By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:3-5)
Do you see the word “commandments” in verse 3? Then in verse 5, John appears to repeat himself. He talks about keeping God’s “word.” Sometimes John talks about keeping the commandments of the Lord, and at other times he refers to keeping the word of the Lord. We might walk away thinking these two phrases are interchangeable. But this is far from the whole truth.
Jesus separated these same words in John 14. Note the difference.
“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” (John 14:21)
“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)
Once again we might simply conclude Jesus is referring to the same issue because “commands“and “words” are similar. The truth is there is a difference between wanting to fulfill the commandments of God and wanting to do the Word of God.
Remember obeying a command calls for repeated obedience. For example, the Lord doesn’t want keep telling us over and over again to go to church for worship and fellowship. He gives a command to attend church. In order to fulfill this command we must repeat our obedience for the rest of our lives. We do not have to ask the Lord each week if it is His will to attend church.
Now a “word” from God is more personal. Like a command, it too must be believed and obeyed as well. Unlike a command, it may apply to other believers or it may not. Jesus is referring to the “logos” word. A word which is written or spoken. Commands apply to everyone, but words are only given to those who ask, seek, and knock.
Why do both Jesus and John make a distinction between commands and words? I am glad you asked. One pastor shared this illustration to note the difference.
Suppose a young man comes home from school and his father says to him, “Bob I want you to take out the garbage and wash the car.” These are the specific commandments of his father and the young man performs them. But suppose young Bob overhears his father tell someone else that he is not feeling well and wishes someone would mow the yard and rake the leaves. So Bob does that, not because he is commanded to, but because he loves his father and wants to do not only his commandments but also his word.
Some things you do because you are commanded and some things you do because you love. This is should be the attitude of our hearts towards God. Because of our love for the Lord, we should want to keep His word with all our heart. We read specific commandments in the Bible but also we learn some of the desires of the Lord concerning our lives and we will want to obey these in addition to the Lord’s commands.
The difference between obeying the commands of God and the words of God reveals our tenderness of heart. I am sure you are obedient to many of the commands of the Lord. But how is your personal obedience? Is your heart ready to go above and beyond the call of duty to obey even the desires of God?