zealous to go and visit [and care for] each other, although they knew that they [would], in all probability, catch the [disease]; and amongst the carcasses outside the walls of Alexandria there was not found one single [unburied] corpse of a Christian…And the heathen said, ‘What is the meaning of this?’ And the answer went throughout Egypt, ‘This is the religion of Jesus of Nazareth, for these Christians love one another.’ No sermon can be so [well heard by] the world as a true manifestation of the love of Christ; and when God restores to His church genuine, hearty, and sincere love…then shall the world be more impressed by the gospel than it is at present” (ibid., pp. 249-250).

Let it be our goal as a church to so greatly love each other that,

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, [because] ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

John Peter Lange, the great German theologian, pointed out that in the early days of Christianity, “The heathen [often] exclaimed with astonishment: ‘Behold how these Christians love one another, and how ready to die for one another.’” And Lucian [a heathen writer] sneeringly remarked, “Their law-giver [Christ] has persuaded them that they are all [brothers and sisters]” (Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, John, p. 427).

Even today, in the Third World, in China, Southeast Asia, India, Africa, and Latin America, we see this love of Christians for each other many times – in rather remarkable ways – often in very difficult circumstances. This should put most Western Christians to shame. May God help our church to be like the early Christians and the Christians in the Third World. Let us remember the words of Christ,

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

Christians loving each other in a local church is a powerful sign to the unbelieving world that we are the true followers of Jesus Christ!

II. Second, Christian love and unity in the local church is a great proof
to the unbelieving world that our faith is real.

Please turn to John 17:21.

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21; p. 1140).

This takes us a step farther. In John 13:35 Jesus said the world would know we are Christ’s disciples if we “have love one to another.” But here, in John 17:21, Christ goes deeper. He goes beyond impressing the world by our love to each other. As He left the upper room and went toward Gethsemane, He prayed to the Father, “That they may also be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).

This verse is misapplied today by many in the “ecumenical movement.” It is ridiculous to apply this to ecumenicism, and say that it means all the denominations, many of them full of heresies and unbelieving members, must come together. Christ is saying no such thing! He says, “That they also may be one.” Who was He praying for? He was praying for the nucleus of that first local church! When a local church has oneness, and is full of love and unity, then the world will “believe that thou hast sent me.”

But Christ went even farther in verse 23.

“I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23; p. 1140).

In John 13:35 Jesus said the world would know we are His followers “if we have love one to another.” In John 17:21, He said that our unity and love would persuade the world that God had sent Him to die for their sins and rise from the dead to give them life. The unity and love of Christians in the local church would persuade unbelievers of these doctrines.

But doctrine alone does not save. And so, once again, in John 17:23, Christ goes back to unity and love in the local church, this time as a means of the lost world knowing the gospel for themselves. Listen carefully again,

“That they [the Christians] may be made perfect [complete] in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them…” (John 17:23).

We can preach until our faces turn blue. We can witness until our shoes are worn out. But if the lost do not see Christian love and unity when they come into our local church they will not “know” that the gospel is true. They will not know that Christ “hast loved them.”

If, on the other hand, a lost person comes into our church and sees our oneness and love for each other, they will “know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them…” (John 17:23).

I do not usually care for the writings of John R. W. Stott. But I was struck by something he wrote last year, which I believe is profoundly and Scripturally true. Stott said,

The same invisible God who once made himself visible in Jesus now makes himself visible in the Christian [church], if we love one another. And all the verbal proclamation of the gospel is of little value unless it is made by a [church full of love]. I believe that evangelism is specially through the local church, through [its] community, rather than through the individual [alone]. That the church should be an alternate society, a visible sign of the kingdom (Dr. John R. W. Stott, Christianity Today, October 2006, pp. 97-98).

Lost people, said Stott, cannot see God. They wonder if there is a God. But when Christian people in “the local church” [his word] love each other so intensely that they become “an alternate society,” the lost will want to be part of that society – and they will sense the love and reality of God in and through the local church. He is an Anglican – but he certainly sounds like an old-fashioned Baptist on this – and I for one think he is exactly right!

And that’s why we must bring lost people into the warmth and fellowship of our church to hear the gospel and experience the love of Christ in and through the fellowship of this local church. That’s the reason we would always say, “Why be lonely? Come home – to church! Why be lost? Come home – to Jesus Christ, the Son of God!”

Let us, therefore, do all we can to love each other, to be at one with each other – to pray for and help each other. Then, when someone is brought into our church they will say, “These are Christ’s followers! God must have sent Jesus or these people would not be so loving!” And, after hearing me preach, and being in our love-filled church, they will at last say, “I know God sent Jesus. I know Jesus loves me.” It’s as simple as that!

III. Third, yet the absence of Christian love in a local church
will not prevent the elect from coming to Christ.

Turn back to John 13:27. Look at what it says about Judas.

“And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27; p. 1135).

Drop down to John 13:30.

“He [Judas] then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night” (John 13:30; p. 1135).

This is the original church split. It happened right after Christ washed their feet and gave them the Lord’s Supper. Did it stop the rest of the Disciples from loving one another? Yes, it did for a short time, but not for long. They quickly figured out that Judas was simply an evil unbeliever in their midst. After he was gone, they went right back to loving each other, and bringing lost people into the warmth and loving fellowship of that local church.

Now, I end this sermon with a warning to young people who are in the church. You have seen people like Judas cause trouble. You have seen them leave the church. You have seen them betray Christ. Don’t let that stop you from being a loving Christian! For every betrayer like Judas, there are many others who are faithful Christians in the local church, and the church goes right on in loving fellowship without Judas! Do not let the trouble a Judas caused be a life-long hindrance to you becoming a Christian. Come and help us make this church what Dr. Stott called “an alternate society,” a church full of love in a dying city, a lighthouse set on the hill in a disintegrating civilization! May God help you to do so! Amen.