Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: “love one another” (John 15:12). But those words were not new. The Jews were already commanded to love their neighbors as themselves. So, what’s new?
The “new” in the commandment is “as I have loved you.” Jesus took the apostles to a higher level of love.
Loving others as we love ourselves is a good thing. We love ourselves in all sorts of ways, and if we gave others the same levels of appreciation and affirmation that we typically give ourselves, the world would be a better place. This is the level of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
But there is a higher love. Loving others as we have been loved by Christ. Today, we might call it the Platinum Rule.
For example, we struggle to forgive ourselves for some of the things we’ve said and done. But God forgives us. We carry painful memories of our past, but God says, “I remember your sins no more.” We may even give up on ourselves (or parts of ourselves), but God never gives up. God’s love for us is higher than the love we have for ourselves.
Jesus never asks us to do the impossible, but he does call us to do the difficult. And that’s why the new commandment comes in the chapter where he establishes the new relationship: abiding in him. The higher love only comes as a result of the deeper relationship.
We must not try to fulfill the new commandment without first establishing the new relationship. But “in Christ” there is a new kind of love: agape. It is a higher love than the other kinds: eros, phileo, and storge. It is not a love worked up by human will, but a love passed down by divine grace.