Editor’s Note: Having been posting cleaned-up versions of my notes notes from “phone-based” Sunday School lessons, I felt that the notes for July 12, 2020 were better framed up as a couple of individual devotions. For those interested in the full lesson, it can be found here: https://thosewhosindifferently.com/love-and-the-spirit/
Have you ever heard a parent say, “You had better obey me”? (Maybe you’ve been that parent.) I’m pretty sure that I’ve said things like that to my children.
If we think about it, though, this statement is technically unnecessary. The authority of a parent in the family structure is already established (although this must always be subservient to God’s authority). As a result, if a parent gave an instruction, the child is expected to obey, whether or not the parent reiterated later that the child should do so.
Consider the following statement from Jesus, from His messages to His disciples at the Last Supper, as recorded in the book of John. To put this in context, Jesus has washed His disciples’ feet, He has prophesied Peter’s denial, and He just responded to Thomas and Philip. (See verses 6, 11-14).
“If you love me, keep my commands.
John 14:15 NIV
English translations are fairly mixed on the exact mood of this verse. In some of them, it is an instruction: If His disciples loved Him, then He was instructing them to keep His commands. In other translations, it is a result: If His disciples loved Him, then the outcome would be that they would keep His commands. Still, since Jesus’ authority far exceeds that of a parent, once Jesus gave commands in the first place, that should be enough reason for His disciples (and us) to keep them. As a result, whether Jesus was “commanding” or “confirming” in this passage is probably not critical.
Obedience and love are both important. The Bible describes right ways and wrong ways to show love and worship to God. For instance, Cain’s sacrifice wasn’t appropriate, even though Abel’s was. We don’t get to decide what behaviors are right and glorify God, and which ones aren’t welcome by Him. Those standards have already been established. (As a result, anyone who believes that they can worship God however they want would do well to double-check what God had to say about that. There are many valid ways to worship God, and ours don’t have to look like our neighbors. However, they should actually honor God and His instructions.) Jesus described certain attributes of correct worship in John 4:23-24, in a conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
In addition, the relationship between loving God and obeying Him isn’t a new thing. Deuteronomy 11:1 (and the rest of that chapter) ties these concepts together, and a well-known command to love God is found a few chapters before that, in Deuteronomy 6:5. So it is clear that God has commanded us to love for a long time.
Here, though, Jesus ties His instruction not to compulsion or to avoiding punishment, but rather to His disciples’ love for Him.
So, why would Jesus instruct (or remind) His disciples about following His commands if they loved Him?
For one thing, Jesus knows that His commands are the best for His disciples. They were about to be persecuted for following Jesus’ teachings (and we should expect trials, too); yet in the end, this is still a better way to live. Not only does obedience to Jesus lead to a clean heart and a changed life, but doing so – living according to the purpose for which we created – results in a better world for ourselves and for others.
For another thing, Jesus’ disciples would glorify God when they obeyed His commands. Just as Jesus gave glory to God the Father, so we are also called to follow His example and do the same. If the disciples truly loved Jesus, they would want to help Him succeed in His purpose. While they couldn’t die for the sins of the world, they could show love to others as Jesus had taught them, and in doing so, point people to God.
In addition, I think that this is sort of a capstone to the example that Jesus had set for these apostles. He had poured out love to them and to others, living out the very instructions that He was teaching – both to love and to act in a way that loved God and loved one’s neighbor. If the disciples showed the same selfless, agape love for Jesus (and for other people) as He showed to them, then their lives should look like Jesus’, too. And, since Jesus taught what He lived, then those who followed Him would be following His commands, even as they followed His example.
Here are some questions that we may ask ourselves: Do we love God? Can each of us articulate how that looks in our life, through obedience? I’m not saying that you aren’t already obeying God; I’m only suggesting that the process of evaluating how we show our love to Him may give Him a chance to show us more opportunities to do so. It’s like actually counting your blessings: the very process of enumerating them is worthwhile.
So, if you’re looking for ways to show love to God today, your search doesn’t have to go any farther than Jesus’ commands. Do your best to be obedient, but don’t do so as one who tries to earn God’s favor from the outside. Obey Jesus out of your love for Him.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – John, by Beauford H. Bryant and Mark S. Krause, pages 305-309. © 1998 College Press Publishing Co.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.