“…let us love one another…” 1 John 4:7 (NIV)
Why would John feel the need to broach the subject of love once again in this short letter? What dynamics were at play for John to provide this urgent appeal to the first century church? The emergent church, built on the rock of faith in Christ, was like a newborn infant and needed constant nurturing and oversight by the disciples and those who rose within the church providing wise counsel while modeling a sacrificial life. The church was under persecution by Rome and those seeking to halt any proselyting within the Jewish tradition. Those who had been born anew in Jesus Christ faced hostilities from the government, family, and their local clergy (Nearly all those converts at Pentecost were Jewish). It was during this time the church began meeting secretly… and growing exponentially.
Oftentimes, and sadly even in churches, when a family or group comes under hardship, division may occur from within as personalities clamor for control. People may disagree over the minutest details and ugliness can arise from the most unlikely people. It happens today and it was happening even in the first century church. Acts 6 chronicles how the disciples handled such problems, though contemporary church culture has wandered far from the biblical principles of church leadership – mainly because of corrupt leaders ruining the perspective and mission of the church. C.S. Lewis wrote an insightful book, creating a written dialogue between an imaginary demon named Screwtape and his apprentice demon, Wormwood. In it, the reader is exposed to the intentionality of dark forces seeking to undo the redeeming work of Christ by creating division and chaos within the life of a Christian and within the church. It was a divide and conquer mentality.
The single most effective weapon against the forces of darkness is love, and the second is God’s Word. If our lives are surrendered to God’s standard of love, there would be less time to argue styles of ministry, modes of operation, budgets, etc. and more time to fulfill The Great Commission. John’s argument for us to demonstrate love lies in the very nature of God Himself… for God is love. (v.8b) Since the essence of God’s character is love, then we are endowed with divine love, enabling us to love each other and the world. Jesus said that love would be the litmus test of being a true disciple. (Read John 13:35) John further asserts that those who cannot demonstrate a life of loving actions does not know God. (v.8a)
John further clarified the meaning of love as being sacrificial. He argues that there is no evidence in our love for God without sacrifice, as evidenced in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. (v.’s 9-10) Just as God demonstrated His love through Jesus suffering and crucifixion, so we demonstrate our love for one another in the sacrifices we make for each other. (v.11)
What lengths will we go to in securing the bonds of love within the fellowship of faith? Have we sought reconciliation with those who have offended us? I know this is difficult, for I am willing but my flesh is so weak in reconciling with those who have acted hatefully and spitefully. We should pray for God to provide an opportunity to demonstrate God’s sacrificial love to those who have ignored John’s counsel and do all we can to preserve the fellowship of the saints.