What does the call for brotherly love in 1 John 4:7 mean in a fractured world where us/them fences and walls are everywhere?
Commentary on 1 John 4
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God." -- 1 John 4:7
An 11-year-old faces bitter disappointment. "Aw, who cares anyway?" he blurts out tearfully.
"Who cares anyway?" cries a young wife and mother as her marriage dissolves. Voicing the same hollow question is a drug addict, unable to escape the trap of his addiction. "Who cares anyway?" is also the cry of an elderly widower, living out his last years alone.
Does anybody care? . . . really care?
"Yes," responds the apostle John. In fact, he uses much of his First Epistle to remind us how much God does care for us. But he doesn't stop there. If God loved us, we should also love one another. A caring, perfected love is, for John, one of the tests of true Christianity.
What a contrast the Christian lifestyle must present to the moral indifference of our times. But it's not always easy. Once in a while I even ask myself if we've really understood all the practical implications of what it means to be perfect in love: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18).
For example, while we were living in Florence, Italy, the Lord brought 15-year-old Francesca into Barbara's and my life.
Francesca's alcoholic father had died a couple of years before, and Francesca's mother found herself unable to cope with the belligerent, strong-willed teenager. By the time we met her, Francesca already had a year-old son.
Our hearts went out to them, and for some time we tried to help in whatever way we could. But in the end, Francesca succumbed to the temptation of being a frequent house guest of the "rich Americans." She stole a month's salary from us and walked out of our lives, still undoubtedly feeling that nobody really cared.
We were sorry it ended that way. Losing the money was a temporary, though very real, financial problem. We were sorry at having our love spurned. But what disturbed us most were the scolding reactions we received.
Well, you shouldn't have let people like that in your home in the first place!
Left unsaid, but sometimes implied was: It serves you right for being so stupid. What did you expect?
I have real trouble with this negative reaction at our attempts to share God's love. It doesn't fit into 1 John 4 very well.
John seems to say, Because of God's initiative, loving is imperative. In fact, our very power to love comes from God.
A very warm reaction to our loss came from a retired Italian railroad worker and his wife. They had no words of scolding for our stupidity or carelessness. Only: How can we help you? We don't have much, but you're welcome to be our guests for meals until next month.
What does all this mean? Am I trying to tell you that you have to lose a month's salary every so often just to live up to 1 John 4?
No, but I am convinced that, through these words of John, the Holy Spirit of God is calling us to mold our love lives in the giving pattern of God himself. I don't know what the cost of doing that would be for you.
Who cares? God did, and does. And because of His presence in us, so must we.
I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It was published in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes produced by The Foundry.
-- Howard Culbertson,
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