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What Does "Love One Another" Really Mean (John 13:34)?

"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" (John 13:34-35). Contributing Writer
Updated Jul 18, 2023
What Does "Love One Another" Really Mean (John 13:34)?

The short and simple answer to why we are called to love one another is found in John 13:35. It reads “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

So, what else is there to say? Well, plenty.

What is meant by called? Jesus was talking to the eleven disciples, so how do we know this applies to us today? What did Jesus mean? Who are we to love? Why is love so important? How are we to do this?

What Does it Mean That We Are Called to Love?

To answer the question of why we are called, we need to read it in its context, which includes the preceding verse. 

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 (John 13:34-35).

The word call means to call into action, to summon. Jesus used the word command which is a bit stronger. 

The word command in the original Greek means an injunction, ordinance, or law. Jesus was not only summoning with an authoritative order, but he was also instituting a new law to replace the law of Moses — the law of love.

We are called to love one another so we’ll walk in the new law of love.

Who Is Called?

Jesus gave the command following the last supper and after Judas had left to betray him. This left Jesus with the remaining eleven men who had chosen to follow him. 

Jesus’ words were that everyone will know you are my disciples by following his command. This means the command is issued to all who would call themselves a disciple of Christ.

Everyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ is called to walk in love.

How are We to Love One Another?

When Jesus told his disciples to love one another he said to do it as I have loved you. That is a tall order. 

Jesus used the word agape for love when issuing the command. This love is to love like God loves.

How does God love us?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Translating that into how we are to love is this verse. 

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:13).

We are called to love wholeheartedly and sacrificially like God loves us.

Love Who?

Some might argue that because Jesus was talking to his disciples and said one another that means Christians are only called to love other Christians. Others say it means Christians are called to love other Christians more than those who are not disciples. Both are not true.

Of course, we are called to love our brothers and sister is in Christ but Jesus took it further. He was clear in his messages about who to love.

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48).

Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31).

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:30-37).

Walking in love is loving your enemies, your neighbor, yourself, and anyone you come across who needs your love.

Why Love Is So Important?

Because God is love and we’re made in his image and likeness, the very fabric of our being requires love.

When Jesus spoke of all the troubles that would take place on the earth in years to come, the need for our obedience to the law of love is glaring. In Matthew 24:12, it says:

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, (NIV).

Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold (NLT).

Evil will spread and cause many people to stop loving others (CEV).

When the lack of love is rampant, the love of God pouring through us shines bright.

How Can We Do This?

There is only one way we are able to love like God. We get love from him. Apart from this, we are not capable of loving like God.

It is written: We love because he first loved us (1 John 1:4).

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus (1 John 4:16-17).

We obey Jesus’ command to love others by the grace of God alone.

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Danielle Bernock is an international, award-winning author, coach, and speaker who helps people embrace their value and heal their souls through the power of the love of God. She’s written Emerging With Wings, A Bird Named PaynLove’s ManifestoBecause You Matter, and hosts the Victorious Souls Podcast. A long-time follower of Christ, Danielle lives with her husband in Michigan near her adult children and grandchildren. For more information or to connect with Danielle


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