Paul's Passing Thoughts

Weird, but True: Obedience is Love

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on December 20, 2014

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Originally published February 23, 2011

John 14:15 has always provoked me to rumination: “If you love me, keep my commands.” Too simple, and it doesn’t compute. Christ is the Lord of lords and King of kings; therefore, it goes without saying that He wants to be obeyed, but kings usually don’t want love—they want respect, and demand obedience according to the laws of the land. The sentence is only seven words, but provokes all kinds of deep theological discussion. Could loving the creator of the universe really be that simple? Is He saying that we know that we love Him by watching our own life ( “If you love me, [you will] keep my commandments”), or is loving Him this way a choice? What does it look like? And what does it feel like? Could accepting this verse at face value get me in trouble by “trying to love God by my own efforts?” Weighty considerations, especially in our day.

Before we answer those questions, let’s look at the biblical correlation between obedience and love. First, Christ’s obedience to the Father is a major component of their love for each other. This is astounding, but no less true: “I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:30,31). This is a deeply profound portion of Scripture. We see that evil in the world only serves God’s purposes, and in this case, to show the world that Christ loves the Father through His obedience to the Father’s will; namely, the cross. Likewise, evil comes into our life so that our love for the Father is shown through our obedience as well. Also, if obedience is a standard of love between the Father and the Son, what are the implications for us? That is definitely a rhetorical question.

Secondly, obedience is paramount in our relationship with the Son and the Father: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:23). “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10). Clearly, obedience is critical to being “shown” the Son and “remaining” in His love. There can be no legitimate relationship with God and His Son apart from Obedience. I do not believe that we have to obey to keep our salvation, but I do believe that a life pattern of obedience is indicative of a heart that loves God; it is also critical in regard to having assurance of salvation. That can be drawn from this passage and others such as 2Peter 1:10 and 1John 3:16-24.

I had a light bulb moment while counseling someone the other day. Our conversation incited me to think, “What’s the big deal? Everybody has to obey, I obey Susan all the time.” Then I said to myself, “Did I just say that?” Sure, do that, go to church and tell everyone that you obey your wife. However, the fact of the matter is that I rarely tell her “no” when she asks me to do something for her. I do not always feel like it, and often there are other things I would rather be doing; so, why do I do it? Answer: love. It would seem that the very definition of love is self-sacrifice: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God “gave His one and only Son.” While on the cross, Christ cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). With love comes a plethora of emotions. Certainly, many times we are full of joy when we love, but agony often walks hand in hand with love, albeit temporarily.

So what’s my point? There is a very fine line between a love that submits to the needs of others and obedience, that’s my point. I would contend that the words are used interchangeably in the Bible and the Holy Spirit uses the word that best fits overall truth In context. Obedience, love, submission; practically the same thing. We are commanded to submit to the needs of others: “….submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it.” (1Cor 16:16). “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”(Ephesians 5:21). Observe the very close correlation between love and obedience in Ephesians 5:24,25: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Yet, Philippians 2:8 states that Christ was “obedient to death—even death on the cross.” Wives submit the same way the church obeys Christ, and husbands should be obedient to self-sacrifice as Christ was accordingly. It’s mutual submission, and I contend that it is a fine line. Again, remember that God and the Son themselves set the example in their love for each other: “….but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10).

Yes, I know, authority is in the mix here; but authority, for the most part, takes a backseat to love. After all, didn’t Christ say the greatest among us will be our servants? Didn’t God Himself wash the feet of the disciples? Christ came as a king, and indeed He is the King, but He primarily came to serve: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

My next point is this: the law is the standard for our love. “If you love me, keep my commands.” Theologians have done Christians little good by creating excessively wide dichotomies between “law,” “commands,” “teachings,” “law and the prophets,” “Sacred writings,” “Moses,” “Scripture,” “Ten Commandments”(not a biblical term), “Decalogue”(also not a biblical term), “word,” etc., etc., etc. These are all interchangeable terms used for the whole or specific parts of God’s closed cannon of Scripture, ie., the whole Bible. Good examples of this are Matthew 5 and Luke 24 where Christ uses many of these terms to refer to His word in the same discourse. Really, it only takes a child to argue this. Did the Ten Commandments come from God’s mouth? Well then, “Jesus answered, It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Are the Ten Commandments in the closed cannon of Scripture? Well then, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” And this we can be sure of: the goal of all “teaching,” “rebuking,” “correcting,” and “training in righteousness” is LOVE!

To close on this point we can note Romans 8:7, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” Notice the word “submit,” and the fact that an inability to submit to God’s law refers to the unregenerate. The Bible is the standard for love’s obedience.

Lastly, if we now consider some of my opening questions that have not yet been answered above, this love is not so simple after all. It requires a mutual submission in every direction and in every relationship. Regarding those who have no authority over us, we are still require to submit to their needs (1John 3:16-24). If Christ came to be a servant to the world, then how much more should we be also? Paul told the Corinthians they should seek to please all people: “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved”(1Corinthians 10:32,33). The Bible is saturated with this whole idea of submitting to each other in love. Note Matthew 18:15-17:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

The word used twice in verse 17 for “listen” is parakoo’o, which according to Strong’s Greek dictionary means the following: “To mishear, that is (by implication), to disobey.” This whole idea of humble submission to all is difficult for us to swallow, especially in American culture. It goes against the fallen mortality that we are still clothed in. To constantly submit/love, will at times be a joy, but will also be difficult. And yes, it will take effort, our effort, but it will be a loving act to please God and others in legitimate love relationships.

paul

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