2016 is beginning and many of us are thinking about what we are going to accomplish this year. I have got a good New Year Resolution we could all adopt. Yet, how we achieve it may look different for each one of us.
What leads me to this suggestion is that I’ve been thinking about love – yet, not in the Hollywood/Bollywood sort of way – but in The First Epistle of John sort of way.
Hollywood and Bollywood encourage us to focus on and pursue romantic love. We in the 21st Century are not unique in our fascination with romance. The pursuit of romantic love seems to have characterized all human cultures across time and space. Let’s face it – “being in love” is an awesome experience.
Yet, the love John the Apostle is speaking of exists on another plane altogether. In his first epistle John the Apostle writes: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
These verses indicate that having our lives characterized by this “God-like” kind of love is really not an option for those of us who identify ourselves with Christ. John expects it to be a core characteristic describing who we are.
John goes on to root this love in God. He seems to be saying that being able to express this kind of love can only be realized if a person lives in God: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (4:16). So, this love John is talking about arises in the lives of those who live in God. It arises because God himself lives in them.
John is careful to define what this love looks like. It doesn’t look anything like romantic love. It is a love characterized by the death of Jesus on our behalf – the atoning sacrifice for our sins. It is a love that brings life – because we find life through Jesus (4:9-10).
Romantic love is powerful, and it is wonderful when a romantic relationship happens. Yet, it is remarkably different than the kind of love John is talking about because romantic love is rooted in reciprocity not in self-sacrifice. Romantic love may lead to self-sacrifice if a person is mature; but, it grows out of attraction and reciprocity. In contrast, the love the Apostle is speaking of grows out of God. It is fundamentally self-sacrificing and life-giving. This love is more like the love parents have for their children. Yet, it is also fundamentally different. It extends to and embraces the “other,” those who are unable and even unwilling to reciprocate, those whom we might even designate as “unlovely.” This love is also transformational in nature. Being rooted in God, it stems from God’s living in us. God, being present within us, releases the power needed to shape us in his image, to enable us to love like Jesus – to enable us to love like God.
In 4:13 John also roots our ability to love in the Spirit. The Spirit is the gift Jesus gives that enables us to live like God. John cannot help but be fully trinitarian in his view of how God works.
Then John lays down the standard that he expects us to rise to: “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world” (4:17).
John makes two uncomfortable statements here. The first is the idea that love is to reach perfection in our communities. The second is that as Jesus is, so are we to be in this world.
Woah! This is a bit over-the-top. John expects us to live lives so characterized by God’s love that we perfectly represent Jesus, reflecting his love in and through our relationships. Though this may sound unrealistic to us, it really is what John is expecting us to do. John wants our loved ones to be able to write on our tombstones: “As Jesus is, so was the one who lies here.”
If we take these words of John seriously, they reframe everything. John’s words are meant to motivate us to reframe our very pursuits; and they are to motivate us to reframe how we go about pursuing them.
So, what goals are we thinking of setting for 2016? I think John the Apostle would suggest that we focus on rooting our lives in the very presence of God who lives within us; and being so shaped by God that we express his love in our relationships and in the way we go about doing what we do.
What would this all look like? How do we go about this? These are questions John the Apostle and even the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit want us to ask.
I guess we all have something to pray about as we begin this year…