As we read through the Gospel of John, you might’ve noticed that Jesus has a knack for saying things, then saying it again in a different way with essentially the same meaning. Sometimes Jesus will change up the wording for stylistic reasons (it gets pretty monotonous saying the same thing over and over again!), and other times they are changed to put an emphasis or nuance on a word or phrase.
In John 14, we hear several times Jesus say something like this: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (14:15 ESV). Four times in this week’s passage (14:15-31) Jesus uses that phrase to drive home the point that His disciples will demonstrate their faith through their action of love. Compare these four sayings side by side (all in ESV):
14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
14:21 “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.”
14:23 “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word”
14:24 “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
Notice that verses 15 and 21 both use “commandments,” plural. Verse 23 varies the expression to “my word” (singular), whereas verse 24 says “my words” (back to plural). Each of these three variations gives a slightly different nuance to the statement. The plural “words” and “commandments” causes one to think about the many different individual commands in Scripture, whereas the singular “word” looks at all those commandments as a holistic unity. “Word” may emphasize not just the commands, but all the statements of Jesus.
The verb “love” remains the same throughout each statement, with variations on its form. Verse 15 is a present subjunctive (a subjunctive is the verbal mood expressing doubt or possibility, hence the “if” at the beginning of the sentence). It acts like a challenge to the disciples – how will they respond to the “if”?
Verse 23 is also a present subjunctive, but this one is singular. Along with the word “anyone”, it gives an open invitation to love Jesus, not limiting the invitation to just the 11 disciples. Verse 15, in contrast, is a second person plural, “you” or “you all,” addressing those disciples in particular.
The verb in verses 21 and 24 are both participles, which is a verbal noun. “The one who loves”, characterizing the individual based on that action of love. Verse 21 is positive – focusing on the outcome of one who does keep Jesus’ commandments, and verse 24 is negative – focusing on the one who does not keep Jesus’ words and therefore does not love.
Each of these variations ultimately points to the same message: if you love Jesus, you’ll keep His commandments. But by saying it four different ways, the emphasis shifts slightly, becoming a command to the disciples and a command to everyone, suggesting it may be followed or it may not be followed. All together, they form a clear message for all believers today, that we must demonstrate our love for Christ by obedience to His will.