Tuesday after Epiphany or 8 January – Reading

Commentary on 1 John 4:7-10 
We move today into the third part of 1 John called ‘The Source of Love and Faith’. It is divided into two parts: the first deals at length with ‘love’ (4:7-5:4); the second is on ‘faith’ (5:5-13. John today emphasises that the initiative for love comes from God and not from us. God does not love us because we love or obey him.
The word ‘love’ (from the Greek, agape, pronounced a-GA-pay) in its various forms occurs 43 times altogether in this letter and, in the passage beginning today’s reading up to chap 5, verse 3, is used no less than 32 times!
‘Love’ is one of the most used – and abused – words in our language. Our pop songs are using it all the time and there have probably been songs about love since the dawn of music. We use it in all kinds of other contexts too. People ‘love’ chocolate or they ‘love’ spending hours watching football on TV. People are ‘in love’ and they ‘make love’. And so on.
What, then, do we mean by love in our reading today? CS Lewis, the Christian writer, once wrote a book called The Four Loves. There he describes four kinds of love, all of which should be part of Christian living. One of these is agape, the form of love that 1 John is talking about. I would like to offer a definition of agape which may be helpful. It is: “a passionate desire for the well-being of the other”.
This is the love that God unconditionally extends to all his creatures without exception. It is the love that each of us, too, is to extend to every one of our brothers and sisters – again, without a single exception. It is an outreaching love; it is an unconditional love; it does not depend on mood, liking or disliking. It is based purely and simply on the need and on the good of the other. It may or may not be expressed sexually but it is definitely not the love that most of the pop songs are talking about.
No matter what we do, no matter how evil or vicious we are, God’s love for us remains unchanging and unchangeable. “Love it was that made us and Love it was that saved us…” as the hymn says. The reason is simple: ‘God IS love’. Love enters into his very being. God cannot not love – if he did, he would no longer be God.
It is strange to say (and for some it may be shocking) but God loves the most depraved person we could imagine and Our Lady or one of the saints in exactly the same way. He cannot do otherwise. Is there no difference then? The difference between Our Lady and the evil person is not in God’s love for them but in their response to the love offered to them. One person has a closed heart; Our Lady from the moment of the Annunciation gave an unconditional ‘Yes’ which she never withdrew.
All our loving then is simply an opening of our heart, a return of the love that God has first shown us. When we reveal ourselves as loving persons it is because God’s love is working in us and through us. The sign that we are loving him is also that we are filled with love ourselves, love which originally came from him.
As someone once said, God’s love is like electricity. God’s love is only in us when it is passing through us. It can never stop with ourselves. When we keep that love to ourselves, it dies.
The question then is not: Does God love the drug pusher? (He does.) The question is: Does the drug pusher love his brother? (If he does, he is going a strange way about it.) Anyone who is a deeply loving person to those around him is already full of God’s love. God’s love never changes but it can be blocked by a closed heart.
God’s love is available in abundance to anyone who opens their heart to him. May I be able to do that. But that love, too, must continue to flow out beyond me to everyone I meet. It is impossible to separate God’s love for me and my love for others. We cannot have one without the other.
Our Christian life, then, is about being loving persons, not primarily about orthodoxy or theological expertise, or conformity to rules, or making sacrifices, or carrying out “religious” duties. As St. Paul says in his famous passage in the first letter to the Corinthians, “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.” 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.
Let me today look at Jesus on the Cross, say a big ‘Thank you’ to him and then go and pass on his love for me to everyone I meet.

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