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Commandments or Commandment?

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

John 14:15

This passage was one of my favorites to use. If you didn’t keep the commandments, you didn’t really love Jesus. You could say that you did, but if you worshipped with instruments, took the Lord’s Supper less than every single week, or even allowed a woman to say a public prayer (imagine the audacity of such an evil!!), you didn’t really love Jesus.

After all, I would reason, Jesus told His disciples to go and to preach whatever He commanded them (Matthew 28:18-20). And you can read the entire New Testament and not find anything about any of the aforementioned things. So, to “add to this” or to “take away from it” was to disobey what Jesus commanded, which meant you really didn’t love Jesus.

It didn’t matter how often you went to church or even if you died for a total stranger like Maximilian Kolbe, if you didn’t attend a Church of Christ, there was no hope for you because you didn’t really love Jesus.

All of this came from passages like John 14:15.

What I missed about this passage, and what is still hard for me to grasp because it is seemingly too simple, is that Jesus only issues one command to His disciples in John 15.

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.

John 15:12 (cf. John 13:34)

As Brown points out in the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary, Jesus switches between the singular commandment and the plural commandments throughout this context.

It will be noted that here and in vs. 21 below Jesus speaks of his commandments in the plural, in contrast with the “new commandment” (singular) of 13:34. The same variation of plural and singular is found in speaking of Jesus’ commandment(s) in 15:10 and 12.

Brown, Raymond E. The Gospel according to John (XIII-XXI): Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Vol. 29A. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008. Print. Anchor Yale Bible.

He further shows that Jesus is playing off the idea of fulfilling the ten commandments, hence His use of the plural.

The verb tērein (“keep” in the sense of “fulfill”) is used in John for observing Jesus’ commandments (14:21, 15:10); elsewhere it is used for observing the Ten Commandments of God (Matt 19:17; 1 Cor 7:19).

Brown, Raymond E

Paul, following Jesus, gives further reasoning for this switch from commandments (pl.) to commandment (sg.).

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

Romans 13:8–9

Or, as John explains,

This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

1 John 3:23–24

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

1 John 5:1–5

It seems almost too simple. Jesus just gave one commandment? That we are to let our faith work through love towards our neighbor?

But that is what John says over and over. That is how one knows whether someone is born of God. This is how one “tries the spirits” (1 John 4:1).

Does their faith manifest itself in love?

Love for their brothers and sisters.
Love for their neighbor.
Love for their enemy.

Now, someone may protest and say that I have left out love for God, but that is not so.

And He said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 22:37–40

By Jesus saying that the second “is like it,” He is saying that you can’t have one without the other. To love God is to love your neighbor and to love your neighbor is to love God (Matthew 25:31ff). Or as Jesus said elsewhere,

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Matthew 5:44–45

Who is born of God? Who is a child of the Father?

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:7

No wonder Jesus said that “the commandment” is to love one another.

Anyone can go through the motions in worship (Isaiah 1:10-15).
Anyone can ace a theology exam (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Anyone can debate about religion (1 Corinthians 8:1-3).

But only those who are born of God can show radical love towards everyone around them.

A sincere brother asked me about Catholics.

They sprinkle instead of immerse.
They baptize infants.
They have a pope.

Will people like that really be saved?

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:7

Do they love? Then they are born of God.

I don’t make the rules.

I didn’t write 1 John 4:7 which says that those who love are born of God.
I didn’t author 1 John 3:23-24 which says that those who love one another abide in Christ.
I didn’t pen Matthew 22 in which Jesus said the greatest command was to love God and neighbor.
I didn’t inspire Paul to say, “If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Romans 13:9).

So I will not exclude people from the family of God because of doctrinal disagreements if that person is sincerely showing love to their neighbor.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:10

The commandments of Jesus and the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9) have absolutely nothing to do with a prescribed Sunday-only worship service. They have nothing to do with baptism. They have nothing to do with lists of beliefs. (NOT to say that those things don’t have their place)

The command of Jesus is to love. That is the basis of all unity.

Jesus answered and said to him, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.

John 14:23

If someone has faith working through love, then Christ abides with them, and there is nothing you, I, or any preacher, preaching school, or “brotherhood” paper can say or do to change that.

3 thoughts on “Commandments or Commandment?”

  1. Every believer should read this essay with an open mind. Daniel has examined Scripture after Scripture citations to prove that “love” for God and love for one another is the basis of our relationship with God, not a so-called worship service with five prescribed rituals. Our fellowship with God is vertical and our relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ is horizontal. Unfortunately, those who are associated with the denominational Church of Christ have been taught a view of Christianity concerning worship that is not biblical. They identify worship as consisting of five-acts of worship and five-steps for salvation. Within the Churches of Christ, there are approximately twenty-five divisions. Each one condemning all the others who do not subscribe to their oddities concerning how to worship on Sunday morning between 9am and 10am. LOVE is totally lacking among many Christians. I suggest that each person reading this wonderful essay to read several times and reflect upon what Daniel has written. Remember one can read and not read at the same time. We are to love one another in the same way that Jesus loves us (see Romans 14-15)–warts and all. Yes, even our imperfection in our lives and our imperfection in knowledge. Thanks, Daniel!!!!!

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