God's Love in His Commandments
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3 ESV). During this Easter season here at International Lutheran Church, we have been reading through the first letter of the Apostle John to the churches in Asia Minor. In this brief but powerful letter John shows us again and again how the love of God is revealed to us and through us. Today, we see the effect of God’s love which has transformed our very lives.
In Luther’s Small Catechism (a short book of questions and answers that cover the basics of the Christian faith), the explanation to each of the Ten Commandments begins with the simple phrase, “We should fear and love God …” and then continues with what “we are not to do” as well as what “we are to do” according to God’s Word. For example, the commandment “You shall not steal” is followed by the words, “We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possession… but help them to improve and protect their possessions and income.” I think most of us can relate to the concept of fear because we have all faced one kind of fear or another in our lives. Even our relationship to God has been affected by fear, mostly because we are acutely aware of our inability to keep His commandments and do His will. So how can John, or Luther for that matter, talk in the same breath about love and commandment?
For John to say the commandments are no longer burdensome hints at the radical and amazing change in our lives because of the love of God. For the Apostle John, the love of God is not an abstract concept or emotion. In this letter, John shows us again and again how the love of God is revealed in Jesus. In His very flesh, and through His very death, God’s love has been shown to the world. “This is love not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us” (1 John 4:10). And this love is not without effect. God’s love changes us! His love is now demonstrated in us. His love has created in us new life in faith active in keeping His commands. No longer are the commandments only a curb on our own desires and will. No longer are the commandments only a mirror into our sinful nature. The commandments give us a solid direction for our lives as people of faith in Christ. He has given us the very Spirit by which these commands can be kept.
There is a critical verse that relates both these concepts of fear and love: “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). In other words, even our fear is transformed in the light of love revealed in the flesh of Jesus! As He lays down His life for His friends, He shows us perfect love. This love then transforms His commandments in our lives to be the very way in which our love for God is shown to those around us. God’s love takes on flesh and is revealed in you and me as we live in His love and follow His commandments for our neighbor.
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!