By This We Know Love

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us– and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. 1 John 3:16-24.

In an earlier post, I suggested that John’s first epistle (which really looks a lot more like a sermon) offers us an extended love letter.  In this reading from today’s Lectionary, we see a perfect example of that idea.

St. John begins by asking a hard question:  “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”  If we really love God, how can we stand by idly and watch the pain of His children?  Loving God means that we love each other, in truth and in action.  The love of God, if genuine, creates in us a compulsion to do what we can whenever we find His children in pain or in need.

St. John does not so much conceive of love as an emotion; rather, he sees it as an active consequence of our relationship with the resurrected Jesus.  Love isn’t so much something we feel as something into which our relationship with God compels us.  Only in St. John’s writings do we find the language “God is love”, although that notion is woven throughout the entire fabric of Holy Scripture.

I’ve written before about the grace of charity, not simply consisting of philanthropic donations, but as encompassing our love for each other.  St. John argues that our charity constitutes evidence that we living in Christ.  If we chose not to abide in love, we will miss the gift of Easter, and will ultimately abide in death.  Love, as Christ taught us, will demand self-sacrifice.  That sort of love springs only from a vibrant relationship with the Lord, which infects and spreads throughout our relationships with His “little children”.  Trusting in God finds its expression in a life lived out through love of our brothers and sisters.

If the Christian Church is struggling to find its meaning or its relevance today, it need look no further than 1 John.  John teaches us that our task lies not simply in minimizing need in the world, but in actualizing love.  Jesus drew crowds, not because of good showmanship, doctrinal purity or comfortable accommodations with stadium seating.  Rather, Jesus drew crowds because of the immense depth of his compassion.  I’m convinced that the Church will only find its proper role through making God’s love visible in this fragile world.

Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

11 responses to “By This We Know Love

  1. In order to give our lives for others, someone must take that life away from us. To kill is a sin (check out those Ten Commandments). How does one reconcile this apparent contradiction in the words of the Lord?

    • Barbara,

      There are lots of ways we give up our lives (working for Habitat, feeding the hungry, and yes, even writing blogs), that don’t involve killing or a literal death. St. John argues that self-sacrifice (learning to place others’ needs ahead of ourselves) shows us how to abide in Jesus.


      Br. James

  2. Brother James, the lat paragraph is a great summary. Jesus’s greatest accomplishment was his level of compassion, to the point of losing his own life. Thank you for sharing.

    • Noel,

      Compassion is a much overlooked and undervalued gift of the Spirit. Jesus showed us the way.

      Thank you for your support and your encouragement.

      God’s peace, my friend,

      Br. James

  3. Correction: The “last” paragraph.

  4. But I always struggle with how much do I give? We here in the West are so rich, and a “normal” life includes many luxuries by world and historical standards. I worry that I don’t give enough, but see many others ariunds me seemingly satisfied with giving less. How do we know?

    • Liz,

      I think the fact that the question troubles you is a very good sign. It troubles me, too. There are lots of ways to give, including raising children with generous hearts. From what I can tell, you’re very much on the right track. I think we know, fundamentally, by where our hearts are.

      Sabbath peace,

      Br. James

  5. Okay, I’m going to actualize some love now. Thanks.

  6. Your writings make me so happy and contented! thank you so much. I got lost and was not receiving your posts so I re-subscribed and hoping to receive it on wordpress. Thank you so much for you support at times that matter. I have such deep feelings when I write. I feel your understanding and appreciate it so much. Recently, I felt difficulty in simplifying a message. The blog world is confusing still to me. A poem about Nature soars, but one that asks questions about how we perceive the Creator of that Tree is lost in some place unknown. We can unify about a tree, but scatter, or repel from an opinion suggesting diversity and acceptance of a concept of One Humanity of God is suggested. I have spoken of it for forty years. It is not church doctrine, I know, but transcends and includes all religions as singular at the core, like the centerpoint of a circle with rays that go outward all then to a larger circle with a broad circumference which joins all in diversity, each stretching in a curved horizontal (like the round earth), in embrace to the right and the left, like crosses, creating a magnificent sacred Circle of the One. Can you see the Image?
    Linda…if God’s Love is made visible, would it not have to be through our own Transfiguration which then creates action, creation and manifestation of God and His Nature on Earth?

    • Linda,

      You are very kind to say so.

      The urge is simplify is powerful, and worth listening to. I think we need to move away from percieving doctrine and nature separately, and towards the unity of creation. I can see the image you describe.

      I think you’re right about the process of God’s love made visible, principally through the Incarnation as our most tangible encounter with the Divine.

      Thank you so much for your thoughts.

      Peace on you and your house,

      Br. James

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