I’ve been stuck at home with my three kids for a while now, thanks to the current lockdown. And though I always love them, honestly some days it’s hard to love them. Hard to give them the attention they need, the help they require. It’s hard, after a full day of being touched, and climbed on, and head butted, and all manner of things, to keep on opening my arms for hugs. It’s hard, after a full day of talking and talking (and talking and talking…), to keep listening to their words and the needs behind their words. Even with my own flesh and blood, it’s hard to keep loving them.
So, when I get to reading John’s gospel and epistles, it really strikes me just how often John talks about love. His writing is saturated in it. I am particularly caught by the following passage in 1 John 4:7-21:
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 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour 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 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 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 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever 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.
Is anyone else intimidated by this? Whoever does not love their brother and sister… cannot love God. – oooh boy, that’s a tough one! It feels like it’s saying that I must love everyone, all the time, or else I don’t know God. And if I don’t know God… am I really saved? If you’re like me, this passage, on its surface, is terrifying! All praise to God that’s not how salvation works!
What this passage actually reveals to us is quite amazing. First, it shows God’s nature – He is love. When we become Christians and accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts, we accept part of God’s nature (v. 12). God abides in us, and His love, which is part of who He is, abides in us as well. Second, it shows where the origin of our love is: “not that we have loved God but that He loved us” (v.10). If anything that we feel or do can be called ‘love’, it will be because we are connected with God, who is love. Third, because God is love and has connected us to Him through His Son, so we ought to love. This is not ought as in ‘obliged to’. We ought to love as a fish ought to swim or a bird ought to fly. We have been born again into a new life (2 Cor. 5:17), a new creation, and the love of God is a part of who we are in that new life. This is not mere imitation or obligation. When we love, we are realising who we are and being true to that..
This is how we are meant to love others. Our new life in Christ, the new birth, connects us to God, changes our nature into His nature, which is love. If we are born again, we love. When we are born again, the love of God is connected, within us, to love for others. What a relief that is! I don’t have to force love to grow in me for my brother or sister (or my enemies). Instead, I can turn to God, and use His love to love others. Which is a much better love than anything I could produce on my own! I once heard it this way: when we become Christians, we become pipes. Hollow pipes. And through those pipes, the love of God flows, from us to others.
What can we take away from all of this? I think the first thing we can take away is hope. We don’t have to obey those two Greatest Commandments (Matthew 22:36-40) in our own strength. We can love God, and others, with the love that God has first given us. The second thing we can take away is a new (or renewed) reliance on God. If (or more accurately, when), I don’t feel that I have love to give to my children, I can rely on God to produce that love in me. If I struggle to forgive a wrong or behave well to someone, I can reach into the wellspring that is the Holy Spirit within to love and forgive as I should. What a comfort this is! How amazing is God – He gave us free will, He saved us from the consequences of our choices, and He gives us what we need to respond and live well in light of His lovingkindness towards us. What a good Father He is!
I’m indebted to John Piper’s work for much of this reflection: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-new-birth-produces-love
PRAYER: Spend some time thanking God for His love, asking Him to let it freely flow through you.
SONG: Good, Good Father, by Chris Tomlin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ak0OoFBw3c