What a meaty passage! There is so much to take in from these two chapters, with plenty of fantastic and memorable verses which I’m sure could be the subject of many a different sermon. What I’d like to focus on here though is what I think the writer is getting at through this passage, summarised in 4:21:
“Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
We are told that love has been the message “from the beginning” (3:11), so throughout the course of history the story of the human being has been centred around love, and this love is the vast, immeasurable love of God. As we have seen whilst doing this 100 Day Bible challenge, the account of God’s chosen people (first the Jews and now everyone) has been one of God consistently demonstrating great faithfulness, despite the fact that He is constantly rejected by those same people, and this faithfulness coming from an unwavering love for those He has called His people.
Ultimately, the greatest act of faithfulness and love that will ever occur was when God took our place as Jesus by dying on the cross:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (3:16)
This single act exemplifies to us what it means to love. Selfless, sacrificial, unquenchable and hardly deserved. That is why the writer later goes on to say that “God is love.” (4:8). However, 3:16 does not simply end with this definition of love. In full, the verse says:
“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.”
The message here is very clear; you cannot separate a love of God from a love of what the writer describes as ‘our brothers’. The first without the second voids the legitimacy of the first. But who are our ‘brothers’? I don’t know about you, but ‘brother’ (or ‘sister’!) conjures up images of people I’m close to, maybe those who are family or friends that I really enjoy spending time with. Jesus, however, does not use this narrow definition, and whilst teaching the crowds (as recorded in Matthew 22:37-39) says:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
Whilst we might interpret brother as meaning those close to us in a non-physical sense, the word neighbour indicates we are to show this love to all those around us that we come into contact with; those people are our brothers too. So not only do our brothers include those we like, it also includes those we really don’t, who may not be too keen on us either.
We are commanded, as part of loving God, to love those that hate us.
This is not easy by any means, and we cannot do it on our own. Today, find some time to name people you struggle to love whilst in prayer, asking God for his grace to enable you to love them better.