1st John is one of my favorite books of the bible. It is simple and tender and I love the way that John so often uses the words “friends” and “children.” He sounds sort of grandfatherly and I look forward to meeting him some day.
I recently read through 1st John, circled the words love, loved or loves, and then went through it again just reading those words in their context. As I did this study a pattern appeared that is as old as mankind.
Here it is:
God is, and always has been, concerned about three very elementary things: our love for him, our love for others, and our efforts at keeping life from getting in the way of the two.
The "life" that is referred to here are the sins/distractions—primarily our own self-centeredness—that prevent us from exercising the true love that occurs only when we put others before ourselves. Jesus called this a genuine love and later in the bible we're told that without that kind of love we’re basically just clanging cymbals. To me this means loud, hollow, and mostly just obnoxious.
So what does this love look like? In a very practical sense it is treating others as you would treat yourself, while putting their needs before your own. It is carrying the physical & emotional burdens of others, listening when you would rather speak, and neither showing favoritism nor marginalizing the people around you. It is reaching out to the person who is not like you, praying for those who you would rather not pray for, and all the while withholding judgment. It is being merciful and patient and full of grace. Love is being Jesus to the people around you.
My own efforts at learning how to love have been convulsive, to say the least, with many more failures then genuine successes. The one thing that I have learned, though, is that the closer that I am to Jesus the easier it is for me to love others. It just comes more naturally, selflessly and, well, often. On the other hand, the longer I go without spending time with him, without thinking about him, without yearning for him, the more I seem to fall back into my own self-centeredness, and the things that I do for others, no matter how I package them, really just end up being done to benefit me…the obnoxious clanging cymbal.
After many years, I have recently began to re-read The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. It’s a deep and slow read, but Manning paints a picture of God’s love for me that is life changing. As I slowly begin to understand this concept, truly understand that God is passionate about me, it causes me to want to draw near to him, and then when I am near to Him I want to be near to others.
I want to love them.
Today, with the strength of God’s love, I intend to keep life at arms length by embracing family, friends and strangers.
Will you join me?
Deut 10.12 - John 13.34 - 1 Cor 13.1 - 1 Cor. 4-8a - 1 John