The text is the Gospel for reading from John 14:15-21, but especially verse 15, “I you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Up to this point in the gospels, Jesus has spoken to His disciples of His love for them. The famous John 3:16 sums up God’s love for us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” God’s love for us consists in giving Jesus Christ to the world to atone for the sin of the world by His suffering and death on the cross. God demonstrates His love for us in laying down His life for us unto death, even death on a cross.
Jesus has also spoken to His disciples of their obligation to love one another. Here in the Upper Room, Jesus has just told His disciples to “love one another, as I have loved you.” (Jn. 13:34). He’ll repeat this two more times in chapter 15.
The love for one another that Jesus calls us to is based on His love for us. As He laid down His life for us, so we are to lay down our lives for one another – and in this – we “love one another as I have loved you.”
Already we are seeing the connection between God’s love for us and our love for one another. God’s love for us not only defines our love for one another, it also feeds it and fuels it.
Now Jesus introduces a third aspect of love and makes this a real love triangle. God loves you by giving His Son. You love one another as I have loved you. And you love Me by keeping my commandments. If you love me, you will do what I tell you to do.
Mommy and Daddy say to child, “we really want you to show us that you respect the things that we have bought you and so we want you to put your toys away and take care of your clothes and keep your room neat. That shows us that you appreciate us and the things that we provide for you.” And the child says, “I love you Mommy and Daddy,” and their room remains a disaster area.
Husbands say to their wives, “I love you dear.” And sometimes the message is punctuated with a bouquet of flowers. And the wife says, ‘great, I’m so glad that you’re willing to lay down your life for me, just as Christ laid down His life for His bride, the Church. And the flowers are nice, but what I’d really appreciate is if you would you do the dishes and give me a break with the kids?” “Sorry honey, I’ve got to run.” And on the way out the door he says, “I love you, dear.”
As children of God, we say, “I love you, God.” But how do we show our love for God? Before we start thinking of all the clever ways we can show our love to God, such as giving Him our heart, as if He should be pleased with a rotten, sinful thing as that. Or, letting God take control of our lives, with the exception of our time, talents and our money. Jesus cuts all of that off saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
“Commandments” as in “THE 10 COMMANDMENTS.” We’d like ‘loving God’ to be much jazzier than that. That’s so basic, so OLD TESTAMENT. We’ve moved on from those. We’re probably not even able to name half of them.
But it’s Jesus who repeated connects keeping the Commandments to loving God. He summarizes the 1st Table like this, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.”
Which is unfortunate, because we have already devoted a large portion of our heart and soul and mind to other gods and when push comes to shove, we obey them rather than the Lord God. Yet still we say, “I love you God.”
It’s inconvenient too, because we’ve already made other commitments which interfere with keeping the Sabbath Day holy. Yet still we say, “I love you God.”
Jesus summarizes the 2nd table like this, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Which is very often awkward and makes us feel uncomfortable. What if our neighbors are not very loveable? And what if they require us to interrupt our busy schedule and regular routine? And we don’t see how loving our neighbor connects to loving God. What’s one got to do with the other? Yet still we say, “I love you God.”
So, where does that leave us? Well, if we can be honest with ourselves, it leaves us with only one thing to say, “I do not love you God. For, if I did, I would strive to keep Your commandments, which I am not willing to do. And this is why I strive to show my love for You in MY OWN WAY, on MY OWN TERMS.”
One of the great things about following a liturgy that puts God’s own words into our mouths for us to speak back to God, is that we do not say things that WE WOULD LIKE TO SAY, but we say the words that God gives us to say – and His Word is always GOOD and RIGHT and TRUE.
“We have NOT LOVED YOU with our whole heart, we have NOT LOVED OUR NEIGHBORS as ourselves.” Rather than coming before God and telling Him how much we love Him, which is not true, we come before God and confess what is most true, “WE HAVE NOT LOVED YOU.”
