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The Link between Love and Obedience 

The First and Great Commandment in the Gospels

4 min

Love and obedience are closely linked throughout the Scriptures. In Deuteronomy 30:19–20, love is linked to obedience in Moses’ exhortation to the nation of Israel. “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (emphasis added).

When the Lord Jesus was in the Upper Room with His disciples on the night that He was betrayed, He linked love and obedience closely together. On that night, He washed His disciples’ feet, giving them a humble example of loving service. Afterward, Jesus exhorted His disciples with this simple, yet convicting statement: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Jesus never calls us to do something that He is not willing to do Himself. His entire earthly ministry was a lifelong act of loving obedience. In one of the Messianic psalms that speaks of the coming work of the Anointed One, the Messiah says in humble submission to His Father’s will, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:7–8).

As the babe born in Bethlehem, Jesus humbled Himself and was made “like unto his brethren” (Hebrews 2:16–17). As a boy in the Temple, Jesus told His mother, “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). As the Lamb of God at the Jordan River, Jesus emerged from the water with the audible affirmation of His Father’s love: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Finally, in the Upper Room, His hour had come. His feet had traveled many dusty miles in loving obedience to His Father’s will. Jesus had finished the work that the Father had given Him to do: He had healed the lame, proclaimed liberty to the captives, opened the eyes of the blind, unstopped the ears of the deaf, cleansed the leper, and even raised the dead.

As Jesus came to the final act of obedience, He knew full well the high, painful cost that love and obedience would require. Jesus knew that He was about to experience what He had never experienced before in all the vast expanses of eternity: the outpoured wrath of His Father. He had known only His Father’s affirmation and love. He had testified to His disciples, “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).

But now the hour was coming when the Father would “smite the shepherd” (Zechariah 13:7) and pour upon His only begotten Son the full measure of His righteous wrath against sinful humanity. Christ Jesus knew full well the prophecy that He would be “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities.” (See Isaiah 53:5.) And yet, in loving obedience, Jesus willingly went to the cross.

Jesus told His disciples before they went out into the night to the Garden of Gethsemane, “That the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence” (John 14:31).

When Jesus was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8), He was motivated by love for His Father. It was love that nailed Jesus to the cross. It was love that sustained Him during those dark hours when He cried in agony, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In an act of loving obedience, “Jesus . . . said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46).

Is it so unreasonable or demanding that such a loving Savior would call for loving obedience from us? When Christ has set the example of demonstrating love by His humble obedience, can we not obey His commandments from a heart of love?

“If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

In the same way Jesus demonstrated to the world that He loved the Father, you and I have the privilege of demonstrating to the world that we love Jesus by our obedience to His words. These words are echoed by the Apostle John: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (I John 5:3).

In Greek, there are four different ways to say “if.” Here we will look at two of those ways. First, on an earlier occasion in the Upper Room, Jesus said, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17). This grammatical construction assumes the statement is true. It is almost like our English word since. In other words, “If (Since) you know these things (and you do!), happy are you if you do them.”

But this is not the same construction that is used in the later passage, John 14:15. Jesus was not assuming anything about His disciples’ love, for good or for bad. This is the true “if” of the Greek language. “If ye love me” (Jesus is not assuming that the disciples love Him at this point), “keep my commandments.” He is calling upon His disciples in their generation—and upon us in our own generation—to prove our love by our obedience.

One of the most demonstrable ways that a child gives evidence of love for his mother or father is his prompt obedience to them. Obedience is also the test of discipleship. With love comes obedience, and with obedience comes a gracious promise of our Lord Jesus, delivered on that night in the Upper Room:

“If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10).

Abiding in Christ cannot be separated from loving obedience. To keep Christ’s commandments is to abide in Christ’s love. Christ has set the example of loving obedience, and He urges us to follow Him fully.

Do you love Christ? Are you proving that love by daily obedience to Christ’s commands? Have you been diligent to walk in the light by confessing secret sin and living in victory over lust and pride? Are you loving your brother as you ought to love him, by humble acts of sacrificial service? Even more difficult, are you loving your enemies and praying for them as Jesus commanded? What is your focus: enjoying temporal pleasures here in this world or laying up treasures in Heaven? Is the Kingdom of God your pursuit over every other pursuit? Obedience from the heart is not legalism. True obedience is love in action.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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