Commandments: keep

Jesus’ discourse (at this point) begins to move in a new direction by focusing on the ways in which belief in Jesus empowers the believing community (v.12 ff).  Jesus has emphasized that the works he does are not his own but are the Father’s; now Jesus begins to emphasize the link between his works that of the believing community. Our gospel text describes two dimensions of the believer’s relationship with Jesus: (1) the inseparability of one’s love of Jesus and the keeping of his commandments (vv.15, 21, 23-24) and (2) the abiding and indwelling of the presence of God, even after Jesus’ death and departure with those who love him (vv.16-20, 22-23).

Love and Keeping Commandments. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (v.15) Love for Jesus is not sentimental, but is expressed by keeping his commands, i.e. by responding to all he taught, with faith and obedience – even when Jesus has gone.  Brian Stoffregen asks this interesting question: What does it mean to have a relationship with Jesus in his absence? That was a question for John’s first readers and for us today. One answer is that while Jesus may be absent, God is not.  In the whole of our text, there are three different promised present in 14:15-24

  • The promise of the Paraclete (vv. 16-17)
  • The promise of Jesus’ return (vv. 18-20)
  • The coming of the Father and Jesus (v. 23)

Our text includes the first two promises, which forms an outline of our lesson:

  1. The coming of the Paraclete (vv. 15-17)
  2. The coming (back) of Jesus (vv. 18-21 – possibly referring to the resurrection)

However, the entire lesson is bracketed by common thoughts (but in reverse order)

A1 If you love me,
B1 you will keep my commandments (v. 15)
B2 The one having my commandments and keeping them,
A2 that is the one who loves me. (v. 21)

Brown [644] suggests even more parallels between the two subsections:

Neither the giving of the Paraclete or coming back of Jesus seem to be describing the Last Day. Here the coming(s) are limited to the disciples who know the Paraclete (Spirit of Truth) and see Jesus – something the world is not able to do.

What does it mean to have a relationship with Jesus in his absence? Part of the answer to our question is to love.  The verb used in our verses for “love” (agapate) is a present subjunctive, implying a continuing act of loving Jesus – keep on loving Jesus or continue to love Jesus. The word agapao also implies more than having “warm feelings” towards someone or something. It emphasizes “showing one’s love” or “demonstrating one’s love” – sometimes even without the inner “feeling”. For example., “loving” one’s enemies doesn’t mean to develop warm feelings for them, but to do “beneficial deeds for” them.

How do we show our love for Jesus? By keeping his commandments. That’s another answer to the question: “What does it mean to have a relationship with Jesus in his absence?”

What are Jesus commandments (note the plural, also in 14:21; 15:10)? And John 15:10b leads us to ask, “What are the Father’s commandments that Jesus kept?” Four times John has Jesus talking about commandments (entole) or commands (entellomai) that come from God.

  • 10:18 in reference to Jesus’ power to lay down his life and his power to take it up again.
  • 12:41 what Jesus does comes from the Father’s command (verb)
  • 12:49 what Jesus says comes from the Father’s commandment (singular).
  • 12:50 the Father’s commandment (singular) is eternal life – related to Jesus speaking just as the Father has told him.
  • In addition, Jesus tells the disciples that he gives them a new commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34; 15:12).

Commandments (entolai, vv.15,21), “word” (logos, v.23), and “words” (logoi, vv. 24) are all synonyms. They point to the totality of what Jesus says and reveals about God. In order to interpret Jesus’ words about keeping his commandments/word in these verses, they need to be placed alongside Jesus’ earlier teachings about faithfulness to his word. Jesus regularly cites faithfulness to his word as the mark of belonging to him (e.g., 5:38; 8:31, 37, 51; 12:47-48; cf. 6:67-69).

The Johannine meaning of “commandment” is far broader than the Mosaic laws, rather encompasses the whole of Jesus’ life:  words, deeds and the ultimate measure – love.


Notes

John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments:  This verse is a conditional statement makes a definite and unqualified statement about some future event. How it is translated depends on which variant reading one chooses (i.e., the Greek in ancient manuscripts is not exact for this verse).  Fr. Raymond Brown, using the subjunctive variant reading for teresete (“keep”), suggests: “If you love me and keep my commandments, then I will ask the Father ….” However, the more widely accepted reading, and the one used in NAB and most translations is the future: “If you love me, then you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father ….” Another variant uses the imperative: “If you love me, keep my commandments and I will ask…” Note that the verb for “love” (agapate) is a present subjunctive, implying a continuing act of loving Jesus – keep on loving Jesus or continue to love Jesus.

Sources

  • Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol. 29b in The Anchor Bible, eds. William Albright and David Freeman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966) 637-48
  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 745-50
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970
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