1 John 4:19-21
19 We love because He first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen. 21 And we have this command from Him: The one who loves God must also love his brother.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
It’s no accident that the verses preceding these talk about courage. “Perfect love drives out fear” is more than a nice thought or catch-phrase. It’s the basis upon which we understand God’s love for us and our love for others. We love not because we are particularly great at loving, but because our love for others is greater than our love for ourselves. And we learn that particular type of love by the example He set. “We love because He first loved us.”
Loving others has little to do with the loveliness of others. We would prefer those we are called to love to be…well…lovable. We would prefer to love those we like. But the direction and directive here are clear. The direction is “other-centric” and the directive is that we do it because God is “other-centric.” You and I are marred by sin. In a very real sense, we aren’t likeable to a holy God. And yet, He first loved us. He initiated contact with us. He sought to meet us where we are.
In this passage, John is in no way denying that some of the worst fire can be “friendly fire.” In any community, there is an amazing amount of diversity and personality difference. Some people are jerks. Sometimes those people include you or me. But the foundation of the Christian community is that our motive isn’t based on what they’ve earned, but on the love that has been extended to us. We love because He loved.
Easy to understand. Hard to do.
But something happens within us when we determine that our actions will be based on Who owns us rather than on what we believe is owed us. The Holy Spirit, fashioning our hearts based on His character, begins to bend our actions to His own. We learn that when we love our brother, we are in fact learning to love and rely on God deeply. We learn to live by faith. We develop a reputation for love. We offer a voice of hope. In loving our brother, we learn to lean on our Savior.
Years ago I participated with a group of bloggers who were trying to help initiate change within the denomination. We were passionate. We felt justified. And certainly, we began that critique out of deep love for where we were and where we were going. But en route, the critique turned less than gracious. Instead of voicing truth in love, we pretended to love our brothers without genuinely serving them. We became the very thing against which we were railing.
I realized that I needed to bow out because our good intentions became less good and less intentional. Gossip often works like this in the church. In the beginning, someone will critique based on love and seek genuine wisdom. But as time progresses, it turns to gossip and tearing down rather than building up. People begin to love the lovable…and their brother or sister isn’t at the top of their “lovable” list.
- Write down the names of the brothers or sisters who genuinely annoy you. Determine to pray each morning that you could learn to love them based on God’s love for you rather than how lovable you feel they are.
- If you’ve been gossiping about a brother or sister, stop. It’s that simple. Decide that love trumps rhetoric.
- Determine to live your life based on God’s view of others rather than your own view of others. One doesn’t need to turn a blind eye to sin or foolishness to do so. But your own reaction to that sin or foolishness can be soaked in love. Track how much deeper your love for God grows as a result. Reflect on how much more you rely on prayer and on the Holy Spirit to guide you through the day.