In my preparations for Sunday’s Lectionary readings, I came across this in David Jackman’s The Message of John’s Letters in the IVP The Bible Speaks Today series. The author is commenting on 1 John 4:20-21. I thought you might appreciate it:
“This final ground of assurance brings us full circle back to 4:7, where this major section began. When God’s love begins to fill our lives, he not only gives us a model of how we should live in our human relationships, but he gives us both the desire and the ability to begin to do it; to reflect his love others. Once again John reminds us of this most practical of all his tests of Christian reality. It is the easiest thing in the world to make a verbal profession of Christian commitment, or to say I love God. But if we do not at the same time love our brother and sister, it is a lie. Love for the unseen Lord is best expressed not just in words, but in deeds of love towards the Lord’s people whom we do see.
“Is this not one of our greatest sins as Christians today? We may talk a lot about loving God, we may express it in our worship with great emotion, but what does it mean when we are so critical of other Christians, so ready to jump to negative conclusions about people, so slow to bear their burdens, so unwilling to step into their shoes? Such lovelessness totally contradicts what we profess and flagrantly disobeys God’s commands. It becomes a major stumbling-block to those who are seeking Christ and renders any attempts at evangelism useless. In many churches and fellowships we need a fresh repentance on this matter, a new humbling before God, an honest confession of our need and a cry to God for mercy and grace to change us.
“Let us not avoid the plain teaching of Scripture. If we do not love those fellow Christians whom we know well and see regularly within our fellowship circles, we cannot be loving God. We may have occasional warm feelings, but these can be merely sentimental and unrelated to other people in their real-life situations. The proof of true love is not emotion or words, but deeds, which read out to help others in need. But the other side of the coin is that such practical caring love can be a wonderful ground of assurance. There is a divine obligation laid upon us all in verse 21. The whole law is summed up in the royal law of love and we cannot love God without keeping his commandments. His will is that we should reflect the image of our Creator, who is love, by our love for one another. Plummer quotes the words of Pascal: ‘We must know men in order to love them, but we must love God in order to know him.’ That is true, but John would insist that we add, Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (131-132)
I really needed to be reminded of this today.