John 14:15-21

An Activity

We can make an intriguing memory-verse Möbius (say Moh-bee-us) band.

You will need:mobius memory verse

If you are using card, cut a strip about 2cm x 20cm – the width of A4 is perfect. Write ‘to love is to obey’ on one side, and try to make the text fill the strip. Flip the card over top to bottom (this is important) and write ‘my command is’ on the other side, leaving small gaps at the beginning and end. Add the Bible verses. (John 13:34 and John 14:15)

If you are using the PDF, print it onto paper and cut along the solid lines. One page will make 6 memory verses. Colour the lettering, then fold along the dotted line and stick the sides together.

Whichever method you use to make your strip, we now turn it into a Möbius band. Put a dab on glue at each end of the ‘command’ side. Bring the ends together into a ring and twist one end so that the two dabs of glue meet.

You should now have a twisted ring that reads:
to love is to obey my command … (John 14:15)
my command is to love … (John 13:34)

A Reflection

Obedience is not very fashionable these days. It conjures up images of a Wackford Squeers-type school master brandishing a cane. Or perhaps of a sergeant-major bellowing orders in the face of a terrified recruit. But I’d like to paint a different picture, and one that I think better describes the obedience that Jesus is talking about when he tells us to keep his commands.

I’ve just finished writing an essay for my final-year Deuteronomy course, and I have to say, it surprised me. In fact, I’m quite delighted to say that it surprised me. I started the course thinking of Deuteronomy as the Book of the Law – a tedious list of bizarre cooking rules and what to do when you find someone’s donkey wandering in your field and you know whose it is but it’s too far to take it back to them today. I now see God’s eternal plan of grace being revealed even then, although the people did not always recognise it as such.

‘But surely’, (you will say to me), ‘the whole point of grace is that we are not under law anymore?’ True. Absolutely. And yet also, no.

Are we, as Christians, bound to follow the sacrificial laws of ancient Israel? No, because Jesus’ sacrifice has rendered that unnecessary. We do not need to go to the Jerusalem temple because Jesus is our temple. But Jesus was clear about commands. He expected his followers to obey the old commandments (encapsulated in ‘love God with all your this, that and the other, and love your neighbour as yourself’) and gave a new one – love one another.

So are we, as Christians, free to do anything we like provided we love? Weeeeeel, yes-ish … and no. Jesus’ version of ‘love’ was very practical – giving away your cloak, feeding the hungry, loading injured guys on your donkey etc. When we say ‘love’ we are not talking about the mushy ‘Isn’t he/she lovely?’ feeling. And we’re certainly not talking about the superficial attraction that Hollywood often mistakes for love. It is a point worthy of note that Hollywood usually gets the marriage ceremony wrong. The answer to the question is ‘I will’, not ‘I do’. Love is not a question of how I feel right at the moment. It is an act of the will – to love (read ‘act for the good of’) someone, even (especially) when they are being unlovable.

So how does this apply to God? And what has this to do with my essay? It’s all about guidelines.

The marriage ceremony gives us some handy hints about what this ‘love’ thing is: in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, and all that jazz. That’s not supposed to be an exhaustive list, as if I have to love my spouse when they are sick or poor, but I’m let off if they become, say busy or ugly. It’s the same with the hundreds of Old Testament commands. They were never supposed the be an exhaustive list: ‘Do all these exact things and I’ll be pleased with you, but break any one of them I’ll punish you’. No. That’s not how it works, and it was never supposed to. That’s why Jesus was so hard on the ‘Teachers of the Law and Pharisees – you hypocrites!’ Jesus wasn’t criticising them for trying to keep the Law, but for turning that which was supposed to bring life into a dead ritual. They had missed the point of the what the Law was for. Let me illustrate it with my recent essay:

The grade I am awarded for my course is dependent on the essay I’ve written. How do I get a good mark? Obey the rules. Stick to the word count. Answer the question. Read the set books. Follow the citation format. If I fail to do any of those I risk failing the course.

Ooh – that sounds dangerously like salvation by works – we get to heaven by obeying the rules. But no. I’m a mathematician as well as a theology student, and a favourite phrase of mathematicians is ‘correlation does not imply causality’. Just because two things happen together does not mean that one causes the other. More of my neighbours cut their lawns when I’m sitting in my garden than when I sit indoors. Does this mean my choice of chair causes their activity?

If I follow all the rules and get a good mark, does that mean that I have been awarded the mark for obeying the rules? No. It does not. The rules themselves are not the focus, they are there as an aid to my learning. The rules are not there to bind me, or to trip me up. The lecturer did not invent the reading list in order to make it harder for me, but to give me pointers of the right way to go. The word count is to help, so that I do not submit 1,000 words and do a skimpy job, or 10,000 words and knock myself out trying to get it done in time.

I would not be very pleased if I were expected to hand in an essay on which I would be marked without being given a title, word count, format guide, reading list etc. I don’t view these as burdens but as helps. I obey not because I think I’ll be punished if I don’t – sure I’ll prob get a bad mark and possibly even fail, but the failure would not for ‘not reading the set books’ per se. It would be for ‘not learning what I was supposed to have learned’ and the failure will be my fault for not taking the help I was offered. The lecturers are not there to try to trip me up and make me fail. They want me to pass, their whole job is about helping me to pass. If I fail it’ll be my own stupid fault.

And so it is with God’s Law. It never was supposed to be, as C S Lewis put it, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing’.[1] Of course, the culture-specific examples we read in the Bible need re-applying for different situations (I don’t recall finding a neighbour’s donkey in my field recently), but the principles are for all people at all times in all places. Not as a nit-picking set of ‘Thou Shalt Not’s, but as a life-giving demonstration of grace. Think of it as God’s Christmas list. ‘If you want to demonstrate your love, here’s how.’

It always was grace, right from the start. The obedience was, and is, the way we show our love in grateful response to the grace already given.

And I’ve gone over my word count. Bum.

Bible Text

John 14:15-21 New International Version – UK

‘If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever –the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.’

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 byBiblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

[1]   Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 92.

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