Read 1 John 4:20-5:4
Before we wrap up John’s first epistle, let’s rewind just a bit and look at how the end of chapter 4 carries into the first few verses in chapter 5. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that our chapter and verse numbering system was created for our convenience1. John did not consider his letter as a document with five chapters. Look at the footnote if you’re interested. Don’t misunderstand me, the numbering system is very helpful, but sometimes it’s better to read a letter as a letter.
Without a doubt, John’s primary purpose in his letters to the church is to remind people of Jesus’ command to love God and to love one another. Loving God is rather difficult to express, though it’s easy to say. Imagine some interaction between one who claims to be a Christian and one who is a staunch agnostic. How do you think the agnostic will respond to the Christian’s statement about loving God? It’s utterly irrelevant to the agnostic. But what if the Christian demonstrated unbounded love for his neighbor, for others, even the agnostic? It seems like this approach would at least be useful in engaging with those who are far from Christ.
Thus far, John’s letter explains that when “we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). In other words, we need to learn how to get along. If not, to put it bluntly, we are liars:
20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:20-21
That’s pretty straightforward. The purpose of this statement is not to create a rule for us to follow; it’s to move us toward becoming more Christ-like in our very nature. Yes, it’s a command, but no, it’s not just another rule. John doesn’t expect his congregation to understand this completely, so he continues the thought in the next few verses:
1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 1 John 5:1-2
Lately, I’ve been lost in the idea of imago Dei, the concept that we are created in the image of God. Oddly enough, the cite I found for a brief definition for the term comes from PBS.org:
The term imago Dei refers most fundamentally to two things: first, God’s own self-actualization through humankind; and second, God’s care for humankind.2
Those two thoughts are worthy of many hours of study. For now, let’s focus on the concept that God loves His creation. If this assertion is accurate, and it is, then for us to more like the One we claim as our Father, we must not only love one another but enjoy the process!
3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. 1 John 5:3-4a
Loving God’s commands is not a burden to be carried; it’s a privilege to enjoy. Focus on the final phrase:
This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 1 John 5:4b
Overcome the world! Can we just read that phrase and turn the page? Have we become so complacent that we don’t recognize the incredible victory that is ours?
Football season is upon us. Some care about this more than others. While you might not care who won the Super Bowl this past February, I’m pretty confident that anyone who is even remotely associated with the New England Patriots is still walking around with some swagger in their step. Though the team of coaches and players involved in the game is limited to fewer than 100 people, the number that considers themselves part of the world champion team is far greater. Some might even fight you if you speak against Tom Brady or any member of the squad. My guess is there are aunts, uncles, third cousins, etc., who are remotely associated with the team who are quick to say things like “my team” or “we won.”
My point is this: we are quick to attach ourselves to earthly things that other people can see, even when we know they are of little significance from an eternal perspective.
My brothers and sisters, let us learn to love each other and enjoy the time we get to experience life on earth together. Don’t do this out of compliance with rules, do so with great joy!
We have overcome the world! We aren’t told to brag about the victory, but how can we keep this to ourselves? We won! Go and love your neighbor!