Is it wrong for Jesus to say, “if we love him, we’ll obey him”? – Fourth Sunday of Advent 2019, Part 2

In the previous post, we talked about Jesus makes some promises in John 14:15-31, and the main promise takes the form of an “if-then” statement. If we do x, he promises to do y. So here is the promise:

If we love him, we will obey him, and then he promises to give us what he calls another Counselor to be with us forever. 

With this statement, Jesus introduces a concept that is repeated two more times in the rest of John 14.  Do you see it?  Scan down to verse 21.  “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”  And now look ahead a few more verses to verse 23 and 24.  There it is again. In verse 23 he says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” Then he says it again in verse 24, but from a different direction: “He who does not love me, will not obey my teaching.” 

In all three instances, Jesus connects love and obedience.  If we love him, we will obey him.  It must be important to him because he mentions not 1 or 2 times, but three times.  I don’t know about you, but when I think about that idea, that if we love him we will obey him, something about it sounds off.  Something about connecting love with obedience.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all about obeying the Lord, and loving the Lord, but something doesn’t feel right about this.  Anyone else sense that?  What am I getting at? 

Think about your human relationships.  Would you say to your spouse, “If you love me, you’ll obey me?”  Would you say it to a friend?  Not in America in 2019, except in the super rare occasion.  But marriage vows used to be this way.  Maybe some of you remember when the traditional vows had the wife saying to her husband that she would what?  “Love, honor and obey” him!  In many places around the world, this is still very much the case, especially in those cultures that are patriarchal or male-dominant.  In those places women are considered subservient.  There they must obey their husbands, while their husbands are not held to the obedience standard.  So maybe my trouble with this phrase from Jesus, “If you love, you’ll obey me,” is simply because of my cultural baggage.

It also could be that we humans can have a very hard time placing ourselves under the authority and submission of anyone.  We are wired that way, so many of us.  Not all of us, of course.  But we can have feelings of rebellion and bucking authority when people try to exert their power over us.  Even in a situation when it is socially or culturally acceptable, like at work when your boss is telling you what they want you to do.  We can inwardly react against them, though hopefully we have enough self-control that they never know it.

It sure helps though, when the person who has authority over us is generous, kind, helpful, wise, sacrificial and loving. When that person literally chose to die for us. And that is exactly what we need to remember when we hear Jesus expressing leadership over us.   

I get it if you think “if you love me, obey my commands,” sounds demeaning or authoritarian.  Parental.  Tying obedience to the idea of love could also come across as manipulative.  “If you love me, you’ll do what I say.”  If our friend was in a relationship with a person who said that, we’d tell them to break it off.  So why does Jesus say this to his followers?  Is he being manipulative? Demanding?

Some people sure think so. But I don’t.  Instead, I believe Jesus had our best interest in mind.  He knows the best possible way to live.  He is not trying to twist our arms into following him.  He could have forced us to follow him, but instead he choose to give us free will because he loves us and wants the true good life for us.  That good life is found in obeying him. 

Jesus’ call for obedience from his people is a wonderful balance of what is best for them, and what he desires most.  The act of showing your love for Jesus by obeying him, rather than turning out to be manipulative, is actually life-giving, not just in the eternal sense, but in a well-rounded human way.  We teach our young children to look both ways before crossing the street and to not jump into the deep end of the pool without swimmers on. Why?  Because we are trying to manipulate them?  No, because we love them.  Because we understand things about the world that they do not know yet at that young age.  We can see things that they cannot see .  We aren’t trying to control them, but to love them.  We want them to love us back, to trust us, and to obey.  This is not a perfect example because we are not perfect parents, and we carry our own baggage into parenting. But we can know that God’s heart is perfect.  His love is trustworthy. He is not carrying any baggage or manipulation to us, just perfect love for us and for our ultimate best.

We’ve heard the “if” side of the promise.  Now what about the “then” side?  What is the promise in this? Check back in to the next post to find out.

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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