How can you command someone to love? It seems to go against the very nature of what love is. Isn’t love something that is freely given? How could love be freely given if we are commanded or compelled to do it? We have heard this verse from scripture a thousand times and a thousands times we have felt the shame for our falling short. God gives us another rule, another law, another commandment among so many the other rules that we struggle to live up to. I thought we were free from the law? St. Paul says, “You are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom 6:14). So we hear the passage from John, we notice in our lives the people we don’t love. We say we’re sorry. We dig deep and try muster up some love for those we don’t love. We feel a resolve. Five minutes we fall short again.
If we see the new commandment of Jesus Christ to “love one another” as just another external law, like the Mosaic Law, compelling man to behave, then we’ve missed the entire message of the Gospel. If Jesus just limited himself to just giving another law in the commandment “to love one another” then nothing changes. In fact, if you think about it, nothing changed for the Apostles after receiving the new commandment. “They showed nothing new or noble or spiritual that was better than the old state” (Cabasilas, Life in Christ). It wasn’t until Pentecost that everything changed. External laws do not have the power the change our interior lives. Our hearts must be changed. We must receive new hearts. You see, this is the mystery and beauty of being truly Christian: “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). When the Holy Spirit takes possession of our hearts, everything changes. The degree that our interior life, our hearts, become new is measured by the degree that we welcome and receive the love being poured out through Holy Spirit, not by how disciplined we are in following the rules. As Fr. Cantalamessa notes, “This love is the love God loves us with and through which, at the same time, enables us to love him and our neighbor. It is a new capacity to love. Love is the sign that reveals the new life given by the Spirit.”
Much of our struggle in living out our beliefs as Christians, is that we have not allowed the new law of the Holy Spirit to be inscribed into our hearts. God no longer writes his law on tablets, he writes it on our hearts. What is this new law? It is love. It is his love, his grace, it is himself. The result, as St. Paul says is, “It is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). So when we hear the commandment to love one another, God wishes to inscribe that on our hearts and give us new hearts. When that happens, the new commandment is no longer a thing we have to keep “working on.” Rather, it is something we allow and welcome the Holy Spirit to do in us.