Love, Trust, and Obey
Our Scripture focus this morning is taken from the Gospel of John. Follow along as I read from John 14:15-21:
Read passage from Bible at hand
When we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday, it really does behoove us to take the journey with Jesus through the Easter season until Pentecost. On this sixth Sunday of Easter, Jesus is trying to teach us something very important about the meaning of his suffering, for those who would follow him.
Love & Obedience
The opening eight words of our Scripture focus this morning are so challenging as to bear deeper scrutiny and reflection: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
I can't help but wonder if this stated correlation between love and obedience is actually correct, and, if correct, is it fair? (John 14:15, 21) Do we naturally obey those whom we love?
In order to answer this question we must take into account that love is not an emotion. Love may arise from the positive emotions associated with the person in question, but love is more correctly an active commitment to that person. Therefore, obedience is not an emotive consequence of loving another person.
Could obedience be a logical consequence of loving another person?
In order to answer this sub-question, we must distinguish between obedience and trust, which calls into question the relative power between two persons. If we are confident enough in another person to trust them, we may take their advice and do what they tell us to do. If that person is in a superior position of power to us, we will obey them to a higher degree because of our trust in them.
Now that I have dissected all of the components of this verse, let me rebuild the relationship between love and obedience. For whatever reason, when we have a positive experience with another person this elicits from within us positive regard and emotions for them. In nurturing our relationship with that person, our confidence in them grows, such that we trust them and will follow their advice for us. If that person is in a superior position to us and has authority over us, then we will obey them. Because of our positive regard for that person, despite their position over us, it can be said of us that we love that person.
Love, then, involves the commitment to nurture a relationship with another person, as well as positive emotions, and results in trust and, in some cases, obedience. This partial definition is reflected in verse 21: "They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me" (John 14:21). Because of God's love for us, demonstrated in all that he has done for us (John 3:16), we have a positive regard for God and want to be in a relationship with him, as per verses 20 and 21. Because of God's authority over us as creator, our love for him is demonstrated by our willingness to obey his commandments.
Love & Suffering
It is a good practice to remember that our love for God is a free choice on our part, since our love for God is tested by suffering. Suffering is the natural consequence of the presence of sin in the world, and sin is present because of our free choice to disregard God.
It is important that we acknowledge there are different kinds of suffering. The apostle Peter reminds us that "no one will harm us if we are eager to do what is good, but even if we do suffer for doing what is right, we are blessed" (1 Peter 3:13-14). He further adds "it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil" (1 Peter 3:17).
Because of the presence of sin in this world, it is unfortunately the case that occasionally we may suffer for no reason at all. Whether due to natural disaster or simply because we are in the wrong place at the wrong time, sometimes we suffer for no conceivable or legitimate reason. This is one kind of suffering.
Usually we suffer as a consequence of our own actions. Those actions can be characterised by our doing good or doing evil. It is only natural that when we do evil things we should expect that we will suffer consequences. That is right and reasonable.
In contrast, when we do what is good, in a perfect world, we should expect that we will not suffer for such actions. As already stated, however, we do not live in a perfect world. Therefore, sometimes we will suffer for doing what is good.
When we suffer for doing good, that may simply be an accidental result. In some cases however, we may suffer for doing good because we have chosen to love God. In those cases, we are doing good because we are following the ways of God. We may suffer in such cases because there are some people in our world who do not love God nor those who love God.
So, how will we know when our suffering is appropriate? We must be honest with ourselves when we reflect back on the causes of our suffering. As is always the case with suffering, we too easily misidentify it's causes.
Yet, since we know that "all things work together for good for those who love God" (Romans 8:28), we can have confidence in God, even in the midst of our suffering. Our Scripture focus also reminds us that God loves us and that he wants to remind us always of his love for us (John 14:16-20). His Spirit being with us is the guarantee (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).
Conclusion & Response
So let me now draw these ideas together.
God has made it abundantly clear that he loves us, first by creating us and secondly by saving us. We respond to that love by loving God in return (1 John 4:19). Our experience with God leads us to trust and to obey him (1 Peter 1:21). We persist in our loving obedience in the face of whatever suffering may come our way.
This is not a message that many people like to hear. In fact, some would prefer to be told that life is not at all like this. They would prefer that life was 'a bed of roses'. When it's not, they refuse to admit that they might themselves be the cause of the suffering that has come their way. This attitude may even be present among the followers of Jesus.
Yet, this should not be so for Christians. We are to take the lead from Jesus in perceiving correctly that which happens within, around, and to ourselves.
We must be honest with ourselves in recognising the source of our suffering. When we are the cause, we must repent. When others are the cause of our suffering, we are to bear it and forgive, and, in some cases, even act for the cause of what is right and good.
Unfortunately, suffering is the natural consequence of the presence of sin in the world. That sin will remain until the day Jesus returns. We look forward to that day; but, until then, we trust God and walk with his Spirit, wherever she may lead us.
Do you love, trust, and obey God?