Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:
I John 4:7-21
God’s Love and Ours
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates a brother or sister, they are a liar. For anyone who does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
Church tradition says that the Gospel of John, the three letters of John and the Revelation were all written by the same person. The tradition also says that John was the “beloved disciple” who sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper and who was charged by Jesus to care for his mother as he died on the cross.
It’s possible that the Gospel of John was actually compiled by the apostle John’s own disciples at the time of his death, so that the things John passed on to them from his remembrances of Jesus would continue to be taught after his passing. Disciples in that culture carefully memorized what their teacher said, so it seems possible that John’s disciples resolved to get his remembrances down on paper for the use of the wider church.
However it came to be written down, this passage definitely seems like it comes from the same person who wrote the famous passage that appears as 3:16 in John’s gospel: “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son . . .” In both places – in today’s passage and in that famous verse in the Gospel of John – love is portrayed as a central aspect of God’s character – maybe even his most important characteristic.
Christians often say, “God is love!” but our behavior suggests that we don’t really believe that. It seems that the loudest and most strident Christian voices are pretty judgmental and condemning. Those voices tend to spend a lot of time identifying the sins and errors of everybody else in the world, and warning people that they’ll face judgment if they don’t watch their step. It seems to me that lots of people who call themselves Christians actually believe that God is all about judgment – not love.
But the God who came into the world and sacrificed himself on the cross really does seem to be a God who has love, not judgment, at the heart of his character. And in our reading for today, the apostle John specifically rejects a version of the faith that’s based on fear of judgment.
I know, some people say that makes the life of faith seem “too easy.” But the love that John is talking about isn’t a mushy and sentimental kind of love. It’s a brand of love that takes a lot of courage and resolve. There’s nothing mushy or sentimental about letting yourself be nailed to a cross to save others. It’s a self-sacrificial kind of love that will suffer great pain for the sake of those it loves.
In the case of God, the object of that love is the entire human race. In the case of those of us who have encountered God in Jesus and committed our hearts to following him, the objects of that love are supposed to include our fellow followers of Jesus. (Don’t forget that Jesus said the world would know his followers by our love for one another.) And we’re meant to extend that love to our neighbors – basically, to every person we encounter in our daily walk through life.
So just as John says that love is the defining characteristic of God, he also says it’s the defining characteristic of those who faithfully follow his Son. A self-sacrificing God has called us to demonstrate the same kind of love in our dealings with other people.
It’s probably always important to remind ourselves that ‘loving’ someone in the New Testament sense doesn’t have anything to do with affection – you can love someone even if you don’t like them. That’s why Jesus could talk with a straight face about ‘loving our enemies.’ The love God calls us to show is a commitment to the welfare of others, even of those we don’t particularly like. Even those we don’t think deserve our love.
Because, when we get right down to it, none of us can really claim to deserve the love of God, either.
Let’s pray. God, by your Holy Spirit, move in our hearts and empower us to love others as you loved us in Jesus. Move us to love even those who don’t deserve it, recognizing that we don’t deserve your love, either. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
(The other readings for today are Psalms 98 and 146; Daniel 4:28-37; and Luke 4:31-37. Our readings are from the NIV Bible, as posted on Biblica.com, the website of the International Bible Society.)