“We love because he loved us first. If anyone says ‘I love God’ and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And the commandment we have from him is this: that the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian too” (1 John 4:19-21 NET).
“Love, love, love, love – the gospel in a word is love; love your neighbour as your brother, love, love, love.” And so goes the verse of a familiar song to many of us. “The gospel in a word is love” – love is what we are to be about as Christians. In fact, Jesus placed such a great emphasis on love that he said this was the way people would know who were following him. “Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
When we get to John’s first letter, there is almost a constant reference back to this statement by Jesus. As Christians, we love because of God’s love for us. I believe it unfortunate that the King James Version added a word in 1 John 4:19, making the verse say “we love him.” Yet when the apostle wrote these words he seems to have intentionally left out the object from that sentence. In context, it would seem to be applying to loving Christians, although it could be that he had in mind both love for God and others.
One point that we see in these verses is that we cannot love God and not love other Christians. The logic is impeccable – how can we love God whom we have never seen if we cannot love the followers of God who we do know? If we love God we must love those trying to follow him. It is a package deal.
I don’t know many Christians who would actually admit to hating other Christians. Although they might state that they love, the question is really how are they treating others – what are they doing for them? Notice what John wrote earlier in this letter:
“We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians. But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:16-18).
You see, it is more than just saying we love others. The real test is what are we doing for others. Or perhaps what we are not doing to them. It really is quite easy to see who we love and who we don’t love. If we love someone, we will go out of our way to help them and to build them up at every opportunity. If we don’t love them, we will use every chance we get to tear them down and say bad things to others about them.
There really isn’t an option for a Christian. We need to learn to love. If we cannot love our brothers, not only do we not love God, but God considers us a murderer (see 1 John 3:15) and we do not have eternal life. Love is this serious.
For this is the gospel message that you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another… (1 John 3:11).
Readings for next week:
15 December – John 2
16 December – John 3
17 December – John 4
18 December – John 5
19 December – John 6:1-34