love before obedience published week of may 9, 2021
I have read and preached the middle chapters (John 14-17) of the Gospel of John over and over. This is one of my favorite sections of the New Testament. In John 14:15 we have a simple verse that is familiar to many students of Scripture, a verse that is in the future tense. The word “keep” is not an imperative which would indicate that Jesus was giving us a command – if you love Me, keep My commands. Rather the verb “keep” is in the future tense and Jesus is telling us that if we love Him, we will keep His commands. This is a subtle but important difference that is also apparent from the context even without a word study.
Why is it important to understand this subtle difference in the tense of the Greek word, “keep?” Why does that small detail matter? It matters because it helps us to understand the relationship between loving and obeying. Jesus knew that love is the motive for obedience, and obedience is the measure of love. He wants us to love Him before we obey Him, and we will obey Him because we love Him.
Being a parent has helped me to understand this desire of our Heavenly Father. It feels wonderful when our children begin to obey us not because they fear punishment, but simply because they love us and want to please us. There is no greater joy as a parent than to see our children begin to flourish under the protection of our loving boundaries. If we, as imperfect parents, delight in this with our children, how much more must our perfect Father do the same?
This simple truth reminds me that there are three main emotions that motivate us to do what we do. Fear says, “I have to do this.” Duty says, “I ought to do this.” But the highest and most fulfilling motivation of all is love, which says, “I want to do this.” Love is the root of our relationship with God. Obedience is the fruit of that love. Therefore, if we love Jesus, we will keep His commands . . . not because we have to, or ought to . . . but because we want to.
“Dear Father, Thank You for the freedom to obey You. Thank you that I don’t have to obey out of fear or duty because Jesus has paid the price for My sin and fulfilled every requirement for My salvation. I rejoice to know that I am free to love You because You are worthy and to obey You because I want to honor You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”