1 John 5:2-3, NASB, 2“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”
How does verse 2 work? How does loving God and keeping His commandments grant us assurance that we love His children? Well, the logic goes something like this:
If we love God (v.3), we will keep His commandments – “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” And when we consider those commandments, we find that a good many of them have to do with loving other people (which, of course, includes God’s children), and that some commandments actually deal specifically with loving God’s children (our brothers and sisters in Christ)! And thus, by keeping the commandments, we can know that we are engaged in love toward those children!
Jesus taught that there are two great commandments (love for God and neighbor), and that “on these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (see Matthew 22:34-40, NASB). In other words, every commandment boils down either to loving God, or to loving one’s neighbor. Indeed, God’s people have long noted that the famous Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, NASB) are divided along exactly these lines. The first four commandments call us to love God. And the final six call us to love our neighbor. So you can see how, “when we … observe His commandments” (v.2), we will find ourselves loving His children, because a number of these very commandments enjoin love for people!
Further, the scriptures call us, again and again, to “love one another” in the body of Christ; to specifically love our fellow believers. Loving our brothers and sisters in Christ is a commandment! And (v.2) “when we … observe” this commandment (and its more explicit corollary commandments), we will “know that we love the children of God” – because such love is the very call of the commandment!
So this is how our passage works – If we love God, we will “keep His commandments” (v.3). And when we keep those commandments, we will find ourselves loving our fellow Christians, because love for people (in general) is one of the two great departments of God’s law, and because love for our fellow believers (in specific) is again and again prescribed for us. And thus it follows that “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.”
Law and love are not in opposition to one another! Indeed, it is the law of God that calls us (and teaches us how) to love both God and our fellow men (including our fellow Christians)!
And let us note, gladly, what John says about God’s law at the end of v.3: “His commandments are not burdensome.” It’s not an unwieldy chore to love the Lord our God. And it’s no millstone around our necks to honor our parents, to honor the marriage bed, to tell the truth, and so on. It’s not a burden to “regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, NASB), or to give to the poor, or to change diapers in the church nursery, or to make a meal for a church family in need. These are privileges and joys, not burdens! Try the commandments on for size, and you will see that the Lord’s yoke is easy!
And as you slip into His easy yoke, and “observe His commandments” (v.2), you will thereby know that you love His children.
Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.Lockman.org.