Sunday, May 21, 2017

'If you love me, you will keep my commandments'

In our Gospel reading today the Lord tells us that if we love him we will keep his commandments. The implications of these words are far reaching; for if it is only those who keep his commandments who love him then the opposite is also true – which is that those who do not keep his commandments do not love him. It is not enough merely to say that we love God; we have to show it in our actions, by living our lives according to his laws. We should be reminded here of the words that Jesus spoke elsewhere in Scripture, in St Matthew's – 'not every one who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.' Obedience and Salvation are linked together in a way that can not be separated.

Now, to the modern ear this may seem a terrible imposition. God is interfering with my freedom, they may say; because if I behave contrary to his laws he will hold me to account. But there is a certain lack of logic to such objections. We do not whine and complain about how the laws of man or the laws of nature are some terrible and unfair burden upon us. With regard to the laws of man we see them as being sensible and necessary; and with regard to the laws of nature they are simply a fact of life. 

Now, we may break these laws if we choose to do so; for we have free will. But we do so knowing that there are consequences. A person may choose to drive as fast as they want, whatever the speed limit may happen to be; but they do so knowing that over the course of time they will accumulate fines and penalty points and may well eventually lose their licence altogether. Or a person may chose to defy the laws of gravity and throw themselves off a cliff; but the result will be injury or death. And if disobeying the laws of man or nature has consequences, why should it seem like something so terribly strange or unfair that disobeying the laws of God should also come at a price?

But we should not really be thinking about this in terms of crime and punishment, of lawgiver and criminal, but rather in terms of love. For remember what it was that Christ said in those words we are looking at: 'if you love me you will keep my commandments.' The person who truly loves God will keep his commandments – not because they are afraid of the consequences of not doing so, but because they love God. And the person who does not keep his commandments can not be said to love him. 

Now some may find that conclusion objectionable. I do love God, they may say, but in my own way; and that way does not involve obeying his laws. And that is sad, because it goes against what Christ says not only in these words that we heard read this morning, but also elsewhere in Scripture. It is like the person who habitually drives far too fast objecting to being described as a law-breaker; or the person who proposes throwing themselves off a cliff objecting to being described as someone lacking in common sense. They may well object; but their objections do not make the descriptions any less true. And if God himself tells us that those who do not obey him do not love him, who are we to disagree?

Now, of course, most of us are in the position of wanting to show our love for God by obeying his laws; but being weak human beings, prone to falling prey to temptations, we sometimes go astray. But we are blessed indeed, for ever before we loved God, he loved us first. And in this matter he shows his love to us by the assistance he gives us in obeying him. 

We read of this help in our Gospel today when Christ promises to send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to those who love him. The Holy Spirit will give his Grace to those who love God to help them obey God more and more so that, by Grace, obedience will increase, and thereby love for God will grow and increase also. That this is so is shown, I think, by some beautiful words from a saint of the Orthodox Church, Nikodemus of the Holy Mountain, who said:

 'The grace of the Holy Spirit which is given mystically to every Christian when he is baptised acts ... in proportion to our obedience to the commandments of the Lord. That is, if a Christian obeys the commandments of the Lord more, grace acts within him more … the more a man acts in accordance with the commandments of Christ, the more … the fire of Divine grace lights in his heart … '


This is, I think, a beautiful way of expressing what our Lord is saying to us this morning in our Gospel reading: God gives us the Grace to love him, that love for him is shown through obedience, and from that obedience flows more grace allowing us to love and obey him more and more, his love for us helping deepen our love for him endlessly. And so I end with the prayer that you will allow his Love to guide you to love him more and more each day until the time when you are with the one who is Love, the God who created you and desires nothing more than you love him in return. Amen. 

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