Sermon notes 05-17-20   Keeping His Word            Pastor David King

John 14:15-26 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered 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 home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (ESV)

 I want to talk with you today about keeping words.  I think we all know how important it is to be people who keep our word, right?  I am pretty sure that at one time or another, all of us have been told, by a parent or grandparent or teacher or maybe by a scout leader or coach or supervisor or spouse or friend, about the importance of being people who keep our word.  When it comes to matters of personal character and integrity, of trustworthiness and reliability and dependability, nothing could be more important than being people who keep our word.  We all know the phrase, “You’re only as good as your word.”  That means that the level of esteem at which others regard us is determined in large part by how well we keep our word.

In our reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus talks about keeping words … but with a twist.  You may have noticed that Jesus does not tell his followers to be people who keep their word.  Jesus tells them, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.”

If anyone loves me,” he says….

Now, if Tina Turner were here, she might ask at this point, what’s love got to do with … keeping Jesus’ word?  And the answer would be, everything.

If what I said earlier is true, that the level of esteem at which others regard us is determined in large part by how well we keep our word, it can also truly be said that the level of esteem at which we regard Jesus determines how well we keep his word.  If anyone loves Jesus, that one will keep his word.  So let’s consider together for the next few minutes what it means for us to be people who love Jesus enough to keep his word.

First I want to tell you that Kim and I are coming up on our twenty-first anniversary next month.  When you live with someone as long as we have lived together, you learn a lot about the things she likes, and the things she doesn’t like, big things and small things.  I know how Kim likes her coffee, and what temperature she likes to have the thermostat set on, and I know she doesn’t like it if I leave the toilet lid up, and she doesn’t like some of the music that I listen to.  I know these things because she has told me; her words have clearly indicated what she likes and what she doesn’t like.  And because I love Kim, my desire is to please her, so I try to pay attention to her words.  I try to make her coffee the way she likes it, and I use an extra blanket so she can be comfortable with the temperature in the bedroom, and I almost always put the toilet lid down and wear earbuds when I listen to music that I know she doesn’t like.  Because I love Kim, I pay attention to her words, most of the time.  If I were to consistently ignore her words and fail to do what pleases Kim, it might eventually cause her to question my love for her.

When we care enough about someone to want to please her, we will pay attention to her words and do what her words indicate will be pleasing to her… and I think that is much the same message that Jesus shares with his disciples in our Gospel reading this morning.   In the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, on the night before his crucifixion, after he has washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus tells them essentially that those who love him will pay attention to his word and do what they know is pleasing to him.

Jesus speaks to his followers about keeping his word, and he very specifically tells them what keeping his word indicates about them.  He says to them in verse 23, “Those who love me will keep my word,” and then vice-versa in verse 24, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”  Jesus makes it abundantly, maybe even painfully clear for us.  If we love him, we will keep his word.  If we do not keep Jesus’ words, we cannot honestly claim to love him.

Now, since this is a Christian service of worship, I am going to assume that every one of us who is here or watching would either profess to love Jesus, or we are trying to love Jesus, or we at least want to love Jesus.  If that is so, and if loving Jesus means keeping his words, then it should be important to us to consider what it means for us to keep Jesus’ words.

When Jesus says, “keep my word” or “keep my words,” the word he uses for “keep” can also mean to observe, pay attention to, guard, hold firm or obey.  In fact, if you have an NIV translation of the Bible, the words of Jesus are translated, those who love me will “obey my teaching.”  I think all of those possible alternatives for “keep my word” mean essentially the same thing, and that is that the words of Jesus are to be highly regarded by his followers.

Those who love Jesus are to hold his words in such high regard that we observe them, obey them, pay attention to them, guard them, hold firm to them.  That is what it means to keep the words of Jesus.  The next question for us to ask, then, is how? How do we keep the words of Jesus?

And a rather obvious beginning to that answer is that we need to know the words of Jesus.  If keeping the words of Jesus, or not keeping them, is the indicator of our love for him, it follows that those who love Jesus will strive to know his word.  We obviously can’t obey or observe or guard or keep Jesus’ word if we don’t know his word.

Which leads to the next part of the “how” question.  If we keep the word of Jesus by knowing it, how can we know it?  Jesus gives us the answer himself in verse 26, when he tells his disciples that the Father will send the Holy Spirit, who “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Those are really important words of promise for those disciples to whom Jesus was speaking, given that several of them would have a future role in writing the words of the New Testament.  Jesus promised to send a helper, the Holy Spirit, and he promised that the Spirit would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all that Jesus said.  The reason we know what Jesus said about keeping his word is because John, who was there when Jesus said it, remembered what he said with the help of the Holy Spirit and recorded those words of Jesus in his Gospel.