And if we’re willing to begin right there, with CONFESSION, then there is a clear path for us to go forward. And the way forward begins with ABSOLUTION. “I forgive you all of your sins.” That’s how God loves you. Not by keeping our commandments, but by forgiving us for not keeping His. ABSOLUTION is the love of God FOR YOU, poured out on you every time.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” THAT’S NOT A DEAL. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments, and then I will love you by applying my blood shed on the cross to you.” No, if that were the deal, then we could be absolutely sure that God would never love us, because we never keep our end of the deal.
So, can we begin to see right here that the Christian life is not based upon our love for God? Nor is it based upon our love for our neighbor. If the Christian life and the message of the Gospel were that we are loving people and “see how they love one another,” it would be the most hypocritical religion there ever was.
Religions that try to give the impression that they produce the most family loving, spouse loving, neighbor loving, earth loving and God loving people there are, HAVE PUT THE EMPHASIS IN EXACTLY THE WRONG PLACE.
The Christian faith and life is based upon God’s love for us. John writes, “This is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1John 4:10).
Thank God that true love is a one-way street and not a two way street. GOD’S LOVE FOR US IS UNCONDITIONAL. There are no “ifs” involved. He does not love us IF we love Him by keeping His commandments. There should be no uncertainty or doubt on our part as to whether or not God love us. We do not look at our behavior or our faith or even our obedience to His commandments. We look to the cross and there we see God’s love for us in unmistakable clarity. He loves us while we were still sinners.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Not so that God will love you. But because He does.
This love that Jesus has for us is TRUE LOVE. And all TRUE LOVE is self-giving love. Jesus gives us Himself. And with Jesus, we receive the Father and the Holy Spirit. “I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.” “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth… He dwells with you and will be in you.”
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all dwell in you and you dwell in the Triune God and GOD IS LOVE. What that means is that God loves you from the outside in and from the inside out. From the outside in, He loves you by taking care of you and defending you from all evil. From the inside out, he loves you by His forgiveness and the peace and relief that give us.
So how do we show our love for God? How do we show our appreciation for His love? “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
We should be careful to say here that it is possible to categorize and compartmentalize ‘love’ and ‘obedience,’ and in doing so, do damage to each one. It’s not Obedience AND Love that Jesus gives us and its not Obedience AND Love that He is asking from us. It’s more like Obedience IN Love.
OBEDIENCE in and of itself is no ‘virtue.’ There is such a thing as BLIND-OBEDIENCE, and there is not LOVE in blindness. It is very easy to OBEY and HATE, or OBEY with RESENTMENT, or OBEY just for a paycheck.
But LOVE sets OBEDIENCE free from blindness and hate and resentment and as a means to an end. Obedience IN love is the TRUE OBEDIENCE that our Lord desires from us. And TRUE OBEDIENCE IN LOVE, gives our love for God TRUE DIRECTION. It makes our love for God the TRUE LOVE that He desires from us.
The gift of the Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus promised to give to us, a promise fulfilled for each of us individually in our Baptism, is the One who creates this Obedience in Love within us. He creates in us new heart and a right spirit that has the desire to love God by obeying His Word.
It is not something that we will ever be satisfied with – at least not in this lifetime. We always fall short of the glory of God and we always need His forgiveness and we always will strive to do better.
But God is pleased with the person who desires to OBEY HIM IN LOVE, even though we may fall short or completely fail. He is the One who makes everything perfect – not us. And the day will come when He will do just that, and our obedience in love will be perfect – and then we will know His joy and our joy will be complete.
In the meantime, rather than cooking up all kinds of convenient and easy ways to show our love to God, maybe the first thing we should do is simply memorize the 10 Commandments so that we know what His commandments are.
“You shall have no other gods besides Me.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
You shall honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
You shall honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against you neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
After that, we can make some time every day to think about what each one means, and the Small Catechism can be very helpful with this. Luther once said that there is enough in the 10 Commandments to keep us occupied with meditation and prayer for our entire life.
The Holy Spirit, Whom Christ has given to us, will encourage and reward even the smallest effort to grow in our love for God by keeping His commandment.
“Whoever has m commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to Him.”