“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”—John 14:15
This is a radical statement for at least two reasons: for what it says about love and for what it says about Jesus. First, this is counter to the world’s concept of love. John Piper writes,
“Jesus shatters many common notions. For example, one notion is that commandments and love don’t mix. You don’t command someone you love. And you don’t tend to love one who commands. Commanding connotes military hierarchy, not relationships of love. We tend to think that commanding restricts winsomeness and willingness both ways. And this is often true.
Paul wrote to his friend Philemon and said, ‘Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you’ (Philemon 8-9; see also 2 Corinthians 8:8). Paul probably meant his love and Philemon’s love. So it’s true that, for love’s sake, a person in authority may choose not to command.
But Jesus shatters any absolute dissociation of commandments and love. He says, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments…. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father’ (John 14:15, 21). ‘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’ (John 15:10). Thinking in terms of commandments and obedience did not stop Jesus from enjoying the love of his Father. And he expects that our thinking of him as one who commands will not jeopardize our love relationship with him either.”
There are many earthly relationships where love, for one with authority, is demonstrated by obedience. Perilously, ours is an age that denies this. Parents fail to see that love commands. Children fail to see that love obeys. Such an idea of love is shocking enough for modern ears, but it is the absoluteness of it here that is most radical. There are no exceptions. If you love, you will keep. With earthly authorities, sometimes love may disobey. But here, there is an understood absoluteness to this rule. There are no exceptions. This brings us to the second reason Jesus’ statement is radical.
Look at what the absoluteness of this statement says about Jesus. You can sense it in the words, “my commandments.” Moses gave commands, but he didn’t speak of “my commandments.” They were the Lord’s. The incarnate Son obeyed His Father’s commands as a man. He gives commands to men as God. There are then no exceptions to this rule. If you love Jesus, you don’t improvise. You don’t demonstrate it by originality. You don’t get creative. You obey.
Or you may see it this way: Jesus said elsewhere that all the law is summed up with two commandments: Love God with all and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40). Jesus, earlier in the Upper Room, told the disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (13:34). And now He is telling them to love Him by obeying His commandments. He is telling them to love Him by loving others. He is telling them to love God (Himself) by loving one another.
Commandments then, are not contrary to love; they are essential to all love, even when you want to love another who is not an authority over you or under you. When you want to love others, Jesus defines what love to others looks like. Sinclair Ferguson is spot on when he writes, “love is what the law commands, and the commands are what love fulfills.” You cannot truly love, either man or God, unless you keep the commands of God.
But not only are commandments essential to truly love, love is essential to true obedience to the commandments. Love lies underneath true obedience. Sheer outward obedience is not obedience, no matter how great the outward action is. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Jesus commands the heart as well as the hands. Hands without heart are still disobedient hands. Here’s the kind of obedience Jesus is speaking of, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8). Keeping commandments doesn’t mean you love. Love does mean you keep the commandments.