That John stops preaching and goes to meddling in this Sunday's epistle lection. You know the John I mean, the writer of First John as well as the two short epistles that follow. We got a good start last week when John told us that we were children of light and we should try to live like it and know that we are loved. That was good....John could have kept on preaching throughout his letter about that. We like to hear those words of affirmation as much as possible. This week though, John gets rather personal because he poses the question, "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?" (3:17)
Whoa, John...are you saying that we are not full of God's love just because we do not want to part with some of what we have worked so hard to get just because someone else comes along who may need it? Surely, you are not saying that....or are you trying to imply that if we don't interrupt our own lives and schedule and come to the aid of someone who is in distress then we cannot really claim to be followers of Jesus Christ? Keep preaching like that John and you may be looking for another church to pastor. Loving others is fine, in theory, but we all know that loving people up close and personal is not easy. We want to think good thoughts about others in the world and wish them well....from a distance, of course. We want everyone to be happy and succeed and have all the things they need.....in a general sort of way.
John is tough on his readers and hearers though...he does not stop with love in a general, rather vague way..."Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action." (3:18) Loving in truth and action is a lot more challenging than loving in a general way. It often requires something of us. It often requires us to change our schedule, to go out of our way, to do things we had not planned on doing, for the sake of someone else.
When I was in school, we studied the parts of speech a lot in English class. We learned that a verb shows "action, being, or a state of being." I always wanted a verb to be an action verb because it was easier to pick out in a sentence. I was always sure that an action verb had something going on so I could tell it was a verb. A verb that was one showing being or a state of being seemed to just sit there....am, is, are, was, were, has, have, had.....they just sit around being verbs, not really going anyplace. When you met up with words like walk, talk, go, read, do, swim...the list is endless, you knew someone or something was taking off in some direction. There was motion implied in the very nature of the word.
Love is like that, according to the epistle writer John. Love is an action verb, not something that can just be. Love is something that is done on behalf of others, and especially others who cannot do it themselves or pay you for your doing it for them. Love is done and shown and given because the actor is acting out of a sense of love rather than duty. When we love in truth and action, it will be apparent that we are meeting a need or sharing a talent or giving of ourselves because we are motivated by something within that compels us to act. A sense of duty or obligation is not at the center of this kind of love, but a higher calling sends us into action.
So, John may not be straying too far from his original idea of God's love for us....he simply expands on it to include all others that God also loves. And if God loves all of humankind, then God expects his "little children" (John's pet name for you) to love everyone else also. "And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ and love one another..." (3:23)