Wednesday after Epiphany or 9 January – Reading


Commentary on 1 John 4:11-18 
The reading continues to remind us of the primacy of God’s love.  It begins with a very significant statement: “If God loves us so much, we too should love each other.” One would expect the writer to have said that, if God loves us so much, we should love God back. But no. The real test of whether we are returning God’s love is our passing on that love to our brothers and sisters. God does not need our love and, in fact, strictly speaking we cannot give to God something he already has in infinite abundance. That is why we respond by passing it on.
Part of the reason for that is because “no one has ever seen God”. (This statement is directed against the people called ‘Pneumatikoi’, ‘the spirit people’, who held that a human being could make direct contact with God simply by intuition.) No, God cannot be seen. That means that it is difficult to measure our real love for him. On the other hand, it is very easy for us to think that we love him. (We remember Charlie Brown’s famous remark: “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”)
But John says that, if we can genuinely love the people around us – who are very visible indeed, sometimes uncomfortably so – then God is really present in us through that love and it gradually transforms us.
God is also present in us through our faith in and commitment to Jesus as the Son of God.
“When anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God.”
Similarly, because God is love, the deeply loving person “abides in God and God in him”.
Here again, we have the double theme of this letter: To obey God is to believe in Jesus as his Son and to love those around us.
Finally, love and fear do not co-exist. When we are filled with the love of God, a love which flows out from us towards others, there is nothing we need fear. That is, we have no need to be afraid of God or his judgement (although there may be things, happenings in our life which may generate fear). Fear comes from the threat of punishment but, for the one who is close to God in love, such fear has no meaning. If I do experience a fear of God, then it is an indication that my love is defective. (This fear is not to be confused with ‘fear of the Lord’, one of the gifts of the Spirit. ‘Fear’ in this sense is rather a sense of awe at God’s infinity but not the kind of fear when we come face to face with a life-threatening danger.)
If there is no love in us, then we simply do not know God who, by definition, IS LOVE.
If we may repeat what has already been said, our Christian life is about being loving persons, not primarily about orthodoxy or theological expertise, or conformity to rules, or making sacrifices, or carrying out “religious” duties. “If I have not love, I am nothing.”
Today’s reading says, “The person without love has known nothing of God, for God is love.” If I am not a loving person, all the rest is a waste. If I am a truly loving person, everything else is taken care of.
And what is the source of that love? It is not ourselves. “Love consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us.” Our loving acts are only an expression of his love working in us and through us. Our love is always a response to his and never the other way round. The evidence is in God’s sending “his son as an offering for our sins”. Jesus hanging on the cross is the most dramatic sign of God’s love for us, a love that is totally gratuitous (so we call it “grace”) and never earned by any action of ours.

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