Sometimes, when I’m writing, I feel the need to use italics or ALL CAPS to emphasize something. I do that pretty sparingly, trusting that the words themselves should express the emphasis. But sometimes I want to make sure the reader “hears” me landing heavily on a word. For example, yesterday I sent an e-mail to someone about how in some cases mission overtakes all other concerns and becomes the real focus. As a heading, I used the phrase “Mission is Ministry,” but I wanted the “is” to stick out, so I wrote, “Mission IS Ministry.”
Sometimes I wish the editors of bibles would give John that kind of emphasis because he is known to use the word “is” in powerful ways that, because of the relative insignificance of the linking verb, get overlooked.
God IS love. (1 John 4:8)
God IS light. (1 John 1:5)
…the Word WAS God. (John 1:1)
Your word IS truth. (John 17:17)
And don’t forget this Sunday’s gospel lesson (John 17:1-11). In recording Jesus’ final prayer with his disciples, John writes, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” This IS eternal life… If there’s ever been a moment to listen up and pay attention, it’s now. Want to know what the most important thing in the whole universe is? Here you go. If we take that “is” seriously, this passage becomes transformative.
What is eternal life? To know God and Jesus Christ. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you want to have eternal life, you must know God and Jesus Christ.” He doesn’t say, “Those who have eternal life are those who know God and Jesus Christ.” Nor does he say, “The way to eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ.” He comes straight out and says, “Eternal life IS to know God and Jesus Christ.”
Put a great big equal sign between the first part and second part of the sentence:
Eternal Life = Knowing God + Knowing Jesus Christ
What, then, is eternal life? It’s not going to heaven (thought maybe that’s part of it). It’s not being forgiven (though of course that is included). It’s not being delivered from the hands of our enemies (though that is implied). Eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ. That isn’t a life that stretches on forever. It’s a life that runs a deep as forever.
Eternal life isn’t more of what we’ve got stretched out for eternity. Eternal life is living a completely full life. Jesus isn’t offering a conditional statement. He’s giving his disciples and us an instruction. If eternal life is to know God and Jesus, that shifts the goal of our faith. We aren’t focused on our heavenly destination. We’re supposed to focus on so totally and completely being filled with God and Jesus that the life we live is as rich and deep and full and fruitful and confident and complete as possible. In short, eternal life isn’t about tomorrow. It’s about today.