21 August 2017

John 14:15-17

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (vv. 15-16)

Psalm: Psalm 65


So, how about this as a strange definition of love? 'If you love me, you will obey me.' If anyone other than Jesus were speaking, I think we would respond that this does not sound like love as we usually experience it. Obedience is not a popular word these days - what then can we learn from what Jesus said here?

These words put us right in the centre of an issue that all Christians have needed to think carefully about for the last 2,000 years. How do we find the right balance between a faith in, and love for, God which is genuinely felt and transforms our inner lives (no-one wants a faith which is just about grim obedience) and a faith which is too focused on what we feel and what we believe which never results in action? Do we need to ask ourselves if our context encourages us to emphasise one side of that balance at the expense of the other?

We also need to bear in mind that these couple of verses are part of a longer speech in which Jesus is preparing his disciples for when he will die, be raised to life but then leave them physically and need to be read as part of that greater whole. In John's Gospel Jesus had already discussed faith, the promise that his disciples will dwell in his Father's house and the idea that discipleship means continuing to do his works, before he said this. In fact, the context for these verses is not just that speech but also the stories about Jesus on that crucial night. The work which Jesus has just done is to wash the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-11), while the commandment he has just given is to love one another (John 13:34-35).

In these verses Jesus described two further facets of a multi-faceted discipleship. Even this commandment is balanced by a promise that the Holy Spirit will dwell in us. Perhaps the question for us is how we hold on to all those facets.

To Ponder

  • How would you describe the relationship between your inner faith and your outer discipleship as it stands today?
  • If discipleship is multifaceted, what shapes your Christian living? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.