"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34 NIV)
In this passage, for example, I would read the sentences before the verse and the sentences after it. When I did this, I learned that Jesus was talking to his disciples before going to his death on the cross. The command, then, that Jesus is giving here is to his disciples. They aren't being commanded to love people who are not disciples. This command is just among Christ-followers. Other passages throughout the New Testament seem to support this focus.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." (Luke 10:25-28 NIV)
In this passage, though, Jesus affirms the Old Testament law that teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The group of people we are called to love just got bigger. It goes outside of our close-knit family group of Christ-following believers. It includes our "neighbors" as well. When the expert in the law pushed the question further, Jesus taught the parable of the Good Samaritan - letting us know that we should treat every neighbor with love.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45a NIV)
This final passage, however, was what cinched the AHA experience for me. Even people who consider themselves my enemy are not excluded. I am called to love them, too. On that day I finally got it. All people are made in the image of God. All people are precious to God. All people are loved by God. I should love them, too.
How about you? Do you love your Christian brothers and sisters? Do you love your neighbors? Do you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you? Do you love everyone who is made in the image of God?