“Because I love you”.

Ten years ago, I was driving my four year old daughter, Mallory, home from pre-school. Doting father that I am, she seemed to me to be the perfect child. It seems she behaves so well, both at home and away. This day, the teacher had gone out of her way to tell me how much she liked Mallory. So, looking in my rear view mirror at the little girl in the back seat car seat, I had the following short conversation.

Dad: Mallory, you are such a good girl. You were so good today.
I am so proud of you.

Mallory: I know that.

Dad: Mallory, why are you such a good girl?

Mallory: Because I love you.

Dad: You’re good because you love me?

Mallory: Yeah.

John, the “apostle of love” had quite a bit to say about the connection between obedience to God and our love of God. In John’s Gospel, chapter 14 he quotes Jesus as follows:

“If you love me, you will obey what I command…. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. .. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (Jn. 14:15, 21, 23 and 24).

The same theme is there again in chapter 15:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (Jn. 15:9-10)

Even John’s epistles underscore this same point:

The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 Jn. 2:4,5 and 6)

This is love for God: to obey his commands. (1 Jn. 5:3)

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (2 Jn. 6)

Thinking about these verses in the context of my conversation with Mallory made me wonder to myself. Had I misunderstood the connection between love and obedience? I was very familiar with these verses that seemed to say that I’d prove my love by my obedience, but had I understood them backwards up till now?

I confess I’d heard myself saying even to my own kids, sometimes in the fit of anger after their misbehavior, “If you love me, why do you disobey me?” or trying to make them feel guiltier by saying, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t have done that.”

Is that what Jesus was really saying? Was he telling us to obey more to prove our love, or was he telling us to love Him more that we might obey?

I think I’ve been reading those verses all wrong. Jesus wasn’t saying that by our obedience we can prove that we love Him, or that by our disobedience we prove that we don’t, even though such behavior is in fact proof.

I believe He was saying that our love for Him will bring forth the fruit of obedience and that if we do not have that love we will not have the fruit. I believe it’s a relationship of cause and effect that was lost on me but not on my daughter, who seemed to understand this intuitively, and without doubt.

Love God, increase your love for Him, and the fruit will be obedience to his commands, that is, greater righteousness.