We understand that the love that Jesus calls us to is not easy. We have enough experience to know that when we love one another as Jesus loved us, we open ourselves up to the world’s rejection, just as Jesus did.
John has taken us, once again, to the very heart of the Scriptures with this passage. This is the meaning of the Christian life in a nutshell. It is the message that has been passed down to us from the very beginning; that we are to love one another. The whole of the Scriptures is infused with this love, for it is of God, and it is God’s commandment to each and every one of us. What, then, are the implications of this commandment for us?
We know that to love as Jesus did is not easy. In fact, we have all too often felt our hearts being torn apart and shattered by things like envy, anger and hatred. At the beginning of this chapter 3 we see what our refusal to love brings about in the world. We are reminded of what happens when there is no love in our hearts through the story of Cain and Abel. If our hearts are filled with envy and that kind of anger that turns to hatred there is no room for love, or life. Envy, anger, and hatred are servants of the evil one, they bring about only suffering and death. But the world, so often, seems to be filled with more of this than with love.
What John is talking about here under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is love in action. The great Christian writer, G.K. Chesterton, once wrote: “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; rather, it has been found difficult and not been tried.” Let me paraphrase his words this way: It is not that love has been tried and found wanting; rather it has been found difficult and not been tried. We know at the depths of our souls that love is the highest human achievement. We write poetry about it, we preach about it, we sing about it, yet we see and experience so little of it. Our experience tells us that words without corresponding actions are lifeless. If our love is merely words, poetic sweetness, or mere sentiment, there can be no life in it. John writes: “If one who has worldly means sees a brother or sister in need and refuses him or her compassion, how can love of God remain in him?” (verse 17) “How can the love of God remain in him?” Those words ought to cause us to tremble.
We understand that the love that Jesus calls us to is not easy. We have enough experience to know that when we love one another as Jesus loved us, we open ourselves up to the world’s rejection, just as Jesus did. As John reminds us, we should not be “amazed” at this. Love in action confronts and challenges the world’s envy, anger and hatred. When we begin to practice love in action as Jesus did, we will be able to earnestly pray for those who persecute us, rather than return blow for blow. We will be more able to forgive those who injure us because we will begin to see more clearly the image and likeness of God in them, no matter how hidden it is by their anger, or hate, or envy. We will practice holy generosity more often toward those in need. We will open our hearts, our homes, and our churches with genuine welcome and hospitality for all, especially those who are in the greatest need. We will honor God’s creation by actively caring for it. In the face of injustice, or great present need, we will be willing to lay down our lives for one another out of that love. Jesus came for all, not just for some. Out of unconditional love, he came to forgive, to heal, and to save each one of us from the darkness and the shadow of death that is sin. That is what he commands us as Christians to do for one another, here and now, in our own daily lives.
Lord, we pray that you will empty our hearts of all that is envious, angry, or hateful. Wash us clean and fill us with your love so that we may not only say all things, but do all things out of love for you, our neighbors, and ourselves. We know we are weak, but we put our faith in you and your loving grace. With your grace we will be strengthened to love others as you love us. We pray these things believing in the power of your holy name, Jesus. Amen!
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