I¡¦d like to begin by quoting an 8-year old theologian: ¡§There are two kinds of love. Our love. God¡¦s love. But God makes both of them.¡¨ God is the Source of love. This is something we¡¦ve known from the beginning of our Christian experience.
ƒçMurderous un-love, verses 11-15
An old Burt Bacharach song laments, ¡§What the world needs now is love, sweet love; that¡¦s the only thing that there¡¦s just too little of.¡¨ Enmity among people is all-too commonplace, and is evident as early as Cain and Abel. Cain¡¦s resentment led him to murder; he is the ¡§prototype¡¨ of the world (Boice). This is what failure to love can lead to. Everyone who hates is a murderer. Jesus amplified the commandment ¡§Thou shalt not kill¡¨ by adding to it His command not to hate, which gets to the root of murder (Mt 5:-22). If I hate someone, I¡¦m no different than a murderer in my attitude. Thomas Merton observed, ¡§All sorrow, hardship, difficulty, struggle, pain, unhappiness, and ultimately death itself can be traced to rebellion against God¡¦s love for us.¡¨
John¡¦s readers were living in a morally corrupt, pagan culture. Our loveless world shows animosity toward us because we do not conform to its pattern. We¡¦ve all been guilty of being taken by surprise when nonbelievers mistreat us. It¡¦s as though we expect nonbelievers to behave toward us as though they shared our faith. We shouldn¡¦t expect this cut-throat, selfish world to be a comfortable working environment.
Those who refuse to love ¡§remain in death¡¨, verse 14. What does it mean to ¡§remain in death¡¨? It means to retain the deathstyle of our old, unregenerate life. People who live with hatred are slowly killing themselves. A spiteful German word has entered the American vocabulary: shadenfreude, which is pleasure derived from someone else¡¦s pain and misfortune. Shadenfreude has no place in the Christian life. Followers of Christ have passed from spiritual death to newness of life. Those who refuse to love show their true nature. We can undergo DNA testing to prove we¡¦re not guilty of committing a murder, but God¡¦s evidence comes from His examination of our hearts. So we haven¡¦t shot anyone, but we may be guilty of character assassination.
John states that by loving, we show that we have ¡§passed from death to life¡¨ in verse 14. The Greek word ¡§passed¡¨ was used by Plato to describe a change from one government to another. We are no longer under the hostile rule of sin, but have become subjects of the King of love. In the comic strip Peanuts, Linus declared, ¡§I love mankind; it¡¦s people I can¡¦t stand.¡¨ It¡¦s easier to love humankind in general than to love particular individuals. God wants to love someone through us this week. Someone specific.
ƒçSacrificial love, verses 16-17
True love involves sacrifice, reaching out even to those who don¡¦t reach back. John has described love negatively by Cain¡¦s un-love, and now positively by the supreme Example of costly love in our Savior¡¦s death. Nearly every mention of love in the New Testament makes some reference to the Cross. How do we ¡§lay down our lives¡¨ for others? John isn¡¦t just telling us to throw ourselves on a grenade to save our fellow-soldiers. He¡¦s calling us to a selfless lifestyle in general. Laying down our lives for others may involve giving of our time. No matter how hateful and self-gratifying the unbelieving world becomes, we¡¦re determined to live differently by demonstrating self-giving love. When was the last time we made a sacrifice to assist someone? An early church father observed: ¡§There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge--that is curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others--that is vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve--that is love¡¨ (Bernard of Clairvaux).
ƒçConfirming love, verses 18-20
According to John in these verses, by wondering whether we love adequately our heart condemns us. Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. Most Christians go through nagging periods of self-doubt, questioning whether they have a valid faith. This lack of confidence can stymie our attempts to serve in some capacity. If we¡¦ve been practicing love, we can rest assured that God is working in us. We remind ourselves of how we¡¦re demonstrating love when our hearts condemn us. What we believe and what we do indicate what we are. We respond to God¡¦s love by initiating lov--intentionally, with action. Love is an active verb. A church is hardly a loving community if it¡¦s friendly to the poor at the coffee-time but then sends them on their way. This is why ¡§love¡¨ used to be translated as ¡§charity.¡¨
ƒçLove¡¦s outcome, verses 21-24
One result of self-giving love is effective prayer. We¡¦re ¡§bold and free before God¡¨ (Peterson). If we¡¦re having trouble praying, it may be because we¡¦re having difficulty loving. The one who loves has little hesitation in speaking to God, and even asking Him for specific things. We can approach God without fear, trusting in His acceptance of us. Our confidence awakens us to be active in doing good. Perhaps we haven¡¦t excelled in love. Our past performance has been less-than-stellar. Tomorrow¡¦s a new day. We can begin a new past. We can trust the Lord of our future.
Another outcome of love is an awareness that God is living in us by His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the reason we can risk giving love, the reason we aren¡¦t paralyzed in fear of messing up. We take the risk of love. Evangelist Dwight L. Moody was asked whether he was filled with the Spirit; he replied, ¡§Yes, but I leak.¡¨ Are we ¡§under the influence¡¨ of the Holy Spirit? If we¡¦re loving others, we are.
Throughout this epistle, John confronts us with the test of love, the mark of authentic trust¡KFirst Lieutenant John Blandford stood in front of Boston¡¦s Trinity Church at Copley Square with nervous anticipation. If a few minutes he would meet the woman who had captured his heart. He had never seen her. Their connection was a classic novel, Of Human Bondage, that he picked up at the Fort Devins Library, filled with notes in the margins. He hated it when people wrote in library books, but the insights had captivated him. It turned out that this was a donated book, and the original owner¡¦s name was listed, Helen Meynell. He did some searching and located Helen, and a lively correspondence ensued. He began falling in love with her, and asked to meet. She declined to send a photo; instead she said that she would be wearing a red rose and carrying a copy of the book. As Lieutenant Blandford waited, an attractive woman approached him. ¡§Going my way, soldier?¡¨ she asked with a smile--but no rose. A minute later he saw a woman, wearing a rose and carrying a book. She was considerably older than him. He was disappointed, but he had established a friendship. He approached the woman and said, ¡§I¡¦m Lieutanant Blandford; I¡¦m so pleased to meet you. May I take you to dinner?¡¨ The woman politely answered, ¡§Young man, I don¡¦t know what this is all about. A young lady asked me to wear this rose on my coat. She said that if you asked me to go out with you, I should tell you that she¡¦s waiting for you in front of the Boston Public Library. She said it was some kind of test.¡¨
Love for others is the evidence, not the basis of the Christian experience. It¡¦s been called the surest test of having spiritual life (Stott). We don¡¦t just talk about it; we live it. Are we practicing a love lifestyle?