A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just like I have loved you; that you also love one another – Jn 13:34

The “New Commandment” Jesus refers to here is in the missional sense of renewal, prophetic, and counter-cultural. The context of Jesus’ washing of His disciples’ feet informed the re-issued commandment (Jn 13:2-5). The “New commandment” in this context is not another commandment to love our fellow man. Jesus, after three years with His disciples called the commandment ‘New’ because the disciples already know the old commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am Yahweh.” This commandment required Israelites to love only other Israelites. The commandment extends to “The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you lived as foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God (v 34).”

The “New Commandment” requires more from the followers of Jesus than having ‘the natural love that even non-believers may have for one another.’ Signs of ordinary love and care among all human beings despite our fallen nature abounds in times of wars, humanitarian support and other generous means of easing the suffering of others especially the needy. The love that shapes “New Commandment” distinguishes Jesus’ disciples from unbelievers. It is new because it makes us visible as Christ’s disciples, expressing the love of Jesus Christ in truth and Spirit.

The reciprocal love nature of the “New Commandment” emphasised by the phrase ‘one another’ more than three times points to a love that is shared mutually by all of Jesus’ disciples in “bond of perfectness (vv. 34-35, Col 3:14).

The Christian authentic true and godly love (agape) must be the mark of distinction for Jesus’ disciples (1Jn 3:23; 4:7-21). Jesus gave this new commandment that we love one another the way He loves us as His disciples in order to bear Jesus’ likeness in our lives, churches, families and nations. The result of this love is that, the people around us will be able to see Christ more ‘in us and recognise that we are truly His disciples.’ The question is, why is this result not evident in our churches today? Why instead of increase disciples, we are witnessing decline? The simple answer is that, we are not keeping Jesus’ ‘New’ commandment, hence lack of disciples.[1]

‘Non-discipleship’ remains the elephant in our churches and leadership. Truly, the church has never lack in different church-based mission, fresh expressions, and discipleship programmes. The problem is, just as Bishop Stephen Neil warns us, ‘If everything is mission, nothing is mission, and we are back in the night in which all cats are grey.’[2] In a context where everyone is an evangelist, nobody is an evangelist, just as where everyone is a disciple, no one is a disciple. This is the bane of the church today. What David Watson explained in his famous book, Discipleship, beyond the state of western Christians resonates with the global churches today. According to Watson, ‘The vast majority of western Christians are church-members, pew fillers, hymn singers, sermon-tasters, Bible readers, even born-again-believers or Spirit-filled-charismatics – but not true disciples of Jesus. If we were actually willing to learn the meaning of real discipleship and actually to become disciples, the church in the west would be transformed, and the resultant impact on society would be staggering.’[3] Watson’s statement reflects the state of the churches in many nations today without major signs of transformation and renewal.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s in his book The Cost of Discipleship provides answer why the church lacks true disciples of Jesus today. Bonhoeffer said, “Discipleship means adherence to Christ, and, because Christ is the object of that adherence, it must take the form of discipleship. An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system, a general religious knowledge on the subject of grace or on the forgiveness of sins, render discipleship superfluous, and in fact they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the whole conception of following Christ. With an abstract idea it is possible to enter into a relation of formal knowledge, to become enthusiastic about it, and perhaps even to put it into practice; but it can never be followed in personal obedience. Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.’[4] Christian discipleship as an evolving spiritual process is rooted in Scripture, supremacy and ‘focussed on Jesus Christ, resourced by the Spirit of God, is booth life-long and whole-life, communal rather than solitary, committed to transforming and serving ‘the world’…. (Matt 4:18-22).[5] Closing with the words of Atkins, ‘Today is not the day of the professional evangelist … Today is once again the day of the discipleship-making movement.’[6]

[1] Okegbile, Deji, Stop the Funeral: Reverse Methodists Decline (London: Supertec Designs, 2017), pp. 33-44.

[2] Neil, Stephen, Salvation Tomorrow (London: Lutterworth Press, 1976), p. 57

[3] Watson David, Discipleship (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981), p. 16.

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship,  (New York: Touchstone, 1995), p. 59

[5] Atkins, Martyns, Discipleship … and the people called Methodists (Peterborough: Methodist Publishing, 2010), pp. 1, 35, 51-57.

[6] Atkins, Discipleship …, p. 52