The One Thing (John 13:34-35; John 17)


One of my favorite business authors wrote a book that came out last year called The One Thing You Need to Know. The book is an attempt to dig into a subject deeply, to get to the core of the matter, to cut through all the clutter and zero in on the one controlling insight that really matters. He describes the one thing you need to know in three areas: managing, leading, and sustained individual success. It's not a bad book at all.

I appreciate the effort to cut through all the clutter and get to the heart of an issue. When done well, that type of focus can really help to make life manageable.

I guess I could save you a lot of time and tell you the one thing that he says you need to know to achieve sustained individual success. Okay, I'll tell you. He argues that the one thing you need to know about sustained individual success is to "discover what you don't like doing and stop doing it." I'm trying this out. In fact, as of this year I've stopped shoveling my driveway. It's too soon to say if it's made me more successful or not. I'll let you know, I promise.

This morning, though, I want to ask you an even more important question. The question is this:

What is the one word that captures God's dream for human beings? What is one word that gets to the heart of God's dreams for us as his people? What one word captures God's hope for you and me?

I am going to give you a few minutes to answer this with three or four people around you. [Discussion]

Okay, what did you come up with? [holiness, worship, love…]

I'm going to suggest that we answer this question by going to one of the most poignant sections of Scripture. Jesus was coming close to the end of his earthly ministry. He gathered his closest friends together for one last meal. Everyone knew that something was up. We read of this moment:

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

In other words, Jesus showed them the extent of his love for them. He opened his heart to his disciples and friends. He opened his heart by giving his friends a practical demonstration of his love, by speaking openly about what was on his heart, and by letting them eavesdrop on his prayer at this crucial moment.

So the question is: as Jesus opened his heart to his followers, and as history was rushing toward its focal point in the death and resurrection of Jesus, what was Jesus concerned about? What is at the top of Jesus' mind as he thought of us?

As history was rushing to its climax, Jesus had one persistent concern. It's the one thing that he's concerned about for us. I think you could be so bold as to say it's the one thing that we need to know about God's dream for us as human beings. Let's look together to find out what it is. Please open a Bible with me as we look together at the Gospel of John. We're going to be looking at sections within John 13-17.

The One Act

I find that whenever I have something important to say, it's not enough to say it once. My kids are teaching me this lesson. If you say something important once, chances are it won't be heard. If you repeatedly say something important the same way, chances are a little bit better that it will be remembered. But if you really want to say something important, and you want others to remember, the best way is to say it repeatedly and in different ways.

That's exactly what Jesus does. There is something that is important, that captures the heart of his dream for us. But he doesn't say it just once. He says it a number of times and in different ways. He shared his concern through one action, through one commandment, and through one prayer. When you get to the bottom of it, Jesus was saying the same thing multiple ways so we would really get it.

So let's look at these three ways that Jesus communicated his dream with us. The first way that he communicated is with one action. John 13 says:

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5)
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them.
"You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17)

So here's the question: what one thing is on Jesus teaching us through his action here? What concern is on Jesus' mind as he teaches his disciples through this action? Take a moment and see if you can come up with an answer with a few people around you. [Discussion]

Okay, so what did you come up with? What is Jesus trying to teach us by washing the disciple's feet? [to serve one another, to put each other first…]

The key, I think, is found in the first verse. "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." The act of washing the disciple's feet, which was normally done by a servant, was meant to demonstrate his love through a selfless act of service. It was about much more than about feet. It was a prophetic act that anticipated his upcoming death. Jesus says in verse 15, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

So if you summarize this one act in one word it would be this: love. But not the mushy type of love that makes you tingle or warm inside. It's the type of love that gets you down on the ground doing something that's demeaning, that you don't really feel like doing. It's the type of love that involves a willingness to die for each other if that's what it takes.

What one word captures Jesus' dreams for us, as communicated by this action? It's that we follow his example in loving one another, and that we take that love as far as you can take it. How far can we take it? According to Jesus, you take it as far as he did: to death. Jesus' one dream, his one concern for us as he opened his heart on that last night, is that we love each other, to death if that's what it takes.

The One Command

So that's the one act, the first way that Jesus tells us what's on his mind. He showed it. The best leaders and communicators communicate through their lives. They set the example. And so Jesus communicated his concern for us, his dream for us, in the most convincing way possible. He communicated it by living it, and even more powerfully, by dying for it.

But there's more. Sometimes people don't understand it if you don't explain. So as Jesus opens his heart, he puts his dream, his one concern, into words so that there's no mistaking what he's thinking about. Look at John 13:34-35 with me. Jesus says:

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.

And then Jesus repeats himself in the next chapter: "This is my command: Love each other" (John 15:17).

This is the commandment that Jesus left for us to follow as his followers: to love one another. He communicated it by his actions, and then he spelled it out for us in words. He wants us to love one another.

I guess one question that comes to mind is what Jesus meant by saying this was a "new commandment." It wasn't really new in the sense that it hadn't been given before. The disciples probably would have known that Leviticus 19:18 says, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord."

It wasn't even new in the sense that Jesus hadn't talked about it before. You may remember the story of Jesus being asked the greatest command of the 613 that were given in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus 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." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)

So this type of command wasn't entirely new.

