This year's youth theme is "If ye love me, keep my commandments” from John 14:15. As you read this month's article, think about ways that you can become better friends with Jesus by keeping the commandments.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Seems so simple, doesn’t it? Seven little words that carry a very big message. If we’re going to truly understand what Jesus meant when He said those words, we first need to understand a little bit of the context, setting, and background. Where was Jesus when He said those words, and to whom did He say them? What was the setting? And perhaps most importantly, we need to know why He chose those specific words. This will help us in seeing how Jesus’s message can apply to our lives today.
Before we do that, however, let’s talk about our friends.
Jesus and His Friends
Take a second and think about your closest friends. Think about when you met, how long you’ve known each other, and the different experiences you’ve shared together. I had friends when I was in high school who were basically my whole world. Most of us had known each other since grade school, and we were as tight as any group of friends ever was. We did everything together, and not just when we were at school. We all liked the same movies and TV shows, we all listened to the same music, and we liked doing the same activities together. Some of my happiest memories to this day revolve around things I did with those friends.
But it wasn’t just the fun times we shared. My friends and I also had a deep emotional connection because of the difficult times we went through together. A genuine relationship of trust formed between us all, and as a result, we were able to speak openly and honestly about important things—even things we might not have felt comfortable talking to anyone else about. When one friend got dumped by the girl he was dating, the rest of us would be there to agree that girls were super mysterious, but that he’d bounce back eventually. When another friend was having problems at home, we’d be there to remind him maybe things weren’t so bad. When my best friend attempted suicide, you better believe we were all there to help him get the help he needed. After all, that’s what true friends do for each other.
Jesus had a group of friends like that while He was here on earth. They were 12 ordinary guys, mostly fishermen and farmers, who left their old lives behind when He invited them to follow Him (see Matthew 4:18-22). Their friendship with Jesus turned into a life-changing experience. They heard Jesus teaching profound truths (see Matthew 5-7), they saw Him heal the sick (see Luke 5:12-15, for instance), calm the storm (see Mark 4:38-39), feed over 5,000 people with just five loaves and two fishes (see John 6:1-13), and even raise the dead (see Mark 5:39-42). These friends of Jesus heard the voice of Heavenly Father, testifying of His Beloved Son (see Matthew 17:5), and each gained their own personal witness (see Mark 8:29). This group of friends was as close as any group of friends could be, and Jesus truly “loved them unto the end” (John 13:1).
And so it was, at the end of three years, that Jesus sat with His best friends in an upper room in Jerusalem, on the most sacred night of the year—the Passover. He knew that in a few short hours, He would go out into the Garden of Gethsemane to perform the Atonement on behalf of not only them but everyone else who would ever live on the earth. He knew that this supper would indeed be His last with them in mortality.
Can you imagine what it would have felt like to be there in that room? Can you sense the powerful spiritual feelings that must have been flowing during that time? Imagine being there, watching as Jesus broke bread, blessed it, and give it to His closest friends, who became the first people ever to partake of the sacrament. Imagine seeing Jesus taking the time to wash each of His friends’ feet in an act full of symbolism and love (see John 13:4-5). Imagine feeling the heartache as Jesus identified and dismissed His friend Judas out into the night, to go and get the mob which would soon arrest Jesus (see John 13:21-30).
This was the setting, immediately after Judas had left, when Jesus began to teach His friends one final time before departing for Gethsemane. Apparently, the other apostles didn’t understand what had just happened with Judas, but they may have sensed the sadness in Jesus’ eyes as He watched Judas go out into the night. The mood in the room was probably heavy, and Jesus immediately set about to lift up His remaining friends, to boost their spirits, as He had always done. After all, that’s what true friends do for each other.
“Let not your heart be troubled,” He said. He then spoke of the “many mansions” in His Father’s house, and that He was about to go and prepare a place for them all (John 13:1-3). He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6), and taught them of the wonderfully close relationship Jesus had with His Father. Jesus said that each of them could have a close relationship like that with Him and His Father.
Christ Teaches His Friends
This is the point where Jesus then says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). In essence, Jesus was saying to His friends, “Guys, I am about to do something for each of you that you probably won’t understand fully right now. But that’s okay, because soon you will. I am going to send the Holy Ghost to each of you, and He will ‘teach you all things’ (John 14:26). I am going to suffer and die for each of you, which is the only way you can come back to the presence of the Father, and remain there forever in the mansions of glory that I will prepare for you. And the reason I am doing this is because I love my Father, and He commanded me to do this thing. I am showing my love for Him by keeping His commandments, and now I’m asking you to show your love for me by doing the same thing—keep the commandments. That’s how this all works. That’s what will bring peace and joy to your lives.”
Jesus continued His teaching: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him” (John 14:21). As in everything Jesus did, love was the central focus. Love for His Father, and love for His friends was and is always the primary motive for everything Jesus did then and does now.
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I can only imagine what the apostles must have been thinking and feeling as they listened to Jesus teach them. Perhaps they could see the love filling His eyes, and hear the pleading tone in His voice. Their hearts must have been filled to overflowing as Jesus continued, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).
In other words, because the love of the Father and the Son are fixed and eternal, it’s up to us to come to Them and abide in that love. To “abide” means to remain steadfast and firm, to be faithful, and to never walk away. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “The sense of this then is ‘stay—but stay forever.’ . . . Come, but come to remain. Come with conviction and endurance. Come permanently.”
That’s the future that Jesus envisioned for His friends then, and that is the future He envisions for us now. He doesn’t want us to come to Him on a temporary basis. He doesn’t want to be our friend only for a short time, or until someone better comes along. He won’t ever lose interest in us, grow tired or bored with us, and He will never, ever do or say anything to hurt us. He wants us to be His friend not just for now, but forever. As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Endings are not our destiny.”
Infinite and Eternal Love
As I read the story of Jesus teaching His friends at the Last Supper, I can’t help but imagine the anxiousness He must have felt, knowing what He was about to go and do. His simple yet powerful plea, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” is His way of saying to His friends then, and to us now: “Please, make what I did for each of you matter. Make it count. Make it work in your lives.”
It’s hard to fully grasp how truly and deeply Jesus loves each of us. We get glimpses of it from time to time, but the full scope of His love for all mankind is nearly incomprehensible. He loves everyone and everything perfectly. And yet, as infinite and eternal as His love is, it is also intimate and personal. He knows each of us individually and personally, the same way family members know and love each other. He said to the apostles: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), and He was about to demonstrate that kind of love. Elder Merrill J. Bateman said, “In the garden and on the cross, Jesus saw each of us and not only bore our sins, but also experienced our deepest feelings so that he would know how to comfort and strengthen us.”
Jesus showed His love for his friends by doing exactly what He said He would do. He kept his word and was true to His promise. He loved His friends, and He did not take His friendships lightly. Even at His darkest moment, when Judas returned with a mob and betrayed Him with a kiss, Jesus still called him “Friend” (Matthew 26:50). Jesus’s friends mattered to Him, even when He didn’t matter to them anymore.
The very best way we can show Him how much we love Him is by the act of keeping His commandments. It is by doing exactly what we say we will do. We must keep our word, and remain true to the promises we make. It’s my hope that each of us can come to truly understand His love for us. I know He loves you more than you can possibly imagine. And together, now, we will explore more of the why and how we can show our love for Him so that we will all be able to say, “I keep the commandments because I love you.” After all, that’s what true friends do for each other.