1 John 3:11-24 (New International Version)I feel a little like I'm repeating myself with each of these posts, it's all about love, love your brother, love your neighbor, love your enemies. But maybe I'm writing the same things because John was writing the same things. Why? Probably because he wanted to drive home the point. Repetition is a valuable tool for teachers. Why else? Probably because Jesus kept repeating it to John and the other original disciples during His time on Earth, and remember that John was one of Jesus' inner circle, he was "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He was there to hear Jesus teach this:
Love one another
11This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. 13Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
16This 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. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." ~Matthew 22:36-40
No wonder John says that "this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another" And the very convicting indictment - "Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him."
Not only is murder murder, mere hatred is tantamount to murder. I don't know about you, but if this is true, then I myself have to beg for God's forgiveness because I am no better than Adolph Hitler or Jeffery Dahmer! And often I've hated people in God's name. "Damn terrorists, damn politicians, damn perverts, stupid racists, freaking cult leaders!" I may try to rationalize myself, tell myself that it's okay to be prejudiced against prejudice people, but the fact remains that I've failed to love others as God's precious creations regardless of their shortcomings.
It confounded me when I attended church once in Topeka Kansas. There was a different church on three of the four corners of the intersection. We were going to the Lutheran one, but across the street there was a picket line in front of the (I think it was Episcopal) other church. People calling themselves "Christian" were protesting another Christian congregation with signs that said things like "God Hates Fags." My understanding of Scripture was that God loves all men and wants them to receive salvation in His son. Something was wrong.
So how do we love? "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." Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus' example was humility, servanthood, and even sacrifice for the sake of others. On the one hand, it's so simple, there aren't 9 pillars of 8 steps or 256 laws or even 10 commandments- just two things; believe Jesus and love one another. On the other hand it is SO difficult! loving others means abdicating the throne of our life, giving up our ambitions, our agendas, even what we imagine are our rights. True love puts others before yourself.
Ever since I was a kid people have questioned my faith. "How can you be a Christian and support Democratic candidates? How can you be so religious and so liberal at the same time?" I'm sure some have even questioned my salvation. One of the reasons why I tend to be more progressive politically even while being so orthodox theologically is because of what Saint John wrote next;
"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"
As far as I can see, this blows away the "ownership society" sense of entitlement and the whole argument for eliminating inheritance taxes and especially supply-side "trickle-down" economics. We are our brother's keepers and we all ought to help however we can, even if those we help don't seem worth helping.
Jesus doesn't demand that we make pilgrimages or ritual sacrifices. He doesn't expect us to pray five times a day facing East, and He certainly doesn't ask us to destroy the infidels with suicide bombing missions. But what He does ask is a tall order. Millions of us who like to call ourselves "Christian" fail to keep these two simple commands several times a day, every day:
"And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us."
Grant us Your Spirit so that we won't become jealous of our brothers or greedy with our resources like Cain did when he resented and killed Able.
Grant us Your Spirit so that we will be able to love and care for all of Your children, even those that disagree with us, even those who don't acknowledge or believe in You, even those whom we perceive as offensive to You.
Grant us Your Spirit so that we will have pity on those who don't have the same material advantages that we do.
Please Lord Jesus, Grant us Your Spirit so that we can truly believe in You and genuinely love one another as You have commanded us to.
In your holy name,Amen