First Letter of John 4: 13-21 (NIV)
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 Saviour of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he 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 him. 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 his brother (or sister), he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother (and sister), whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother (and sister).
Throughout this part of the Apostle John’s first letter, the author’s reference to “love” uses the Greek word “agape” – “God-like love”. We who live in God are able to love because he first loved us. The evidence of the extent of God’s love for his children is his sending of his Son to be the Saviour of the world.
With the love of God in us by virtue of the gift to us of his Spirit, we are to love our brothers and sisters with this same, God-like love. In this week following the canonisation of Saint Teresa of Kolkata, we are reminded of the extent to which that love for our brothers and sisters can go in willing, selfless service.
It is impossible for anybody who truly loves God to refuse to love also his brother and sister (verse 20). John Stott presents it clearly*:
To claim to know God and have fellowship with God while we walk in the darkness of disobedience is to lie. To claim to possess the Father while denying the deity of the Son is to lie. To claim to love God while hating the brethren is to lie also. These are the three black lies of the Epistle, moral, doctrinal and social. However loudly we may affirm ourselves to be Christian, our habitual sin, denial of Christ and selfish hatred expose us as the liars we are. Only holiness, faith and love can prove the truth of our claim to know, possess and love God.
Here is a challenge for all of us, particularly those in the Parliaments/Legislative Assemblies of this nation. The culture may be combative at times; it certainly is competitive. People who love God have no licence, simply because of the culture of their profession, to ignore God’s call to love one another. Competing ideas can be discussed without rancour if the will is there to love one another as Christ loved us. “We love because he first loved us.” “Whoever loves God must also love his brethren.”
Those of us who are not in Parliament are duty-bound to pray for our Christian brethren who are: that they may consistently demonstrate the love of God in thought, word and deed.
*John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester England, 1983, p. 170.