John 13:34-35 "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even 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."
When we read this passage and note that the command to love is not new -- it is one of the two Great Commands of the Old Testamemt, Matt. 22:38 -- we ask the question, "What makes this command new?" The answer for the Apostles ia to love as the Lord loved them. We then say, "Aha! We should be willing to die for each other as the Lord died for us." While we should be willing to die for each other (1 John 3:16), that can't be what Jesus means here because He hadn't yet died and He was speaking in the past tense. "As I have loved you" tells us that there was love He had shown them that He wanted them to continue to show each other. The Lord is referencing the beginning of the chapter.
John 13 begins with the Apostles arguing over who was greatest as they came into the upper room to partake of the Passover feast. Jesus quietly gathers the water basin and towel, ties his robe out of the way, and begins washing the Apostles' feet. There was stunned silence. Why? Because the washing of feet was a necessary job in the days of sandals and dusty roads, but it was considered a demeaning job. In households that had servants, it was the lowest status servant who washed guests' feet. In homes without servants, the owner would give supplies to the guests so they could wash their own feet. What never happened was for the highest status guest to wash everyone else's feet. The Apostle's shock is shown by Peter's reaction: “Lord, do you wash my feet? . . . You shall never wash my feet.” (vs 6,8) Peter was essentially saying 'Lord, I won't let you demean yourself this way!' The Lord then gives the lesson. "If I, then, your Teacher and Lord have washed your feet you also ought to wash one another's feet." (vs 14) The lesson is of service, of putting others before self and not worrying about our own status. I should never feel too important to do what my brother needs me to do.
Yet the lesson is more than that. Judas was in that room. It is immediately after this that Jesus declares that one of them will betray Him. It is not until verse 27 that Jesus dismisses Judas. He not only took care of His devoted followers' needs, He washed the crusty feet of the one who would betray Him. This is truly the example of "loving your enemies" Matt. 5:44 and "pray for them that despitefully use you" (Luke 6:28).
When Jesus says to love each other "as I have loved you", He is teaching a love that is demonstrated through self-sacrificing service. This is revolutionary in a society whose mantra is "I have to look out for myself first", where families are abandoned in the name of "me time," and fathers abdicate to the man cave. It may be a shock to our selfish egos, but Jesus says that this love is what identifies His followers (vs 35). If I don't love in this way, what does that say about my relationship with Christ?
Phil. 2:3-4 "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."