By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments.
1 John 5:2
The most foundational aspects to any relationship as safety and respect. There can’t be love or trust before there are these things. Think about any person you have met. The first thing established between you and that person was a sense of safety. You felt safe around this person. This feeling might have occurred within minutes of meeting and you went almost immediately to laughing and building rapport. You don’t want to build rapport with someone you don’t feel safe around.
Hand in hand with safety is respect. We work to respect people to the degree that they feel safe around us and we feel safe around them. Again, this might take only seconds to do. After respect and safety are assured, we build a relationship by building a rapport around things we have in common—a love for sports, enjoying a meal, working on a project. As we build a rapport based on commonalities, trust begins to develop. We know what we have in the other person, and we start to know we can count on them. After trust comes love, a desire to not only spend time but to offer something in a sacrificial way, to open up and share emotions, to become vulnerable, and ultimately there is an opportunity for intimacy (not in a sexual way) in a way where people accept each other and can share things in a vulnerable and honest way. There are stages in building a relationship, any relationship, including a relationship with God.
Let’s examine how these aspects tie into a relationship with God. There isn’t going to be a rapport, a trust, or a love for God if we spend no time with Him. And there won’t be any of those things if we wantonly break the commandments. In other words, a person who is a thief or an adulterer will not be able to pour out his or her soul to God on a daily basis unless it is in repentance. Someone who is blatantly sinning with no sense of struggle or repentance is going to have a hard time connecting with the Lord on an intimate level.
We know that God is love. In John 13:35, Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” The hallmark of a disciple of Jesus is to love. And the path to building a relationship with Jesus is love. Let’s say that I don’t know who Jesus is at all, He is a total stranger to me. Just like one would build a relationship with a friend who was once a stranger (and let’s be honest, outside of the family we were born into, everyone we’ve ever met was a stranger at some moment), the first thing to do in building a relationship with Jesus is respect His commandments. Just like we could never build a friendship with someone that we didn’t respect, we will not be able to build a relationship with Jesus without respect of the commandments. It goes without saying that to respect the commandments is to be obedient to them.
The two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors. Again, let’s say that we don’t know God at all. If we make expressions of love towards God, in being obedient to the commandment to love Him, this will build a rapport with God. And this will lead to trust, love and spiritual intimacy with God. One of my favorite all-time books is “Beginning to Pray” by Anthony Bloom. In the book, he paints an image of a dark room, with an icon of Christ on the wall, and a candle burning in front of it. He says that prayer is simply being with Christ. Now imagine if a person didn’t know Christ at all, and wanted to know Him, if one committed to sitting in front of an icon obediently for 20 minutes a day for 30 days, and the commitment was just to sit there, at some point in the 30 days, a person would no doubt open their mouth to God, figuring, “I’ve committed the time, and what do I have to lose.” And this is the beginning of prayer, to open up a dialogue with God. Loving our neighbor is also infectious. When we start to make gestures of genuine love, we will find joy in these things. We read in Acts 20:35 that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” When we start to love others by giving of ourselves to them, we will begin to feel more blessed, which also will draw us closer to God. In James 1:17, we read that “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from Above, coming down from the Father of lights” so every good feeling, every good choice is a gift from God, reflects God and will draw us closer to God. I will make a caveat on the “good feelings,” because we can derive a good feeling from something that is bad. Those aren’t the feelings I am talking about. When we get a good feeling from loving our neighbor, that is a good feeling that comes from God.
Today’s verse from 1 John 5:2 reminds us that “we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey His commandments.” Love and obedience are tied to each other. Obedience fosters love. Love fosters obedience. Obedience will lead us to love God. And loving God will motivate us to be obedient to His commandments. The two go hand in hand.
The collection of the teachings of the Law makes Christ’s divine Nativity in the flesh apparent to those who preached the gospel of Grace before the Law was given and were above the Law by virtue of their faith. Therefore to the souls held in Hades, they announced the Nativity beforehand, that it would be the cause of the deliverance from corruption, through the resurrection. Glory to You, O Lord. (Doxastikon, Sunday before Nativity, Orthros, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: Have you ever considered that obedience is an expression of love