Word association: commandment
What did you come up with?
Did you think of things like liberation, joy, freedom, and peace?
Or, did your mind turn toward things like legalism, bondage, and burden?
Or perhaps you landed somewhere in between these two extremes. I suppose to be totally accurate to the point I want to address I should have asked, “What do you think of when you see the word ‘command’ as it relates to your life?’
John has a lot to say about commands in his brief little letter. He uses the word command or commandment ten times (and the concept even more). But if all we take away from his letter is that we’re supposed to keep God’s commands, we haven’t heard him very well because he has so much more to say than that.
In 2:3, he says “We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands.” He is speaking experientially and relationally. He is telling us that we’re not to think of obeying commands as observing regulations, checking a box, or in other dry, sterile manner—we are sharing the life of God! Commands reflect His character; to live them is to experience God.
I heard a man say recently that he had heard Jesus’ statement that it was more blessed to give than to receive all of his life, but he didn’t understand it. Then he got involved in an outreach effort to the needy of his community. As a result, he felt like he now had an understanding of what the Lord meant. That’s precisely what John is saying here. Commands are a relational bridge by which we get to know our Father. To miss this connection is to miss something vital. To view commands as abstract regulations is to make our faith cold and impersonal. We’re don’t merely obey laws—we walk with God! While there’s no doubt this is a something the world needs to hear, John wrote this to followers of Jesus. As such, I think it is also something disciples really need to take to heart. If the world is to to see the joy, freedom, and peace that Christ brings, it will be because they see it in His followers.