Love and Obedience: The Correct Order

 •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Love is the spring of obedience. Any obedience that does not spring from love is legality, servility, or selfishness. Christian obedience knows no other spring than love. The Christian obeys because he loves, and because he is loved. "If ye love Me," says the Lord, "keep My commandments"; or again, the Apostle writes, "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again."
Our love to the Lord is only the response of our hearts to His love for us. "We love Him, because He first loved us." Thus our love is the fruit of His-it is begotten by His, and is the result of it. We do not love Him in order that He may love us. That would be impossible. How could these wretched hearts force themselves to love one whom by sin they hate? Is not the carnal mind enmity against God? and how, then, could we love Him? We never would, if there were not a display of love on His side first of all-if His love were not free and spontaneous, acting independently altogether of us.
But, blessed be God, this is the very truth unfolded in the gospel of His grace! It was when we "were dead in trespasses and sins" that God loved us. It was when we were "yet sinners" that Christ died for us, and that God found occasion for this display of His own love. It was when we were hateful that the kindness and love of God appeared. And it was when we were lost that the
Son of man came to seek and to save us.
Such is the truth of the gospel. The priority of the love of God to man before that of man to God is thus distinctly revealed. For instance, "God so loved the world" is the truth that takes the soul by glad surprise, for that uncalled-for and undeserved love shines forth in all its bright and precious radiance without the least encouragement from man, in spite of all that man could do to discourage and repel it. Yet that timeless, changeless love beams on like a sun that no cloud can darken-like a fire that no frost can chill because it flows from a heart, the very nature and essence of which is love itself. "God is love" is the grand and full explanation of the fact that "God so loved the world," and the reason, too, of His suffering long with that world which is day by day and year by year adding to its mountain load of sin and opposition to Him.
Oh! what a wondrous and soul-delivering truth this is! What a sight to behold the love of God in Christ Jesus bursting in upon this dark and dreary scene of sin and death and sorrow! How sweet to hear the story of that love, or to stand by Calvary's cross and let the proud heart be melted by that triumph of loving-kindness. Truly, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And by such a story the heart is won, the enemy reconciled, and the sinner saved. By such a truth there is kindled in the bosom a spark of love to Him. Thus love begets love, and the enemy becomes a friend and a follower.
There is a striking moral connection between the question asked by the Lord of Peter in John 21:1717He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21:17) and the command given to that Apostle in the 22nd verse of the same chapter. The question is, "Lovest thou Me?" and the command, "Follow thou Me." The order is correct. Love is to precede obedience, and obedience is none the less to follow love. If the first can be established, the second will be secured. If the Lord can gain the heart, He can count upon getting the feet. And so with divine wisdom He tests the affections of the Apostle. "Lovest thou Me," who has so loved thee? And what was the answer of poor, heartbroken Peter? "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee." What humble and touching words are these. "Thou knowest all things," said Peter, as though he would again have shed the bitter tears of penitence, and acknowledged the threefold denial of his loved and loving Lord and Savior. "Thou knowest all things"-my weakness, my folly, my self-confidence, and my sin- my repentance, my anguish, my sorrow, too. "Thou knowest that I love Thee." If none else should know it, Thou dost.
Then, "Follow Me," said the Lord. If the Lord is really loved, He will likewise be really obeyed. Obedience will be proportionate to and commensurate with love. "He that loveth Me not keepeth not My sayings." As the love, so the obedience. There may and must be different degrees of intelligence as to His will, but the spirit of obedience will characterize all who really love Him. An obedient heart is His delight. Such an one will be trained and nurtured by Him and, as He says, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine." Oh! that these three words, "Follow thou Me, "may stand out in bold and clear relief before the grateful and loving gaze of our renewed affections. Then we may practically esteem Him worthy of all our obedience here, to whom we shall gladly bow the knee in the song of eternal adoration by-and-by when forever each blood bought saint shall say, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing." And if the crown that shall decorate each saintly brow is to be cast at His feet, shall not His name be honored now by the grateful, complete, and unreserved surrender of these poor hearts and hands and feet, yea, of all that we have and are, to the service of the same gracious Savior and Lord? Oh! let Him thus be glorified. He claims us as the purchase of His blood.
May our inmost souls hear His question, "Lovest thou Me?" and joyfully obey His command, "Follow thou Me."