5-4-15 - Love and Commandments

Here are two things that do not go together: love and and commandments! Since when is keeping commandments a sign of love? What happened to flowers and chocolates? Oh, it starts out okay; Jesus tells his followers, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

That I get - the love which we have received is what we give to others; love is something we can abide in, hang out with. That sounds beautiful and comforting and profound and unconditional. But Jesus isn’t finished: “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.” (This week's gospel passage is here.)

I know those psalms that talk about how “the law of the Lord" is sweet, like honey, but I confess I think of commandments as “shoulds” and love as “want to” and never the twain shall meet. This verse certainly makes it sound as if God’s love is not unconditional after all, and highly contingent upon our ability to obey. Since I tend to I prize unconditional love above all other theological concepts, and because I think efforts to obey are bound to end in failure, disappointment and self-condemnation, I react negatively to this word.

But let’s take a closer look. Jesus is not saying, “If you keep my commandments, I will keep loving you.” He says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” There is no change to the love in which we are invited to abide, only to our capacity for experiencing that love. Keeping Jesus’ commandments, he is saying, makes us better able to swim in the love of God flowing to and around us at all times. It puts us in the “head space” and “heart space” to receive – and give – the love of God.

Jesus was the One who best made visible God’s love for humanity. He lived it, taught it, demonstrated it, finally died and rose again to complete it here on earth. He is saying that it was his fidelity to God’s commandments that made him able to manifest God’s love. And likewise, that our fidelity to his commandments makes us able to show forth his love in this world. We need only recall times in our lives when we’ve been in the grip of attitudes or behaviors that were outside of God’s will for us to know how much our ability to love can become compromised.

Could it be that God’s commandments are not about our ability to “be good,” but intended to enable us to be Love? Perhaps I think of commandments as guilt-inducing rather than loving because trying to live into God’s commands without the power of God’s love at work in us is an uphill climb. With God’s love flowing through us, it becomes more like riding a bike with plenty of gears, so we can keep a steady pace no matter what the terrain.

Where are you experiencing a lot of love in your life, from God or other people, or from yourself toward others? Where is it a little choked off?
Are you in the grip of anxiety or resentment, or taking from another? Are there adjustments you can make to the way you are thinking, acting, loving, to become more Christ-like?

It’s a chicken-and-egg thing. We can’t really live into God’s commands without God’s love in us, and we can’t fully abide in God’s love without living the way God commands us. We need to focus on both. The great news is that, as we increase in each area, the other increases too – the more we abide in God’s love, the easier it is to live God’s way, and finally we discover that living God’s way opens us to more love than we could ever imagine.

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