Love Removes the Burden of Commands

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
– 1 John 5:3

On Sunday, we considered the passage from John’s Gospel in which Jesus elevated His disciples to the status of friends, one the condition “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12–17). Here in his first Epistle, John reflects on the Lord’s teaching, restating it from his own vantage point and continuing the thought.

Note that, while in isolation, “the love of God” would plausibly refer to God’s love for us, it is clear in context with the preceding verse that John is talking about our love for God; so the NLT gets straight to the point: “Loving God means keeping his commandments.” Again, this echoes Jesus’ own words from the Upper Room Discourse: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Clearly, any version of Christianity that says you can have Jesus as your Savior without submitting to Him as your Lord would have been as unthinkable to John as it should be anathema to us today.

But just as John delighted to call himself “the disciple Jesus loved,” the gospel he taught is not one of dour religion. We are not weary slaves working to appease the wrath of God; no, we are beloved children who receive and return our Father’s love with obedience to His good will. His commandments are not burdensome. Indeed, our Father’s instructions “are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh” (Prov 4:22). As God is good, He commands us to do only that which tends toward good. The more a society orders its conduct in accordance with God’s decrees, the more that society flourishes.

When the society at large does not submit to God’s laws, disorder leads to all kinds of injustice and suffering. Those who stand against the current and seek to live by God’s word will face contempt and persecution at the hands of the ungodly, as Jesus promised His disciples they would (John 15:18–25). Yet even if such hatred should come our way as we pursue the righteousness that comes from God alone, Jesus calls us “blessed” and assures us of great reward (Matt 5:10–12).

Paul certainly knew what it meant to suffer for the gospel—five times whipped, three times beaten with rods, once stoned, three times shipwrecked… (2 Cor 11:24–33)—and yet, even from prison, he wrote that we should “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4), elsewhere expressing his conviction that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). So let us pursue that glory, seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness by faithful obedience to His word and the promptings of His Spirit, and let come what may.

Too much of the Western church has forgotten that “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God,” as Paul elaborates: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you” (1 Cor 6:9–11). There is no future in defying God’s commandments. But praise be to God, He rescues those who call on Him from sin and darkness, cleansing the stains of our past by the blood of Jesus and transforming us from within by His Holy Spirit so that we become both willing and able to do what pleases Him (cf. Phil 2:13).

When we are led by the Spirit of God, obedience is a matter of joy. Rather than bemoaning the tithe, we give money away happily and find that God is faithful to provide for us; while the worldly seek after every form of sexual indulgence, we find that chastity and fidelity bring great contentment; while others may try to drown their sorrows with drink, we reap abiding joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit even as we have occasion to mourn. Truly, in ordering our steps by God’s word, we find that His commandments are not burdensome, but His Spirit carries us along in faith, hope, and love.

Father, praise be to your Name. Your kingdom come; Your good, pleasing, and perfect will be done on earth as in heaven. Thank You for writing Your law on our hearts, and thank You for the strength of Your Spirit to help us in our weakness as we strive to be faithful. We cannot succeed without You, but we thank You for drawing us into Christ Jesus, in whom we obtain victory over every temptation. You are truly a great Savior; help us to glorify You as You deserve.

Michael Racine
Writer, Christian Union

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