Anyone who loves
“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.”
— 1 John 4:19-21
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” — 1 John 3:16-18
Wow, those are some pretty strong words. They make liars of almost all of us who say we love God. After all, who among us has not felt hatred and anger in our hearts at some time? Maybe even often? How many grudges do we hold; how many people do we secretly despise as weak, wrong, obnoxious or simply less worthy of our time and attention?
And then there’s the matter of how we show our love, even to those lucky few we claim to love. I don’t think John was saying here that words are not important. We’ve talked numerous times on this blog about the importance of kind words and expressions of encouragement. I have survived, in part, on the kind expressions of caring from people in this online community whom I’ve never met, but who nonetheless have come to be friends dear to my heart. Your expressions of caring and solace have been a fortress of emotional support for me, and I have sorely needed such support for a very long time.
But there are some needs that can only be met in person, face to face. There are some situations where genuine love will push us out of our comfortable routines and into worlds where we are unsure of ourselves, even anxious or fearful. At some point we will be forced to decide whether our own need for security and convenience is greater than our love for someone else. At such times, it will be tempting to say “I just can’t do this” or “I know there are others who can do this more easily than I can.” Lay down our lives? You must be kidding me. That’s bound to be hyperbole.
But John didn’t say “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister, if they deserve it.” He also didn’t say “let us not love with words or speech but in actions and truth, as long as we can work it into our schedule without too much inconvenience.” He didn’t say “Love — insofar as you reasonably can.”
For the record, I plead guilty to all of the rationalizations I’ve mentioned here. But the past 28 years have been the ultimate “teachable moment” for me; they’ve made me keenly aware of how often we fall short when it comes to loving those we come in direct contact with, not in words only, but “in actions and truth.” Perhaps I have now “quit preaching and gone to meddling” as the saying goes. If so, I begin by meddling in my own life. These words make me uneasy, and perhaps they should.
Almost all of us have been blessed to be recipients of acts of grace from others. The friend who looks closely enough to fill needs that others disregard; the neighbor who shows up without being asked, to keep the kids when we are sick; the sister who uses her limited vacation days to come help out during hospitalizations. At such times, we experience the true meaning of love in action.
Today, I hope you can think of times when other people have given you their time and effort in ways that made a real difference in your life. Let their shining examples be an inspiration to us when we feel too tired, overwhelmed or busy to care.
One year ago today: