“If you love me, you will obey what I command …
“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me …
“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching …
“He who does not love me will not obey my teaching …” (verses 15, 21, 23, 24)
What’s the best word to describe your relationship with Jesus: love or obedience?
It’s possible, if we don’t really understand the words and their implications, that either on its own could become distorted. Obedience could shrivel into mere duty, leaving us with a certain stodgy sluggishness or fragile brittleness to our relationship with Jesus. Duty on its own becomes spiritually bankrupt. On the other hand, a love that doesn’t actually obey has a certain vaporous quality to it, lacking substance and reality. If all you’ve got is emotion, you can end up enthusiastic when it comes to singing, but uncommitted when it comes to life.
Jesus uses both words because one becomes hollowed-out without the other. But taken together, there’s backbone and heart, each becoming a source of vitality to a living relationship.
I think of Golde singing to her husband Tevye in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” He’d asked, “Do you love me?” Incredulous, she sings back, “For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow – after twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?” But then the realization dawns: these have been expressions of love all along. The two acknowledge their love (for the first time!) and then sing: “It doesn’t change a thing, but even so – after twenty-five years, it’s nice to know.”
Don’t take twenty-five years. Embrace both love and obedience now.
In university days I got to know some dear friends from a more expressive Christian tradition than my own. They obviously loved the Lord – passionately, at depth. It was easy to see it in their lives and countenance. I could hear it in their prayers. I remember asking myself, “What about me – I know I believe, but do I truly love the Lord?” I found the verses in this chapter gave direction. Obedience is a tangible expression of love. I began to look at my Christian discipleship differently at that point, not as duty but as an expression of heartfelt love for my Lord. It allowed me, in a fresh way, to experience the love I already had for him, and to deepen it.
Alternatively, if you already know you have a deep-seated love for Jesus, it’s life-giving to actively watch for opportunities to further express that love in obedience, fully embracing Jesus’ commands and teachings in thought and action, stepping quickly into acts of service each time they present themselves.
Love leads to obedience. Obedience expresses love. All for Jesus.
Lord Jesus, I love because you first loved me. Your love has been poured out into my heart by the Holy Spirit. I choose this day to step more deeply into that love through acts of obedience. Give me eyes to see. Sharpen my ears to hear. Strengthen my will to choose obedience, that I might deepen love. Bless you, Lord.
Reflect: Which aspect of these twin responses – love and obedience – do you more naturally gravitate towards? What can you do today to strengthen what is lacking?