St. John has a one-track mind. Now normally we say this as a negative thing, meaning that a person is so fixed on one aspect of life that he doesn’t experience some of the other aspects that he should. But if your one-track mind is fixed on God and His commandments, then having a one-track mind is a great blessing.
In this passage, St. John joins the choir of voices that teach us that love, like faith, cannot be in word or tongue only but must be a love that finds expression in deed and in truth. Growing up, we sang one of the new 70s Christian songs that was coming into the churches: “Love is somethin’ ya do.” Apparently, you had to leave the letter ‘g’ off of “something” and had to turn the word “you” into “ya.” I didn’t like the song very much because even as a preteen or teen it struck me as trying to hard to be young and hip. But I had to acknowledge that the basic message was a good one.
Love is something you do. (There – it’s cathartic after all these years to say it the right way!) It’s so easy to speak of Christian love. In fact, I think in some ways the ideal of Christian agape love was secularized in the 60s by the hippies and others. Remember: “All you need is love.” It’s still possible culturally to speak of a kind of love akin to agape love and have people recognize it as a noble goal.
But it is hard to live by agape love because at the heart of it is self-giving. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us” (verse 16). Jesus Christ is the definition of love, not just because God is love but because God does love. Sometimes we think of God as being a static being, perhaps the faceless figure sitting on the throne. If you look carefully at these static pictures of God like I have, you can see under His robes that He’s twiddling His thumbs. I would too if I were Almighty God and I had nothing better to do than to sit around all day!
John rightly points to Jesus’ laying down His life for us as the focal point of His love. At the Cross, we especially see the love of God for us; we see love in action. At the Cross, we see the baby born at Christmas grown into a man, and we see the terrible reason He was born. Thank God that Jesus didn’t think that love was just a second-hand emotion but showed it with His life.
But the love of Jesus can’t stop with Jesus. If we love God, then we will love the brethren, by which John means especially other Christians. “And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (verse 16). Christians are to be little Christs, doing what He did. We are to lay down our lives for one another.
I’m fascinated by Jesus’ life of sacrifice, and not just the moment on the Cross. The entire public ministry of Jesus was a laying down of His life. Constantly, He was teaching and healing others. He went without food or sleep sometimes, that He might serve others. Tired, hungry, pressed on every side by needy people, Jesus was constantly laying down His life for the brethren. In fact, I think it’s one of the ways that He was humanly prepared for the sacrifice of the Cross. He had been preparing for the Cross for three years by daily taking up His Cross and denying Himself for the good of those around Him. And that is the way that we will be prepared when the moment of the Cross comes to us in our lives.
If we continue to think of love simply as an emotion that we feel toward God and others, then we will never fulfill His commandment to love one another as He loved us. Love is not a soft, squishy feeling of niceness inside that melts at the first sign of sacrifice. Love is hard, the hardest substance known in the universe. It is as hard as the wood of the Cross and as hard as spikes being driven into human flesh.So often we hear words about love, but where are the deeds? At Christmas, we stuff ourselves with the kindly fruits of the earth that God has given us. We eat so much that our problem is not starvation but gluttony. We stuff ourselves with gifts to each other, at least the ones who are close to us, but do we have anything left over to give to the poor?
I find that each day is crammed with opportunities to lay down our lives for other Christians, and non-Christians as well. I find that all throughout the day, unless you’re a hermit, you’re surrounded by people whom God has given you the privilege of loving by serving in His name. Only we don’t see them as opportunities for love because we’re too busy doing our own thing.
Take the example of how we are to lay down our lives every day to help make disciples of Jesus Christ. I find that the work of Christian discipleship is immensely hard and difficult work and one that takes not a village but a Church. It is not the work of pastors or priests only but is our daily bread as Christians, those who have been called the children of God and have been called by the name of the One who first loved us. To make disciples of the people God has put into our lives is a full time pursuit, not a weekend hobby for specialists. Without the love of Jesus that willingly gives up some of its own leisure and ease, how will others become Christians and learn the love of God?
We ought to think twice about calling ourselves Christians because what we’re really saying when we say that we are Christians is, “I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ and I want you to know that I am, knowing that how I live or don’t live in love will teach you about my Christ.” Saying you’re a Christian is signing up for a life of discipleship and love. It is believing enough in Jesus Christ to give up your life to Him by laying it down for others.
This love in action is so powerful that it even affects your prayer life. “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (verse 22). Think about this next time you pray: that those who keep His commandments and do what is pleasing in His sight (that is, those who love) are more likely to receive what they ask for.
How could the degree of God’s love in your life not affect your prayers, that is, your life with Him? I don’t have time to describe it all, but somehow the love of God and our love for our brothers and sisters, faith, deeds, and prayer are all mysteriously related to each other so that what affects one affects the others.
“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
Prayer: Almighty God who is love, I ask that You would give me Yourself today that I might have Your love. Father, I thank You for Your love that sent Your Son into the world at Christmas and that chose me to be Your child. Jesus, I praise You for Your love that laid down Your life for me, and I pray that You would help me to honor Your holy Name by laying down my life for others as You did for me. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
1. Make a list of possible ways in which, during the normal course of the day, you could practice laying down your life for others. Pick one of these to practice today, and keep the list handy for future reference until it becomes a part of you.
2. Meditate on how Jesus, the Son of God, laid down His life for You. Come to understand His sacrificial love enough that your vision of God inspires you to lay down your life for others.
Resolution: I resolve to look today for opportunities to love others not in word only but also in deed.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Christ on cross bronze – CC image courtesy of Librarian Flickr millicent_bystander