"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

This statement by Jesus illustrates not only the relationship between Jesus and his students, but also his attitude towards relationships in general.

In this world we throw around the word love as though it were a badge of honor. "I love you" is now spoken between family members and couples as though it were an obligation. But when these words are said, are we understanding the meaning of love? And where does this capacity to love come from? Are we truly equipped to love another?

To Jesus, love was not an obligatory salutation nor was it a family thing. To Jesus, love comes from a deeper place. A place of unconditional love.

People like to quote Jesus' statement when they consider loving each other:
"Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt 22:39 and Mark 12:31)
This statement, however, has been greatly taken out of context by many, who say that in order to love someone, we have to love ourselves, since he says "Love your neighbor as yourself." This has spawned a whole generation of "love-yourself" teachers who say we must love ourselves first before we can love others.

Loving ourselves, however, is none other than selfishness.

When we speak of love, there can be no division between ourselves and the one we love. In other words, there is not loving me, and then loving them. There can be only loving them.

Love can be compared to a boat. If we were drowning in the seas together with someone we loved, and a boat comes by, would we first put ourselves onto the boat in hopes that we would be able to pull the other person up after we were aboard? Of course not. In doing that, we might risk that by the time we got onto the boat, they could be swept away and drowned. If we loved the person, we would most certainly push them up onto the boat first, and then get into the boat ourselves.

Trying to love ourselves before we can love others is the same as pulling ourselves up into the boat first.

In fact, that statement by Jesus is taken out of context. Jesus did not say "Love your neighbor as yourself" alone. And he also did not say "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." He said:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matt. 22:37-39)
The words "And the second is like it" means that "Love your neighbor as yourself." is connected to loving God: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' The words "is like it" means they are inseparable. The phrase "is like" comes from the Greek word ὅμοιος (homoios), which means something 'similar' or 'resembling' another.

In other words, our love for others must come as a reflection or byproduct of loving God with all our heart, soul and mind. If we are loving ourselves, how could we be loving God with all our heart, soul and mind?

To "Love your neighbor as yourself" now must take on a new meaning. If a person loves another as themselves, it speaks to the fact that we are linked together. We are all God's children, and if we love God, we also love His children.

This statement speaks to care: We must care for others as ourselves, because others are like ourselves: we are all God's children.

In other words, to be able to love others, we must have developed our love for God, because love for others is derived from our love for the Supreme Being.

This is also why Jesus said: "As I have loved you, so you must love one another." The love that Jesus has for them comes from his love for God. Jesus' disciples' love for others must reflect that love.

Jesus gave his whole life to God. He cared for God more than he cared for himself. It wasn't a matter of Jesus loving himself first and then being able to love others. He loved God, and he thus loved God's children.

This is the kind of love that Jesus wants his disciples to share with each other, as well as others. In fact, he wants his disciples to love each other to show others the meaning of love:

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Why is it so important to Jesus that "all men" - others - recognize Jesus' disciples by their love for one another? Because Jesus wants others to also come into the fold of loving God. He wants to bring others back to God.

This is because real love is infectious. And we can tell the difference between real love (which stems from loving God) and the kind of "love" that many people throw around here by whether it is infectious.

For many, the words "I love you" are simply a business exchange. It is none other than: "I love you if you love me." That is not love. That is business. That is a "if you give me this, I'll give you that." Jesus confirms this when he said:
"If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?" (Matt. 5:46)
True love is unconditional; it is selfless. A person who truly loves another does not care if the other person loves them. They love that person regardless. They do not care about themselves in the equation. There is no equation. It is only their care for the other person.

And this is not possible without being connected to loving God. Why? Because knowing and loving God includes understanding how God loves us unconditionally. The Supreme Being loves us whether we love Him or not. The Supreme Being loves us whether we love others or not. His love for us is unconditional.

And if we connect with that love by establishing a loving relationship with the Supreme Being, that same unconditional love He has for us will beam right through us, and give us the ability to also love others unconditionally. In other words, it becomes infectious.

This is why Jesus said, following his comment above (Matt. 5:46) about love:
"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)
True love comes from the Supreme Being. We can only truly love others if we are connected with God by exchanging a relationship of love with Him.

And love must be practical. It is not a vague theory. Love comes with care, and care comes with service. Loving someone means caring for them and doing what pleases that person.

While many might say triumphantly: "I love God" we cannot accept this unless the person knows God. A person cannot love someone they do not know. Then there must be practical service. Loving someone is inseparable from loving service. And loving service also means knowing what pleases the person we love.

Coming to love the Supreme Being starts with sincerity, inquiry and investigation. We must begin a search and come to know who God is. The ancient method for coming to know God is by inquiring from scripture, and from someone who already knows Him. This is illustrated by Jesus teaching his disciples about God.

God shows Himself to those who make a sincere effort to come to know Him, and uses those who already have a loving relationship with Him to introduce us to Him. Love is all about relationships, and the Supreme Being is the King of relationships.


(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Gospel of John without sectarian institutional influence, see the Gospels of Jesus  - translated from the original Greek texts.)