The following is an excerpt from Love is a Verb: A one-year spiritual practice resource, written by Leo Hartshorn The resource explores the 2017 convention theme Love is a Verb through the lens of Richard Foster’s six spiritual streams. Download the entire booklet from the Mennonite Church USA resource center.
Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commands, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.
—1 John 2:3-6 (NRSV)
As concepts, love and obedience seem to conflict. If their context were a marital relationship, we would probably be appalled at the combination of love and obedience. Love is freely offered and not contingent upon the obedience of one partner to the desires of the other. Obedience doesn’t fit well with relationships defined by mutuality.
Some would further contend that obedience also has no place in describing our relationship with God or Christ. For them, the idea of obeying God/Christ carries with it the connotation of an immature, infantile relationship, as in the relationship of a demanding parent to an obedient child. The parent/child metaphor is linked with the biblical metaphors of God/Christ as king and Lord, which connote not only maleness but also a hierarchical relationship of command and obedience. Both the metaphors of parent/child and Lord/subject as describing the divine/human relationship are common throughout the Bible.
Let’s remember that all metaphors of God are insufficient. Parent/child and Lord/subject as metaphors are both like and unlike the divine/human relationship and are thus limiting — as are all metaphors. They can illuminate but also limit our understanding of our relationship with God. That is why multiple metaphors are needed to express the many dimensions of our relationship with God/Christ. Note that “abiding in Christ” and “walking as Christ walked” (v. 6) are alternative but related metaphors to obeying Christ’s commands.
In 1 John 2:3-6 the author uses the metaphor of obedience to draw a contrast between those who have splintered off from the church and those who remain. The writer characterizes those who have left as persons whose understanding of knowledge, love and abiding in Christ have been divorced from moral action, that is, “obeying the word of Christ.” False knowledge is knowledge without obedience to God’s commands.
Love without following God’s will is empty. One cannot abide in Christ without walking in his way.
Those who reach “perfection” (v. 5), holiness or wholeness express their love of God in obedience to the word and will or commands of Christ. And what is the primary command of Christ? It is to love one another as Christ has loved us. Love works!