Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

November 22, 2020 — Get Un-Stuck

Today’s Bible reading

We love because he first loved us. 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. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. — I John 4:19-21

More thoughts for meditation

This is the final day in our deep dive this week into the ocean of God’s love as expressed in I John 4:7-21. You’re invited to read the full passage again, but our focus today is just on verses 19-21. Recall that we started in I John 4:7-8, where we were reminded that God is love, and that when we love, we reveal that we know God and that we are born of God, that we are God’s children. Likewise, in verses 9 and 10, the focus was on how God shows us who she is- by sending Jesus so that we can live through him as we participate in God’s love. This is how God saves us from everything that is not love, from everything that is not God. Then, in verses 11-12, we saw how the loving community that exists amongst God’s self overflows onto creation, including humanity, and is fulfilled as we participate in that community by loving one another. In verses 13-16a we saw how we might get caught up in the love-life of the Trinity by receiving the gift of the Spirit and therefore pointing to the Father by proclaiming the good news about the Son. In verses 16b-17 we were reminded that when we root ourselves in a life of love we root ourselves in Jesus, in God who is rooted in us, and so we are like him and can have confidence when God finally sets all things to right. Finally, yesterday in verse 18 we saw that the love of God which has reached its end, its purpose, in our love for one another is perfect and complete, leaving no room for fear.

We end our week of swimming in the ocean of God’s love in a place very similar to where we started, being reminded that God has first loved us, and so we love. It is fitting that our discussion should come back round to its beginning. Throughout the week we’ve worked with various images to help us live into this story we participate in, the story of God’s love. One of those images is that of the “divine dance,” which hints at the love that exists within God’s self as Father, Son, and Spirit. This love has no end, making this a circular dance. So thinking of movement in a circle can be helpful. Love moves from Father, to Son, to Spirit and back round again, but still is not contained as it overflows to creation and God’s children, where the circle is made complete in our love for God and one another. 

It may be obvious, then, that we cannot participate in this divine dance, this overflowing love from God to us and from us to one another and back to God again, while simultaneously harboring hate for a brother or sister. Just as perfect/completed love drives out fear, living in the love-life of God in us and us in God leaves no room for hate. Let’s skip to the end again and look at that “must” in verse 21: “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister,” the writer of John tells us. But again, as we’ve previously discussed this week, to say that those who love God with the love God gave first must love one another is like saying that the sun must shine. It is unlikely that it continues to do so out of a sense of obligation. Rather, the sun shines because that’s what suns do. We, then, who have first been loved by God and love him in return, love also each other, because that’s what we who are children of God do

Moreover, there’s some language in verse 20 about that which is seen and that which is not: “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” We do well here to remember our discussion earlier in the week of verse 12: “No one as ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” When we participate in the love-life of God, that love will reach its end; it will achieve its purpose- our love for one another. When we do this, we are ever more aware of the God-life in us and of our life in God. This is how God is seen and known: we see our brother and sister, and we love them. After all, “everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Thanks be to God!

Suggestions for action

Let’s end the week with our breath prayer one last time:

Inhale: God, you are love. 

Exhale: When I love, I know that I’m yours.

Meditate using this breath prayer for five minutes or so. Then take your time and read our passage for today. If you have time, re-read verses 7-18 too. If you’re short on time, just read verse 19-21. Take another five minutes and meditate again using the breath prayer above. As you end, let the light of God’s love in you illuminate any hidden hate you may harbor for a brother or sister. If “hate” feels like too strong a term, ask God to reveal anyone for whom the love of God in you feels stuck. Pray that God would help you release or lay down whatever is causing this stoppage, and then trust God as you reach out to them this week in love. 

Today is C.S. Lewis Day! honor the great thinker, imagineer and apologist at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

2 Comments

  1. Donna Schmidt

    Thank you for this week’s meditations. My cell discusses this scripture on Tuesday, and had a discussion about the last verses which were today’s focus. In the translation we used, “other believers” was the term used instead of “brothers and sisters.” My cell questioned why there would be a focus on loving other believers (or brothers and sisters) rather than loving ALL people (our neighbors). What do you think?

    • Robert Buck

      Hi, Donna! I’m no Bible expert, which is why I’m grateful for our group project of knowing and following it. I did look up the Greek, though, and the word being used here, “adelphon,” is usually translated into English as not even “brother and sister,” but just “brother.” There may be an implied “and sister” depending on the context, but I think this shows how tricky translation can be as we’re wrestling with not just ancient languages, but ancient contexts and idioms. I think the translator’s decision in the version your cell used to render that Greek word as “other believers” could be seen as an attempt at wondering just how big God’s table is, just how expansive God’s family is. Just who is this love of God *for* anyway? Is it just for the family, our brothers and sisters? Is God’s love bigger if we say “other believers,” or smaller? You mentioned that your cell wondered why the focus would be on “believers (or brothers and sisters) rather than loving ALL people (our neighbors).” For my part, I think your cell is wise. Jesus got questioned about this too, as his interlocutors prodded him about just who our neighbors are. Jesus’ response seems to get at something mysterious and transcendent, but timeless and true. His answer in that case and in so many others seems to suggest a way of approaching this question of who is in and who is out. We have, after all, so many ways of drawing lines that include and exclude. Whether the boundary is brother/sister (or family) vs. those outside the family or even “neighbor” (so those close in some way) vs. those who are far away, whatever the case, Jesus’ actions and words over and over again seem to point us toward pushing past the boundary. In Jesus’ day and in the days of the early church, the biggest such division was probably between Jews and Gentiles. Paul picks up this thread and riffs on it in Ephesians 2, telling us that “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away (Gentiles) have been brought near (to God, where Jews understood themselves to be) by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” I think the story of God’s love is one of continually pushing past whatever barriers are erected to divide us because Jesus himself is our peace. Sorry for the long answer; it’s a great question!

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