Love & Obedience in John’s Writings

Gospel of John.jpg

The relationship between love and obedience has a checkered history in the life of God’s people. On one side are those curmudgeons who furrow their brow and yell “Obedience.” On the other side are those soft men who whimper, “All we need is love.” In between are most Christians who spend their days bouncing between love and obedience. They ask questions like, am I really loving God? Am I obeying enough? Am I being a legalist? In this post I want to show how John weaves together love and obedience. This post will not answer all questions, but I hope it will clarify the relationship between love and obedience. At the end I will draw some conclusions from these texts.

This post is focused on passages in John’s gospel and his three letters where he uses the word “command/commandments,” which is ἐντολή in the Greek.

We begin with the obedience of our Lord. Jesus obeyed the commands of the Father because he loved the Father.  In John 10:17-18 Jesus says that he lays down his life according to the Father’s command (charge in the ESV). Because he lays down his life the Father loves him.  In John 12:44-50 Jesus says he speaks whatever the Father commands him to speak. He also says that the Father’s command is “everlasting life.” Finally in John 15:10, Jesus says that he has kept the commandments of the Father and therefore he abides in the Father’s love. Continue reading

Did Judas Really Partake?

Calvin comments on whether or not Judas received the body of Christ at the Last Supper.

When he says that he dwelleth in us, [John 6:56] the meaning is the same as if he had said, that the only bond of union, and the way by which he becomes one with us, is, when our faith relies on his death. We may likewise infer from it, that he is not now speaking of the outward symbol, which many unbelievers receive equally with believers, and yet continue separated from Christ. It enables us also to refute the dream of those who say, that Judas received the body of Christ as well as the other apostles, when Christ gave the bread to all; for as it is a display of ignorance to limit this doctrine to the outward sign, so we ought to remember what I have formerly said, that the doctrine which is here taught is sealed in the Lord’s Supper. Now, it is certain, in the first place, that Judas never was a member of Christ; secondly, it is highly unreasonable to imagine the flesh of Christ to be dead and destitute of the Holy Spirit; and, lastly, it is a mockery to dream of any way of eating the flesh of Christ without faith, since faith alone is the mouth — so to speak — and the stomach of the soul.

Here is another quote from Calvin’s commentary on John 6.

And I will raise him up at the last day [John 6:54] It ought to be observed, that Christ so frequently connects the resurrection with eternal life, because our salvation will be hidden till that day. No man, therefore, can perceive what Christ bestows on us, unless, rising above the world, he places before his eyes the last resurrection From these words, it plainly appears that the whole of this passage [John 6:52-59] is improperly explained, as applied to the Lord’s Supper. For if it were true that all who present themselves at the holy table of the Lord are made partakers of his flesh and blood, all will, in like manner, obtain life; but we know that there are many who partake of it to their condemnation. And indeed it would have been foolish and unreasonable to discourse about the Lord’s Supper, before he had instituted it. It is certain, then, that he now speaks of the perpetual and ordinary manner of eating the flesh of Christ, which is done by faith only. And yet, at the same time, I acknowledge that there is nothing said here that is not figuratively represented, and actually bestowed on believers, in the Lord’s Supper; and Christ even intended that the holy Supper should be, as it were, a seal and confirmation of this sermon. This is also the reason why the Evangelist John makes no mention of the Lord’s Supper; and therefore Augustine follows the natural order, when, in explaining this chapter, he does not touch on the Lord’s Supper till he comes to the conclusion; and then he shows that this mystery is symbolically represented, whenever the Churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in some places daily, and in other places only on the Lord’s day.

Eating is Believing

John 6:22-59  a great passage with layers upon layers of meaning. It is common for people who are excited about the Lord’s Supper or are studying it for the first time to make John 6 refer directly to communion. However, after studying it, I am sure that it does not. It does have application to the Lord’s Supper, but Jesus is not talking about eating bread and drinking wine in this passage. He is talking about believing in Him. Throughout the passage Christ is exhorting men to believe in Him (John 6:29). He uses several metaphors throughout the text to describe this act of believing. Here are some of them.

John 6:27-Labor for the food that does not perish.

John 6:35-He who comes to me/He who believes in me.  (See also John 6:37).

John 6:40 Everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him has everlasting life.

John 6:45 Hearing and learning from the Father means you come to Christ.

John 6:47 He who believes in me has everlasting life.

John 6:50-51 One may eats this bread and not die/If anyone eats this bread he will live forever.

John 6:54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.

John 6:56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.

John 6:58 He who eats the bread will live forever.

In the passage, Jesus is using coming, eating, and drinking as metaphors for believing in Him. Eating is not faith itself, but is the fruit of faith, believing in Jesus Christ. Our faith comes from God the Father giving us to Christ (John 6:37). We then come to Jesus, eat Jesus, believe in Jesus, are taught by God, etc. Jesus promises that those who are given him by the Father and who therefore come to him will never be lost (John 6:39).  Being taught by God leads to us coming to Christ, but is not equivalent to us coming to Christ. It is the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit which is the fruit of our election.

The reason this passage cannot refer, at least directly, to the Lord’s Supper is that whoever does these things is raised up on the last day (John 6:39-40, 54). It works like this:

Anyone who eats Christ’s flesh has eternal life and will be resurrected to glory.
There are some who eat the Lord’s Supper and are damned.
Therefore eating His flesh is not the same thing as eating the bread and drinking the wine.

