KEEPING HIS COMMANDMENTS
by Bob Wheeler
Having promised to answer prayer Jesus then goes on to add a qualifier: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15; NKJV). It is brief, simple, and of the utmost importance.
The first thing to be noted here is that Jesus has, in fact, given us “commandments.” A commandment is a directive or order given by someone in a position of authority. The commandment, then, is given to someone who is under that person’s authority, and who is obligated to obey it. Jesus is in such a position of authority over us. He is our Lord and Master; we are His servants. He has given us explicit directives on how to live our lives, and we are obligated to obey Him.
This is a hard concept for modern Christians to grasp. We naturally assume our own freedom and autonomy. If Jesus loves us, we reason, He will look out for our personal well-being, which, we assume, means that He will do what we want Him to do. But we have it all backwards. He is the Lord; we are His servants. We are here on earth to do His will and good pleasure.
Jesus said that we were to “keep” His commandments. The Greek word that John used (and presumably the underlying Aramaic word that Jesus would have used), means “to guard” or “to keep,” and by extension “to keep watchful care.” The idea here is that we are to give careful attention to what Jesus has commanded, and to be careful to obey all of His commandments.
But it is specifically His commandments that we are to keep, not some human tradition or social custom. The importance of this cannot be overestimated. Jesus is God; Jesus is the Supreme Authority. And if we are Christians we are His disciples – we are followers of Him. That means that we must go what He has said in all things.
On the one hand this requires non-conformity to the world. As human beings we are social creatures, and crave social acceptance. We must live and function in civil society. But the human race is fallen and in a state of sinful rebellion against God. It imposes standards of right and wrong that are often at variance with God’s moral law. In such cases “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This principle will become increasingly critical as Western society continues to move in an anti-Christian direction. But we must never forget that Jesus Christ is Lord and King, and He is the One who we at all times must obey. And, ironically as it may seem, in so doing we are acting in he the best interests of society. Humanity never benefits from sexual license, drunken debauchery, economic exploitation, or violence against others. We may be hated and persecuted in the short run, but we will be proven right in the long run. Let us take a clear, uncompromising stand for truth, justice, compassion and morality.
But in our churches we must also be careful not to follow blindly a human tradition instead of the commands of Christ. It is easy to follow customary practices and a set of denominational distinctives. But are they really biblical, and do they really honor Christ? Christ is supposed to be the Head of the church, and the question should always be, what does He want? The different denominations cannot all possibly be right; almost all of them have to be wrong at some point. And too often we have developed an institutionalized form of church life that departs for the New Testament model of a Spirit-filled brotherhood of committed disciples. We must make it our first order of business to seek Christ’s will for our lives as individuals and as churches, and seek to please Him in all that we do. Only then can we expect to receive a blessing from Him.
But Jesus challenges His disciples to examine their own hearts. “If you love Me,” He says, “keep My commandments.” The question is, do we really love Him? What does it mean to love Christ, in the first place? Can we say that we genuinely understand ad appreciate all that He is, and all that He has done for us? When we sing in church, do we really praise Him with heartfelt devotion? Or are we simply enjoying the music?* Is a genuine love for Christ reflected in our private devotions and public worship?
And what is our motive in getting involved in church activities? Is it to glorify Christ and serve the brethren in love and humility? Or is it to gain recognition for ourselves? Do we consciously strive to please Christ in all that we do? Do we really, honestly, sincerely love Him at all?
If we are honest with ourselves we will probably have to admit that we are too much like the lukewarm church in Laodicea: ”I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot” (Rev. 3:15). And tells them (the church, mind you, not unbelievers), “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (v. 20).
This, then, in just a few words, is what the Christian life should look like: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
*St. Augustine confessed to being torn between listening to the psalms being chanted in church for the content of the words and purely for the enjoyment of the music. His decided preference was for the performance style advocated by St. Athanasius – as plain and simple as possible, closer to speech rather than song. (Confessions, X.xxxiii)