This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.
This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God
(1 John 5.3-5)
The idea of loving by obeying is not appealing to many folk in our contemporary society, but we cannot rewrite the bible for our own social convenience, deleting or re-phrasing the parts that make us feel awkward. I believe that every part of the bible as we have it today is intended to be a blessing to the church, a source of understanding and above all a revelation of God’s love to the world in Jesus Christ. So I must grapple with obedience as love in action, joyful and persevering obedience in the face of opposition, personal suffering, ignorance, mockery, and indifference.
My love for God – feeble though I know it to be – is first and overwhelmingly a response to his love for me, demonstrated through the death of Jesus for my sins. To be loved like that is irresistible, and I want to hold nothing back in my response. I know that I will fail at times, through human weakness and the pressures upon me, but my desire is to love, more and more. I want to make my God glad, to bring joy – if it is not inappropriate to put it this way – to the fount of gladness! He is not mysterious about how I can do this, and tells me clearly that if I love him then I will obey his commands.
This little passage from John’s letter makes it clear that obedience will not be a burden to me because I have been born of God. What does this mean? I think that Paul put it plainly in his second letter to the church in Corinth:- “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5.17). What God has done in me is give birth to new life, the life of Christ in me, and the commands of God are things I now desire with all my heart to fulfill! The power of this world to deceive me, to weaken my will to obey God, is utterly broken, because the nature which responded to those pressures has been put to death in me for ever.
Our world continues to be the beautiful, ugly, bountiful, dangerous place it always was. Human beings continue to suffer illness and death; to inflict appalling suffering upon one another; to be selfish and cruel, indifferent and neglectful, malicious and evil. In just this last few days I have grieved over a friend’s loss of two out of three triplets, shared the burden of another enduring dreadful experiences at work, and shuddered over news from the Middle East of further mass executions of Christians. In what sense do we have victory here?
We have the victory, because we know that NOTHING, none of these dreadful things, will separate God’s beloved children from his love. We know that in the light of eternity, our greatest sorrows and sufferings will seem nothing. We know that in the darkest places of our lives, our God is not only present but intimately close, understanding our pain and pouring his compassionate love into our hearts.
It is because we have been granted faith to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our saviour, that we can claim in the midst of grievous troubles to have victory, to know peace. The love of God as revealed in Christ is so great, that we can trust him to be working for our ultimate good in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. We may strive at times to hold on to our confidence in him, but God’s hold on us never loosens, and in that we rest.
I do not write these words lightly, I do not wish to suggest that the sufferings of our world are trivial and should not cause us grief and sorrow – they should, they are appalling blemishes on what should have been a glorious creation, and we hold on to the hope that one day they will be banished altogether. But our understanding of who we are as God’s children facing these troubles makes so much difference. As I wrote, these words from an old song came to mind, I leave them with you as a prayer for this week:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.
(Helen H Lemmel)