EPISTLE | 1 JOHN 4:10-19

10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 

“We love because he first loved us.” (v.19)

This is a very familiar passage; so familiar, it takes a quiet heart and a still mind for me to fully embrace this passage and give it my full attention. When I finally did, there resonated in me a quote I love from N. T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope:

Love is not our duty; it is our destiny. It is the language Jesus spoke, and we are called to speak it so that we can converse with him. It is the food they eat in God’s new world, and we must acquire the taste for it here and now. It is the music God has written for all his creatures to sing, and we are called to learn it and practice it now so as to be ready when the conductor brings down his baton. It is the resurrection life, and the resurrected Jesus calls us to begin living it with him and for him right now. Love is at the very heart of the surprise of hope: people who truly hope as the resurrection encourages us to hope will be people enabled to love in a new way. Conversely, people who are living by this rule of love will be people who are learning more deeply how to hope.

This is the message that underlies the gospel command to forgiveness–which is also, of course, the command to remit debts…But forgiveness is not a moral rule that comes with sanctions attached. God doesn’t deal with us on the basis of abstract codes and rules like that. Forgiveness is a way of life, God’s way of life, God’s way to life; and if you close your heart to forgiveness, why, then you close your heart to forgiveness…If you lock up the piano because you don’t want to play to somebody else, how can God play to you?

~ N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

Wright’s piano analogy is profound, and I find that it fits for all the fruit of the Spirit:

  • How can God give me his love if I keep others at arms length, or across battle lines?
  • How can God give me his joy if I refuse to enjoy and celebrate what is around me?
  • How can God give me peace if I am held captive to anxiety?
  • How can God bring about greater patience in me if I insist on immediate gratification?
  • How can God bear his kindness in me if I feel oppressed or victimized by everything or everyone?
  • How can God foster a generous spirit in me if I am fixated on prejudice, scarcity, and entitlement?
  • How can God make me more faithful if I live in a world of voluntary associations?
  • How can God lead me to be gentler if I see the whole world as hostile and severe?
  • How can God help me control myself if I believe that the greatest good in the world is excess, more, limitlessness?

The good news for us–the Easter Gospel–is that each of the “if” statements above were conquered at the cross, and we now live in the world of immense potential because Christ shed his shroud, folded it up, set it aside, and walked out of the tomb forever. Praise God!

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