There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like to sing first thing in the morning and those who want to kill the kind of people who like to sing first thing in the morning. I am of the former group. Most of the members of my family belong to the latter. So far, I have managed to duck, dodge, and otherwise escape their murderous attempts, living to sing another day. This morning, while my daughter was eating breakfast, I read the lessons for this upcoming Sunday, and, when I got to the reading from 1 John 4, I couldn't help but sing:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He who loveth not [clap, clap, clap] knoweth not of God for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another. First John, four, seven and eight.I remember singing that as a child. I remember the words, which are the KJV of the first two verses of Sunday's lesson. Many kids songs went right over my head. I could remember the words and sing the notes, but the significance of it was lost on me. Not this song. I can not only remember singing the song but also how it felt to consider that God IS love and that anyone who doesn't love doesn't know who God is because God is love. I can remember how wonderfully tidy and logical and clear that felt. It still feels that way today.
"Beloved, let us love one another." John starts this idea--this exhortation to love--with an identification of love. By calling his readers beloved, he is inviting them to begin from a position of belovedness, which is where love ALWAYS begins. We love because we were first loved.
Why ought we love one another? Because love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But what kind of love is this? It's the kind of love we heard about last week in 1 John 3, where the author told us that, just as Jesus laid down his life for us, we must lay down our lives for each other. Let that sink in. (And that's something I didn't get when I was a kid.) The ones whom John describes as "born of God" are not those who love their sweetie or those who love chocolate ice cream or those who love the company of friends. The kind of love that those who are born of God and know God show is the kind of love God shows for us--the kind of self-sacrificing, care-for-the-other, agape love.
Those who don't love like that--those who don't have agape in their lives and relationships--don't know God. You can't know God and not have that love. This isn't a test for Christians; it's a fact of the Christian life. To belong to God means unconditional love. It means loving "in truth and action" and "not just in word or speech." John isn't trying to convince someone how to become a Christian. He's trying to convince Christians how to live as Christians.
For the second week in a row, I am not preaching. And, for the second week in a row, if I were preaching, I would be preaching on 1 John. Our congregation is full of Christians. We are not on the front lines of evangelism. Instead, we are guarding the back door to make sure the flock doesn't fall away. These are the words John would say to them: "Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us." All of us are looking for God. We want a deeper relationship with God. John reminds us that we find it--and God--by loving one another as we have been loved.