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. 

The King Who Washes Feet

This was written for the men at my church, but easily applies to all Christians. 

Have you ever looked at your feet? I mean really looked at them. Have you sat down and examined them? Are your nails yellow? Are there callouses on the bottom? Do they have a distinct odor? Do you let your toenails get too long? Are your toes spread out or shoved up on top of each other? Does your heel feel like sandpaper?  Are there ugly veins all over them? Do they itch? Feet are generally not pleasant to behold, especially men’s feet.  But in John 13 those ugly feet provide one of the greatest symbols of Christian service. 

The Text: John 13:12-17
            Christ was just hours away from being nailed to the cross and bleeding for us when we reach John 13. It was Thursday evening. He was about to spend several hours teaching his disciples about the Holy Spirit, prayer, abiding in Him and how the world will hate them because it hated him (John 14-16). He will end the evening with a long prayer where he prayed for himself, for his disciples, and for us (John 17). Then the guards will come and carry him away to be crucified.
            But the night begins with an act that crystallizes who Jesus is.  Jesus has already entered Jerusalem on a donkey (12:14). He did not come in on a chariot or with a huge army or entourage. He came on a lowly donkey. Now he again chooses a humble action to show the disciples who he was and how they were supposed to imitate him. After the meal is over, Christ, the Messiah, takes off his robe and puts on a loincloth. He dresses himself like a slave. He then begins to wash the disciples’ feet.
            In those days, when men travelled on dusty roads and wore sandals, foot washing was an essential part of hospitality. When you entered someone’s house you took off your sandals and a servant would wash your feet. There are several other examples of foot washing in the Scriptures, including Luke 7:44 and I Timothy 6:10.  Foot washing was often done by the lowest member in the household. Christ chose to serve his disciples by washing their feet. 
            There is a lot more in this text than what I am going to draw your attention to. Verse 3 gives the reason for Christ’s service. He belonged to God and therefore did not need to grasp.  Also the exchange between Jesus and Peter (13:6-11) is theologically rich. I would love to discuss how Peter is clean, but still needs his feet washed.  But we will focus on verses 12-17. I would encourage you to read John 13:1-17 before reading the rest of the article.

What Kind of Lord?
            In these verses, Jesus is smashing down all worldly ideas about power and leadership. He is the Lord. He is their Teacher. He states that emphatically (vs. 13).  But he flips leadership on its head. We think leadership means I get to rule over you and tell you what to do and generally boss you around. But Jesus takes a sledge to this picture and in its place puts up a symbol of humble service.  We are sons of God. We are citizens in an Empire that will shine for eternity like a million burning suns. We are servants to the greatest King who ever lived. But this does not mean we get to rule over, it means we get to serve under.
            Can you imagine our president washing the feet of his cabinet? Can you imagine any great athlete washing their teammates’ feet?  What about James Bond? What about at your job, can you picture washing the feet of your fellow employees? Can we imagine our fathers washing the feet of those in our homes?
            Men, God has called us to lead in many areas. We will lead in our homes, at Christ Church, in our jobs, and in our communities. But this leadership is not leadership like the world.  We are not to imitate the brash, haughty, chest thumping men that parade themselves around, whether they are in sports or movies or politics. We are to imitate the leadership of the King of Kings. We are to wash the feet of those around us.
So What?
            What this passage means for us is easy to see, but hard to do. It means we do the dirty jobs that no one else wants to do. We change diapers and do dishes and vacuum and run to the store at 9 pm for the eggs that were forgotten. We volunteer at work for the job no one wants. As men, we love doing big things. If someone needs help building a shed, we will be there. Gutting a deer? Count me in.  Fixing a car engine? When do I show up? And of course, we should be willing to do the big things. God made us as men to strive for glory. Part of that glory is doing great things for those around us. But this passage teaches us that there is glory in the little things. Our struggle is not fighting off thieves who want to steal our goods. Our struggle is fighting off sleep to listen to our wife at 10 pm. Our struggle is coming home from a long day at work and putting the children to bed or cooking dinner for our roommate. Our struggle is being assigned the lame task at work that no one wants. Men, we cannot faithfully follow our Lord if we only do the great things and refuse to do the little things.   
            One good way to know if you are growing as a servant-leader is to ask this question: Am I willing to do a job that I will never be thanked for and no one will notice?  If you are always looking for praise and only do a job when someone is patting you on the back you are not serving like our Master.

What is He Doing Here?
            If you were Jesus would have let Judas eat the Last Supper? Would you have washed his feet? Imagine if you knew that someone was going to betray. In mere hours, this person would seek to destroy you for a few coins. Would you serve this person? Would you sit down and eat with them? Jesus did.
            Romans 12:17-21 tells us to be kind to our enemies and to bless those who persecute us. Christ gives us a wonderful picture of this truth. Judas had allowed the Devil some control over him (13:2). He had already agreed to betray Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:14-16).  And yet here is the One who set the stars in the heavens and commands legions of angels washing the feet of his betrayer.  In just a few hours Judas will kiss the cheek of Christ and seal the fate of both Lord and disciple.  Why does Jesus wash his feet?
            We must learn to serve those who hate us. Washing the feet of those we love is hard enough. But to wash the feet of our enemies requires grace beyond what we can find in our natural human hearts.  Only Christ can give us the grace to love those who stab us in the back.  Who is that enemy that you refuse to serve? Is there someone at work that you like to “stick it to?” Is there a family member that you refuse to serve because they slandered you in the past? If we are to be like Christ we must serve, not just those we love, but even those who hate us.

Blessed Are Those Who Do
            Finally, notice Jesus’ warning in verse 17.  We all tend to believe that because we have read something or studied something that we are doing it. But between knowing and doing there is often a deep chasm. Jesus reminds us here that knowledge is not enough. Memorizing the passage and studying it in depth is not a substitute for obedience. Only those who obey are blessed.

            But this is not just a warning. It is a promise. Jesus tells us that when we follow in his footsteps we will be blessed. Indeed, the only road to blessing is to follow after Christ. Men, if we want our homes and churches and communities to be blessed by Christ then we must refuse to glorify ourselves. We must put on the clothing of a slave and serve those around us.  We must be willing to do any task, no matter how small or trivial or low, to serve our wives, children, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even our enemies. I asked earlier if we could imagine any of our heroes washing the feet of those around them. But now we must ask the question of ourselves. Could our family or friends or fellow church members imagine us washing their feet? If not, we should repent and follow after the example of our Master.