The Word & the Spirit Teach Us to Love, Day 4
First John is perhaps best read by inserting John chapter one at its beginning if only to remind us that John understands the Word to be a person: Jesus Christ. The book's entirety is John's exhortation that our behavior towards one another as believers is indicative of our hearts towards God, and the Word at work in our lives, empowered by the Holy Spirit, enables us to live radically loving those around us. Jesus gave us a litmus test by which we could tell whether or not someone was His disciple. He stated, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
In a world rapidly attempting to redefine words, we must remember that the Word defines all others, and His definition of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a.
"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not see its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."
Love is defined in absolute terms that are all measurable. They can be felt and judged. It is not contingent upon our feelings or desires but rather upon the character and nature of God Himself.
John explains this in his first epistle. Listen to what John says about love in 1 John 4:7-13.
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit."
Who is Jesus? The Word made flesh (John 1:1-2, 14). How do we abide? Through His Spirit. Notice that it says to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is sad to see people in the church who are more willing to help those in the world than their fellow believers. But the consensus outside is that many have, by their own admission, refused Christ because of how Christians treat one each other. How quickly we judge one another's motives and our walks with the Lord! If we consider ourselves with the same measure we meet out to others, we will find ourselves guilty every time. We must love one another, and if that means forgiving a brother seventy times seven times, then that's what we must do. And that can only come about as we allow the Word and the Spirit to transform us. Without the Word, we have no example to follow and no written account of true love in action. Without the Spirit, we can attempt to love all we want but will never achieve it to the degree that 1 Corinthians 13 demands.
If you are not lovingly helping to provide for the legitimate needs of your brothers and sisters, how can you do so for those outside of God's kingdom? That reeks of hypocrisy. Paul instructed the Romans thus, "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality" (Rom. 12:9-13).
To love the world, you must first learn to love your brothers and sisters in Christ. That doesn't mean ignoring the world, but rather that your love is perfected as you love the brethren because if you can learn to walk in the fruits of the Spirit with those whom you know well, how much more so will you be kind, gentle, and longsuffering with those who are not of His Body. Likewise, how we love the Body of Christ will determine how well we can love those outside the church. And isn't that what Jesus was saying when He said the second greatest command was to love your neighbor as yourself? (Mark 12:31) If we will be good disciples of the Word and the Spirit in our interactions with fellow members of the Body of Christ, how much more so will our love be without hypocrisy to the world around us, who we know doesn't know any better. So I reiterate John's call and say, "Beloved, let us love one another."