Last weekend we celebrated one of the most awesome feast days of the Church – Divine Mercy Sunday (thank you St Faustina and Pope St John Paul II). The second reading was from 1:John 5.
Here are the two middle verses:
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments.
3 For the love of God is this, that we obey His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.
A first reading of these verses would intimate something quite “authoritarian”. A master commands his servant; an officer commands his soldiers; a King (maybe a tyrant) commands his subjects. And, rightfully, a God can command His creation [I daresay that creation came into being at the actual command of God].
In the original greek, the word for command (or commandment) is ἐντολή : that which is authoritatively commanded. Of course, a master/officer/King can command. However, a servant/soldier/subject chooses to obey for many reasons. Sometimes fear, or a sense of duty or loyalty….or even (more rarely) for love.
In this first letter of St. John, the “love” that St John is talking about here is translated as ἀγάπη (agape). In my particular greek concordance [Scripture Direct], ἀγάπη is defined as: “to have love for someone or something, based on sincere appreciation and high regard” [I acknowledge that this is only one definition of ἀγάπη, however it’s the one I want to concentrate on to make this point]. So, a soldier may admire, and have high esteem for, the leadership and skill of his officer. Particularly if he thinks he is well trained, and has his best interests at heart. He may even follow his commands over the trenches and into the face of certain death (although there is probably a healthy component of fear here – fear of being shot for not following orders). Similarly, someone may follow the command of a King if they respect his office, and title, and authority. More so if they actually love him.
So it is with Christ. If you think he is onto something good, that He knows what He is talking about, that you think He is “well-trained and experienced”. That He has our welfare at heart. That, perhaps, you acknowledge Him as our Creator and our King, and you respect that title and office. That, He is in fact the risen Son of God. Then, of course, you will follow his “commands”. You would be insane if you didn’t, or at least un-authentic. This is why St John said “when we love God and obey His commandments”. It is not “if we love God or obey His commandments”. One follows the other: the love of God comes first and then they following of what He says naturally follows.
Thankfully (and beautifully) His commands “are not burdensome”. Following them is, indeed, the best thing for us and for everyone else because, as John Henry Cardinal Newman says: “He knows what He is about”.