What is new, though, is the mode, depth, and extent of this type of love. Jesus said, "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Here's what's new: the standard for this kind of love. We are to love one another, and the standard is Jesus' love for us.

If I ask myself how much I should love each of you, the standard used to be that I have to love you as I love myself. That is a fairly high standard, because most of us have no problem loving ourselves. We used to be called to love each other as much as we love our own lives.

But Jesus raises the standard. The new standard is that we are called to love each other to the extent that Jesus loves us. How much does Jesus love us? So much that he gave his life for us. The new standard, the new command, is that we love each other so radically that we are willing to lay down our lives for each other. Jesus says in John 15:12-13:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.

Here's how we know we're going far enough in loving each other: are you willing to die for another Christian? Take a look around you today. Would you be willing to give up your life for the sake of any follower of Jesus Christ you see around you?

This is what Jesus communicated as his one dream, his one hope and concern for us as he opened his heart that last night before he was crucified.

The One Prayer

So far we've looked at God's hope and dream for us as revealed in the night that Jesus opened up his heart and demonstrated, through actions and words, what was on his mind. But Jesus did something else that night to communicate what was on his mind. He let his disciples eavesdrop as he prayed. The prayer found in John 17 has been called "a summation of his whole ministry, a legacy he entrusted to the Father in the presence of his followers as witnesses" (Gilbert Bilezikian, Community 101).

So this is not just any old prayer. This prayer is the summation of Jesus' whole life and ministry.

We know that Jesus often prayed. What's rare about this prayer is that it's one of only a few times that we get to listen on as Jesus carries on a private conversation with his Father. And what is on Jesus' mind as he prays?

Well, he prays for protection for his followers. But the protection was not to spare them from danger, want, or even persecution. Jesus prayed for protection so that his followers would be able to achieve the same kind of oneness that exists between Jesus and his Father. Jesus prayed: "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one" (John 17:11). In other words, Jesus isn't as concerned about our comfort or our physical safety as he is about our oneness. What matters to Jesus is that we have the same type of relationship with each other as he has with his Father.

Then Jesus goes on to include us in his prayer. He moves beyond thinking about his immediate disciples to all believers of all times throughout the future of the church. Jesus says in verses 20-23:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me–so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus wasn't, I think, praying for organizational oneness, or that we all look and act alike. What he was praying for is that his followers would band together in communities that would reflect the authentic oneness that he and his Father shared, so that our witness to the world would be effective. He wanted us to be one, to be united in purpose.

Gilbert Bilezikian writes:

[Jesus] knew that if the church should fail to demonstrate community to the world, it would fail to accomplish its mission because the world would have reason to disbelieve the gospel. According to that prayer, the most convincing proof of the truth of the gospel is the perceptible oneness of his followers.
In our day, whenever the church is ineffective and its witness remains unproductive, the first questions that must be raised are whether the church functions as authentic community and whether it lives out the reality of its oneness…the most potent means of witness to the truth of the gospel is the magnetic power of the oneness that was committed by Christ to his new community at the center of history. (Community 101)

Putting It Together

So here's the question again: what one word captures God's dream, God's hope, for us? The one word is this: love. Jesus opened up his heart to his followers, and through an action, a command, and a prayer, he revealed to us his primary concern for us: that we love one another to the extent that he loved us.

God's hope for us is that we love one another.

The question I want to leave with you is this: if God's heart for Richview is that we become famous in the world for how we love each other – and that is God's heart and vision for our church – then what does this mean for us practically? If God's dream for us is that we love each other so much that we're willing to die for each other, how then shall we live?

Over the next few weeks, we'll be exploring some of what this means. In the next couple of weeks we're going to look at some of the barriers that keep us from loving each other like this. Next week in particular, I'm hoping to talk about a Richview-specific barrier that makes this tough. I hope you'll join me these next few weeks as we focus on this, because if we fail at this as a church, we fail at everything. This is the one thing we need to know about God's heart for our church. It's that we love each other in a radical way, so much so that the world will stop and take notice and say, "Look at how much they love each other."

But today, let me ask you to answer this one question. What one word captures God's heart for us? Let's say it together: Love. What did Jesus pray for as he looked ahead in history to the time that we would be alive? That we would be one, that we would love one another. What is God's vision for Richview? That we love one another.

Somebody has said, "When the world sees a church from which selfishness is banished, they will acknowledge the divine mission of Christ because he was wrought such a wonder, a community of men [and women] who truly and heartily love one another."

I hope you'll come back next week as we begin to look at how we can do this. But I want to leave you with some homework this week, because I know that we all love homework. As we've looked at what Jesus said, I think we realize that there's not a chance that we can meet this standard of love by ourselves. If we try to love each other like this on our own strength, we'll fail every time. So here's what I want to ask you to do: to do what Jesus did and pray about it. Would you pray at least three times this week that God would make us one, that he would make us into the kind of church which loves each other just as Jesus loves us?

Father, this is what it's all about. Your dream for us is that we would become an authentic, genuine community of disciples who love each other. "How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!" (Psalm 133:1)
Lord, make it so. Help us as we embark on this journey of learning what it means to love each other. Make it so the world would take notice. We can only do this because of the Gospel and in your power, so we pray for your help. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada