If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.
The word for “keep” is significant. At first glance the statement seems to say, “If you love me, you’ll obey what I say.” The problem with this is, we don’t always obey what Jesus says. Therefore some will conclude they must not truly love Jesus, and live perpetually in guilt. Do I love others enough? Do I love my enemies? Do I take up my cross properly every day?
But the word for “keep” is not “obey.” It’s more a sense of “to guard, treasure, or take note of.” Here’s a good sense of the meaning from Proverbs: “My son, keep my words, And treasure my commands within you.”
Before discussing what this means, let’s add another layer. Because, quite frankly, we have no idea what Jesus said but through the apostles. And to short circuit those who are ever seeking to peel off the layers of the apostolic witness, claiming this witness frames Jesus’ words in patriarchal, hierarchical, and dogmatic structures that Jesus Himself would never have approved of. So, according to those who think this way, the project is to get to what Jesus “really” said. Of course, those who embark upon this project somehow miraculously end up with highly progressive ideas. That’s because progressivism is a god in and of itself before which everything, including Jesus, must submit.
So, given that, let’s take note of these words from Jesus in the Gospel of John, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” There’s your apostolic foundation. To keep Jesus’ word is to keep the apostles’ word; there is no difference. Here, we might also note the implication that the apostolic witness is effectively no different than the work of the Holy Spirit.
So, what’s going on with “keeping” Christ’s word, that is, treasuring, guarding, and taking note of it. It speaks to the importance of right belief as opposed to right action. Notice the progression goes like this: Love Christ, love His word (love what the apostles teach). Loving Christ’s word begins with love of Christ, which is faith. Disobedience to Christ’s word is not evidence of lack of love, but evidence of the fact that we are still sinners this side of heaven who need Christ.
Of course right action is a fruit of loving Christ’s word. How could it not be so? But when we reverse the order we do damage to the text: Be obedient to Christ’s word, prove love of Christ.
Let’s use an example one of Jesus’ more famous words, “Love your enemies.” A Christian who loves Christ loves those words. He believes those words to be not just a suggestion or a good idea, but straight from God’s mouth. But does he obey them always? Of course not. Who does?
Hypocrites! the world says. But that’s because the world is in darkness and doesn’t understand Christ. They think He’s just a great teacher who began a school of thought, and not God in human flesh. They also don’t understand what a hypocrite is. A hypocrite is not someone who believes or says one thing, but does another – um, that’s all of us. A hypocrite is an actor, a pretender, someone who wears the mask of a Christian but doesn’t really believe what Jesus says.
Rather, Christ’s word leads us to perpetual repentance, perpetual turning to Christ, perpetual confessing of sins. We say “amen” to “love your enemies” each day, and strive to do so, but likely fall short, knowing that the one who said “forgive them for they know not what they do” has fulfilled this righteousness for us.
In other words, with every word of Christ, as we hold it dear to us, we hold Christ dear to us. Even the hard words, the ones we struggle with. Perhaps especially those words! Who doesn’t hold Christ more dearly, the more dearly he knows he falls short of “do not worry”? That one is far more faithful to “do not worry,” “do not lust,” “do not hate,” “do not covet,” and all Jesus words, than the one who doesn’t worry, lust, hate, or covet, but who picks and chooses what he wants from Jesus’ word as nice wallpaper to his healthy and well life style. “Jesus was all about love, tolerance, and acceptance, and that’s a philosophy of I hold to.”
Also, note that Jesus says, “He will keep my word.” That is, the one who loves Jesus will – will – keep His word (and the apostles’ word). It’s not “must” or “should,” but “will.” It naturally flows. The one who loves Jesus doesn’t come with pre-conceived ideologies to run his understanding of Christ’s word, but lets the word do what it will do. He strives for understanding. He strives to hear His Shepherd and follow Him. He is easily corrected by Christ’s word when in error. He delights in it.
He does this because He loves Jesus. Not a projection of Jesus rooted in his own desires, but the Jesus who stands outside, external, and separate from him, defined and outlined by objective words. Alas, how often does that happen – the Gnostic demon again – where because there are fuzzy lines where God’s Word ends and our desires begin, we confuse the two? How often do people “hear God’s voice” and then interpret Jesus’ words accordingly? And the Jesus they love is really a projection of their own desires.
Liturgically, this is why the reading of the Word of God is such a defined, dignified moment in the service. “The Holy Gospel according to St. John…Here endeth the Gospel.” There’s no doubt. There’s no fuzzy engagement with it as the preacher embellishes it or someone adds his personal testimony about it. It is truly “treasured.” We stand during it. We revere it. It sets the foundation for good “keeping” of the Word of God. And then the preacher unpacks what it means and calls for repentance toward it.
If there is a warning in this passage, it is for those who do not want to hear Christ’s word, who
pick and choose what they want to hear according to their personal views. They don’t love Christ. They love themselves.
But the one who loves Jesus – Jesus as He is fully given in His Word and no where else! – will love that very Word that delivers Him.