Love and Obedience
Text: 1 John 5:1-6
Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
Love and obedience. These two words hardly sound like they belong together. Our idea and concept of love would seem diametrically opposed to our idea and concept of obedience. To “love” sounds gentle, beautiful, and poetic. To “obey” sounds harsh, ugly, and oppressive. One sounds natural, the other, forced. I can “love” someone because it’s easy and feels good and I feel all warm inside at the thought of the person I love. I don’t like to be “obedient” because it feels like I have to do something. I don’t want to “have” to do something. I want to “want” to do it. “Obey”, yeah, we’ll see if I do that. You can’t make me!
Yet, what does it really mean to “obey.” Yes, obeying means we do what someone else is telling us or directing us to do. But, obedience also means that we choose to surrender our will to another. We don’t obey simply because we are forced to. We obey because we willingly choose to humble ourselves and accept direction.
If we can look at obedience as something we choose to do, then we might be able to see how love and obedience can go together. The reason being, love is also a choice. Oh, yes, there are feelings involved when it comes to love and we often talk about these things. We talk about “falling” in love. But, even in the “falling” we are making a choice to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open to another person. We are choosing to love.
Consider our relationship with God. We know from scripture that God has made us in His image and likeness and that He loves us. God has loved us from the beginning because He has made us and chosen to love us, even when we don’t act very loveable. And God, through His grace, is every day reaching out to us, calling us to respond, inviting us to make the choice to love Him. Once we make the choice to love Him, this is when our lives really change and the transformation begins.
Consider what we heard from 1 John 5:1 this morning. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God…” Isn’t that beautiful? “Everyone.” Not just a few, not just some, not merely most, but everyone. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. Wait a minute. Does that include people I don’t like? Does that include people who I don’t love? Does that include people who were worse sinners than me? Because I wasn’t that bad? Yes, “everyone” includes “everyone” who believes that Jesus is the Christ.
Becoming a child of God is as easy as believing in Jesus and choosing to love Him. But, becoming a child of God also includes something else. Let’s look at verse one of 1 John 5 in its entirety. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” In other words, if we love God, we are going to love everyone else who loves God and has been born again. We are going to love everyone else who is a Christian. If we love God, then we are going to love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This sounds reasonable. But, “what if I don’t want too?” “What if I don’t want to love them because they irritate me? They don’t like me? They don’t make me feel welcome?” Before we start looking around too much and pointing fingers at each other and saying, “aha!”, let’s take a moment and see if we can find a common theme in the statements. “What if “I”…they irritate “ME”…They don’t like “ME”…”don’t make “ME” feel…” “I” and “ME” seem to be central. When we focus on ourselves and our desires and wants we can lose focus because we’ve pulled our attention away from the person who should be central. That person is Jesus. If we believe in Jesus, we love Jesus, and we love God, then we are going to love each other. We are going to love the fellow children of God.
Let’s pick up in chapter 5:2, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments.” “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments.” Wow! Here is where we find obedience connected with love. In this case obedience would seem to be the action that demonstrates the genuineness of our love. Obedience would be the force that motivates us to love. We demonstrate our love by being obedient, that is by following, God’s commands. What are God’s commands? Is there a huge list of things I have to do? Am I going to be burdened with a whole bunch of stuff I can’t possibly do?
Looking again at verse 3: “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome…” Well, what are they? Let’s take a look at what Jesus has to say. From John’s gospel, chapter 15, we find Jesus speaking to his disciples and explaining to them the importance of their abiding in him, of their staying in a close relationship with him. In John 15, starting at verse 9 Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love…This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
We demonstrate our love for God by being obedient to His commands. Jesus’ commandment to us is that we love one another as He has loved us. Our obedience to this command demonstrates our love for God and for each other. Love and obedience come together in relationship to Jesus Christ.
“Well, that was probably easier back when Jesus was physically present with his disciples.” They could get along with each other because Jesus was right there. If only that were true.
Jesus’ disciples, like us, were very different kinds of people. Very different. Let’s just say that the only thing that held them together was Jesus. Other than that, they would have been perpetually at odds with each other, and I suspect they often were. Hence the reason Jesus had to continually emphasize this command to love one another.
