As a creature, man has been brought by God into the place of obedience, and the present condition of men as alienated from God springs from the disobedience of the first man. In lowly grace the Lord Jesus, the Second Man, the Man out of heaven, came into the place of obedience. Ever commanding in His rights as God, in stooping to Manhood He learned obedience by the things that He suffered. His was a path of perfect obedience: “Becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross.” The first man became disobedient unto death; the Second Man became obedient even unto death.
Nothing less than the obedience manifested in Jesus is that to which God has called His people; we are sanctified by the Spirit unto the obedience…of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:2). The Lord Jesus views our obedience as proof of our love to Him, even as He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Again in verse 21 of the same chapter He says, “He that hath my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves me; but he that loves me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him.”
First of all, we have to challenge our hearts as to whether we are really acquainted with the commandments of the Lord; for how can we keep them without really knowing them? His commandments must be learned, and how else can we learn them but by becoming acquainted with the Scriptures. There are the individual commandments given in the Gospels and Epistles telling us what the Lord desires us to do. He instructs us in this Gospel to wash one another’s feet (John 13), to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34), and to abide in Him (John 15:4). In Matthew 5 He tells us to let our light shine before men, not to resist evil, to love our enemies and to be perfect as our heavenly Father (vv. 16, 39, 44, 48); and many such commandments are given for our obedience. After writing many commandments in the First Epistle to the Corinthians the apostle says, “If any one thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him recognise the things that I write to you, that it is the Lord’s commandment” (14:37). So that it is not enough to regulate our conduct in individual life by the Lord’s commandments, we must learn so that we may keep His commandments in relation to His will in the assembly.
Having learned the commandments of the Lord we are to obey Him in keeping them, for obedience is the proof of love. Some would plead their love to the children of God as an excuse for walking in a wrong path, but this will never do; “Hereby know we that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments” (1 John 5:2). Simple obedience to what God has commanded is the proof that we love God and also His children. Is it love to the children of God either to lead them or to follow them in a way that is contrary to the expressed commandment of the Lord? His commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:3), but they rather manifest the way for the divine nature to express itself in righteousness, holiness and love.
Obedience to the Lord’s commandments calls forth the expression of the Father’s love. Every member of the divine family is loved by the Father, but special circumstances and occasions enable the obedient child to learn and taste in a fresh way that precious, wonderful love. Even in human families a father’s love is drawn out to the obedient child, while acts of disobedience not only hinder the expression of the love in a way in which the child can find pleasure, but rather compel the righteous father to chastise the child for its good. The expression of our love to the Lord Jesus gives us the realization of the Father’s love, even as the Lord said to the disciples, “The Father Himself loveth you because ye have loved me” (John 16:27). No doubt the disciples could not then appreciate the full blessedness of the Lord’s words, not having the Spirit; but now, by the indwelling Spirit, how sweet and precious is the thought that we are the loved objects of the Father, and that His love is practically realized as we walk in the path of obedience.
With obedience there is also the realization of the love of the Lord Jesus in its special expression towards us. There can be no doubting the love of the Lord Jesus to all His own, but we must understand that apart from the wonderful expression of His love in His death upon the cross, which nothing should be allowed to dim in our souls, there is the expression of love in relation to our being in the world for Him. Look at the difference between John 13, where the Lord washes the disciples’ feet, and Revelation 1:13, where He is girt about the breasts with a golden girdle. In the former He is expressing His love towards His own, the love that could not be affected by all that was immediately before Him, for “He loved them to the end.” In the latter His love is restrained because of the state of the assemblies. Sometimes the Lord has to restrain the expression of His love towards us because of unjudged sin: It is His advocacy we then need; but again, when we are obeying His commandments His love can flow out unhindered.