As one reads through First John, the aged Apostle lists many stringent “tests” as to whether one’s Christian profession is genuine. It is easy to say we are Christians, that we love the Lord, but do our lives harmonize with what we profess? In First John 5:3 the Beloved Disciple writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous.” John says in this verse our love for the Lord is revealed by two factors: (1) we keep His commandments, and (2) His commandments are not grievous or a burden to us.
First, John indicates our love for the Lord is confirmed by our keeping His commandments. The verb translated “we keep” (τηρῶμεν of tēréō) is present tense, active voice, meaning we habitually and actively keep his commandments. Tēréō (τηρέω) was a word used to speak of a guard intently guarding his prisoner or any object of value, to guard something carefully. Metaphorically it meant to keep, to observe, to carefully obey. The genuineness of one’s love for the Lord is reflected in one living a life that is seeking to live out the principles and truths of God’s Word, to have a biblical worldview which is expressed in one’s lifestyle. John makes it clear that one’s proclaiming they love the Lord must be backed up by a life actively obeying the truths of God’s Word. If we are not seeking to live a life that honors our Savior and we are ignoring the precepts of His Word, John tells us no matter how loud we proclaim our profession our words are empty as a bucket in a dry well.
Second, John indicates our love for the Lord is expressed in an attitude that embraces His commandments without grievousness, without seeing them as a burden. John writes that if we love the Lord then we will not see His commandments as grievous (5:3). The Greek word translated “grievous” (βαρεῖαι from βαρύς – Barus), is found six time in the NT and is translated heavy once, weighty twice and grievous three times. The word “barus” was used to speak of anything heavy or weighty (rock, weight, load, etc.) which presses down on a person with oppressive force. Metaphorically it meant any trouble, burden or problem which weighs us down and becomes spiritually, emotionally, physically or psychologically oppressive to us. So, figuratively “Barus” refers to that which brings affliction, struggle, burdensome or oppression into our lives.
John in using the word “barus” indicates that if we love the Lord His commandments are not a burden or seen as oppressive to us. When someone says they love the Lord but seeks to cast off God’s moral standards, ethical principles, and virtuous values because it is believed they keep one from expressing their own human impulses and compulsions, then John says while one may say they love the Lord they in reality do not. We are living in a day when many who claim the name of Christ, see God’s commandments as a hindrance in their being able to express their “humanity” and, therefore, seek to cast off His restraints as being grievous (Proverbs 29:18). There are too many professing Christians today when it comes to embracing the moral and ethical principles of the Bible have said, “Let us tear off [His] chains and free ourselves from [His] restraints” (Ps 2:3). Such thinking only reveals one’s profession is false. Man’s sinful nature rebels and is repulsed by the commandments of God, but if one has been born from above by the work of the Spirit, the Lord give’s us a new nature which is not repulsed at the commandments of the Lord but embraces them. We embrace them because we know His commandments have our best interest in mind as we travel the bumpy roads of life.
As Christians we see His commandments as positive, healthy, and as guiding us into being what humanity is meant and designed to be. As Christians we should approach the Bible not as chore to read, but as a love letter wherein we hear our Savior’s voice and find out how He would have us live in our pilgrimage on earth. Our love for God is proved only by keeping His commandments and they certainly should not seem burdensome or grievous to obey the commands of the One whom we love. Keeping the commandments of God is evidence of our love for the Lord and shows that our love is more than in word and tongue but in our attitude and actions. The Lord’s commandments are not heavy and burdensome to the regenerate soul, to one in communion with Christ, and to one who has had the love of God shed abroad in their heart. If in our profession of Christ, we see the Lord’s commandments as a burden that cramps our style, then our profession lacks substance and our words ring hollow.
We love Him because He first loved us (I John 4:19). William Barclay has written, “Our response to Christ is the response of love, and for love no duty is too hard and no task too great. That which we would never do for a stranger we will willingly attempt for a loved one. What would be an impossible sacrifice, if a stranger demanded it, becomes a willing gift when love needs it.”
The Good News is that our Lord empowers us to follow Him. God does not give us his commandments and then go off and leave us to ourselves. He is forever by our side to enable us to carry out what He has commanded. What is impossible for us becomes possible with God. While the commandments of Christ we may find at times difficult, burdensome they are not. But our Lord never laid a commandment on man without giving him the strength to obey it. And every commandment laid upon us provides another chance to show our love for Him.
Yes, if we call ourselves Christians, John offers two stringent tests that prove our love for the Lord: (1) we habitually keep His commandants, and (2) His commandments are not seen as a burden to us, but an opportunity to reflect our love for Him. Clearly, John’s words give us reason to pause and reflect upon our profession in Christ. Is our profession that we love Him not only expressed in our words, but reflected in an attitude that embraces His commandments in obedience which is visible in our daily lives?