And the promise of the Helper was not just for those first disciples of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit teaches and reminds us of the words of Jesus still today.  We believe that the Holy Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and we have the great gift and privilege of having the Bible to constantly bring back to our remembrance the things Jesus said.

We also have the indwelling guidance of the Holy Spirit as we make decisions and behavior choices.  I think we have all had those times when we are tempted to do something wrong, and are even on the verge of doing it, but then something crosses our mind to give us pause.  Some would call that inner guidance the work of conscience, but we Christians believe that is the Holy Spirit at work.  Maybe the Holy Spirit works to give us pause through a teaching of Jesus or some other verse from God’s word.  When we are kept from making poor or even dangerous choices by remembering the word of God, we experience what Jesus meant when he said, “the Holy Spirit… will bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  We could not follow Jesus or remember his words without the gift and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  But we need to know this gift is not something to take for granted.  The Holy Spirit will not be forced upon us.  Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as a helper, but we are required to do our part to cooperate with the Spirit’s leading.

We have to make the effort to know the words of Jesus.  You are making that effort right now by watching this service of worship today and listening to the reading of Scripture and to the preaching of the word.  I hope you are watching at least in part with the expectation of hearing the words of Jesus.

But attending or observing a service of worship one hour a week will not be enough for any of us to know the words of Jesus well enough to keep them, any more than spending one hour a week with Kim would be enough for me to fully know her.  It takes a lifetime to fully get to know another person, and we will never get to the point in our lifetime of knowing all we need to know about the word of God.  The biblical commentator William Barclay has written, “There is never any excuse in the Christian faith for the shut mind.  The Christian who feels that he has nothing more to learn is the Christian who has not even begun to understand what the…Holy Spirit means (to reveal to us).”  If our minds are shut and we fail to continue trying to learn and grow, the Holy Spirit will not force his help upon us.

The Holy Spirit will not reveal more to us than we are willing to act upon.  Said another way, if we do not act upon what the Spirit has already revealed to us, the Holy Spirit is not likely to give us a new revelation.  If we feel like we are not making progress in our spiritual journey and we are waiting for the Holy Spirit to reveal something new to us, maybe it is because we have failed to act upon the words of Jesus that the Holy Spirit has already revealed.

We have to do our part and act upon the words of Jesus that we know.  We can’t say, ‘Jesus, I love you, but your words are often too difficult or too inconvenient for me to obey.’ When we consider the difficulty of some of Jesus’ words such as, ‘you must deny yourself,’ or, ‘you must love your enemies,’ we might want to ask Jesus, “Can’t I love you without bringing your words into it?” Jesus’ answer is clear: “Those who love me will keep my word,” and, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”  We cannot persist in doing things we know are displeasing to Christ and claim that we love him.  Nor can we claim that we love Christ when we fail to do those things that his word clearly tells us it would please him for us to do.

In bringing this to a close I need to confess to you that I fall woefully short at times of showing my love for Kim by doing what is pleasing to her.  There have been many times when I have had to ask Kim’s forgiveness for being less than pleasing to her.  And she always forgives me.

In much the same way we all need to honestly acknowledge that we fall woefully short at times of loving Jesus by keeping his words.  That’s why it is necessary for us to confess our sins before God and one another as we do in our worship service every week.

And friends, the really good news for us is that Jesus understands that we are forgetful, faulty and flawed people.  Jesus’ disciples were forgetful, flawed and faulty just like us.  When Jesus said to them, “If you love me, you will keep my word,” he knew that they were all about to fail him miserably.  But notice Jesus did not say to them, “If you keep my word, I will love you.”  He said, if you love me you will keep my word.  Jesus’ love for us is not conditional upon us keeping his word.  He loves us even when we fail at keeping his word and his commandments.

Jesus knows we can’t keep his word without help.  If we were left to keep the words of Jesus by our own efforts, we would all fail miserably.  But Jesus has promised to help us love him and to keep his word.  We have the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach us and bring his words to our remembrance.  We have the Scriptures, we have the church, we have prayer, we have each other and all those whom God has placed in our lives to walk beside us on our journeys.

And we have the promise of Jesus that he will not leave us as orphans, but he will come to us and make himself known to us.  And the best promise of all is that because he lives forever, we also will live with him in his eternal heavenly kingdom.

Those are words of Jesus to keep in our hearts forever.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.