The passage has application to the Lord’s Supper, but we must be careful to not make the act of eating equivalent to the act of believing. If you believe you should celebrate the Lord’s Supper and want to eat the bread and wine. But eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper does not guarantee that belief is present. The act of eating the Lord’s Supper is not automatically an act of faith.

Why Christ’s Flesh Can Save Us

Here is a quote from John Calvin’s commentary on John 6:51. I have bolded that portion that I really enjoyed. 

But an objection is brought, that the flesh of Christ cannot give life, because it was liable to death, and because even now it is not immortal in itself; and next, that it does not at all belong to the nature of flesh to quicken [make alive] souls. I reply, though this power comes from another source than from the flesh, still this is no reason why the designation may not accurately apply to it; for as the eternal Word of God is the fountain of life, (John 1:4,) so his flesh, as a channel, conveys to us that life which dwells intrinsically, as we say, in his Divinity. And in this sense it is called life-giving, because it conveys to us that life which it borrows for us from another quarter. This will not be difficult to understand, if we consider what is the cause of life, namely, righteousness. And though righteousness flows from God alone, still we shall not attain the full manifestation of it any where else than in the flesh of Christ; for in it was accomplished the redemption of man, in it a sacrifice was offered to atone for sins, and an obedience yielded to God, to reconcile him to us; it was also filled with the sanctification of the Spirit, and at length, having vanquished death, it was received into the heavenly glory. It follows, therefore that all the parts of life have been placed in it, that no man may have reason to complain that he is deprived of life, as if it were placed in concealment, or at a distance.

Exhortation for Chris and Grace

People get married for many reasons. But the foundational reason we marry is because we need something. Maybe we are lonely and want a companion. Maybe we want someone to fill our sexual needs. Maybe we get married because we want someone to share the financial burden. Maybe we get married because we want children and believe they will fill some hole in our lives. Maybe we get married because our parents or friends push us towards marriage and we are trying to make them happy. Maybe we get married because we want to get away from our parents. Maybe we get married because we are tired of eating frozen pizza every night.
In all these situations we marry because we need something. We look to marriage and more specifically to our spouse to fill some hole in lives. We enter marriage as consumers. Our spouse is there to provide us with something. This consumer approach to marriage causes several problems. 
First, we suck our spouses dry. The reality is that no human being, no matter how great or how wonderful, can meet all of our needs. We all function from a deficit. In reality we are all a cup that is 1/3 full. No matter how much we pour the other person will never be full. No matter how much our spouse pours into us we will never be full. Our ledgers are in the red.  
Second, we end up viewing our spouses as vending machines. My husband is there to provide…fill in the blank. My wife is there to provide…fill in the blank. They become objects. Their purposes is to satisfy me, much like Kroger’s purpose is to give me bread and milk. 
Third, our spouses struggle because we are focused on our needs instead of their needs. If we view our spouses as
The problem with this is that no matter how hard we try we cannot meet our spouses needs and they cannot meet our needs. But we try and they try. Each time we come up short. We end up more and more empty. One day we wake up and find out our spouses are not enough and, perhaps more painfully, we find out we are not enough. A person who is empty cannot be expected to fill others. But what if we could get full? What if instead of entering marriage with a list of needs for my spouse to meet, we entered marriage full with  of ways we will meet our spouse’s needs. What if marriage became about giving from our overflow instead of giving from being 1/3 full? What if there was never a shortage?  Well the good news is that we can become full. 
How do we reach this place of fullness? There is only one way, Jesus Christ. There are two verses I want to bring to your attention this afternoon.

John 4:13-14 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Chris and Grace, only through Christ can you be full. That woman at the well had tried to get full. She had tried five husbands. But she was still empty. Christ said that he could fill her up so she never thirsted again. Those who trust in him are full. They have abundant life. Those who do not believe in Him are empty. You cannot fill each other up, if you are empty. You cannot pour out if you are half-full. Chris the only the way you can fill Grace, is if you are full. Grace the only you way can fill Chris is if you are full. That means your love for Jesus, your trust in Him, and your confession of your sins is the glue that holds your marriage together.  When Christ fills you several things happen.
First, you focus on filling your spouse instead of meeting your own needs.
Second, you view your spouse as someone to be loved, not something to used. You no longer approach marriage as a consumer, but rather as a giver. 
Third, when you hit dry, hard spots you will not drain your spouse.  Marriages are usually good when things are going well. But when hard times hit then the strength of a marriage is tested.  Now imagine our cup illustration. Imagine that things are hard and you are only 1/3 full. What if you ask more of your spouse at that time? Her cup is getting lower, but  you are demanding more. Your cup is getting lower, so you are giving less. What happens? You both end up empty and blaming the other person. Bitterness sets in. But when you are filled with Christ, you can give until you are dead. This does not mean that you are always happy or that there is never any tragedy in your life. It does not mean that your marriage is all roses and no thorns.  But it does mean when difficulties arise you will not destroy the other person in the middle of your pain. 
What does it mean to be filled with Christ? It means faith in Him. It means worshiping Him with His people. It means quick repentance and quick forgiveness. It means being sanctified by the Spirit.  
Chris and Grace do not enter marriage as consumers. Enter it as those who are filled to the overflowing with Christ. Then you will spend your years giving to one another instead of taking.