Peter, called “the rock” could be impulsive, forceful, impetuous, and sometimes belligerent. While Jesus would have valued these qualities, as he knew they would be important for Peter’s ability to endure the challenges of opposition in the days of the early church, still it seems Jesus struggled sometimes to keep Peter in check and on task. Peter could be prone to doubts. One minute he was loyal and faithful, the next doubting and denying. Loud and often challenging to Jesus, still, Jesus named him his right hand man.
Andrew, Peter’s brother, also a fisherman, was nevertheless quiet and tended to stay out of the front lines. Jesus knew he had a good heart, but he tended to want to spend his time studying and learning rather than fighting and leading.
James was one of the sons of the fishing mogul Zebedee. Along with his brother John, they were called by Jesus, the “sons of thunder” for their boisterous, loud, raucous language and behavior. They were used to the rough, underbelly of the fishing industry, and tended toward uncultured behavior and spontaneous outbursts of emotion and opinion. You always knew what they were thinking. Their fiery temperaments may have made them zealous about the mission but rough around the edges in dealing with people.
On the other hand, Philip and his friend Nathanael were studious and theologically focused. They were avid students of the Torah and powerful preachers in the early church. The intellectuals of the group, they were interested in change, but they tended to go about it in quieter, more organized ways, supporting Jesus’ teaching and doing what needed to be done. They were the more traditional students of Rabbi Jesus.
Matthew had been a customs official in Capernaum harbor and worked for Rome. He taxed imported and exported goods and was a seasoned politician but was despised by his Jewish community for working for the “enemy.” Matthew was a negotiator, a communicator, and had an analytical mind. But stuck in a job he didn’t like working for people who didn’t respect him, he longed for meaning and change, belonging and identity, and Jesus gave him the opportunity to do something that would make a real difference.
Thomas was the rational mind of the group, a skeptic but also the calm one in the face of trouble. He could be courageous and daring when he believed in something but also would ask the right questions and seek answers before making decisions. Thomas needed to buy in in order to be convinced that something was worth doing. His steady, scientific-style mind would be needed in the midst of some of the more impulsive, emotional moments exhibited by his fellow disciples. Faith was a bit more challenging to him, but once committed, he was all in.
James was quiet, a follower, so quiet, we hear little about him.
Simon was a zealot and a revolutionary. Eclipsed by his fisherman brothers, nevertheless, he was interested in overthrowing Rome, and his political sense drove his sense of mission.
Thaddeus was also fairly quiet, gentle-hearted, and caring about people. He admired Jesus’ heart for the unsupported and marginalized and was an advocate of healing and mercy. He listened avidly to Jesus’ teaching and was in awe of his healing ministry.
Judas could be moody and had strong opinions about everything. He was an insider and understood the Temple system, had colleagues within it, but yet hoped that Jesus would reform the system, make waves, and instigate change. He was all for having a political position in the new order. The financial treasurer of the movement, he was organized and savvy, but also could be untrustworthy and underhanded with the funds. He protected himself above others and could easily switch sides if he felt it in his own interests. The wild card in the bunch, he was loyal to Jesus until Jesus challenged his sense of direction and the way he thought things should be handled. Then he took over and went his own way.
Recognize any of these personalities? Every church has at least some of them. Why on earth would Jesus choose such diverse and controversial personalities as his disciples and inner circle? Because in order for Jesus’ mission to be successful, he would need to prove that his prime directive worked. What was his prime directive?
Love one another. As I have loved you, love one another. Bear fruit together. Jesus said this over and over and over again. Why? Because it had to have been hard to do!
How would he get such different personalities with such different hopes and dreams and reasons for following him to work together for the good of the mission when their only common factor was him? How would they continue to do so after he was gone?
Love one another, he said. Enough to lay down your life for each other. Enough to be in mission together. Keep your eyes on what needs to be done. Enough to show the world that being my disciple means that even the most diverse and at-odds people can be in community together and work for the common good. Show the world that this works!
Love and obedience go hand in hand when we are in a relationship with Jesus. Love and obedience is how we choose to live and act toward one another. Love and obedience, being in unity with each other, doesn’t mean we all have to be of the same mind and doing the same things. It’s not about agreeing on everything or having like personalities. It’s about loving one another. Respecting each other’s differences and unique take on life and the mission. Our obedience to Jesus’ command to love one another as He has loved us, focuses our attention on the one thing that matters: Jesus, resurrected and ready to change the world. Glory to God! Amen.