Loving the people of God
1John 5: The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.
Before moving to other things John says a bit more about love in action. He’s already insisted that to be a follower of God requires more than words or even sincere desire. Again, “love,” to him is an “action” word rather than a “feelings” word. To love God is to love the Son and to love the Son is to love those he’s brought into the family of God. So what does it mean to love the children of God? Immediately, John takes us back to action. I love God’s people, not by feeling a certain way about them but, rather, by treating them in a certain way. John reminds me that God has given me some commandments concerning how I’m to treat my brothers and sisters. If I love God, I’ll keep those commandments and in doing so I’ll “love” those who are part of this great family of God. If I want proof of my love of God I’ll find it in how I treat his people. John adds that this isn’t that big a deal because this “love in action” that’s required of me isn’t all that troubling. I’m to love people as I love myself. That is, I’m to care about the needs of their lives, their comfort, and their security. Loving self isn’t about feeling a certain way about myself but is, rather, about the action I take on my own behalf. That’s exactly how I’m to love God’s people.
Take Away: To learn about your relationship with God, take a good look at your relationship to his people.
Feelings, nothing more than feelings…naw!
1John 4: That is the kind of love we are talking about.
Now I find myself at the heart of John’s letter. It’s here that I find the repeated declaration that “God is love.” The Apostle hammers his point home: God is love therefore to be in God is to be in love. If love doesn’t dominate my life then God doesn’t dominate me. If I don’t love people then God’s love is missing from my life and therefore God, himself, is missing. This “love business” demands some serious thought. What does it mean to love as God loves? If I’m not careful I wind up on the “emotions side” of love. I get the feeling that God is all about warm fuzzy feelings. Once there, I’m left with the idea that loving like God loves is to always “feel” a particular way about people whether they’re good or bad. However, I’ve taken the wrong fork in the road. John carefully describes what it means for God to be love. We know God is love, John says, because of what he does: he “sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” Love, then, isn’t how God feels about us. Rather it’s the action he takes in our behalf. The Lord doesn’t “so love the world that he” feels all warm and tingly toward us. Instead, he “so loves the world that he gives his only begotten Son.” Love is, then, an action word. To love is to take action, even personally painful action, on the behalf of the one loved…even if that one is absolutely unlovable. If I love as God loves I too will take action. John reminds me that there’s no way I can do that unless the Lord lives in me. On the other hand, if the Lord lives in me, I can’t help but act in love.
Take Away: Love isn’t how I feel as much as it is what I do.
The most powerful force on earth
James 5: The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.
One righteous person praying is the most powerful force on earth. It’s true you know. Prayer is the most powerful and most underutilized force available to us. Righteous praying influences the God who’s already inclined to bless us. I think I believe this but tend to not act as though I believe it. Prayer’s more an “add on” to what matters to me. I sometimes do the best I can do and then toss in a prayer for good measure. In doing it that way I do it exactly backwards. What I need to learn to do is pray first and then add my efforts to it. James’ example of a powerful pray-er is Elijah. This righteous man prays for rain, and then, when he sees the first evidence that his prayer is being answered, takes action, preparing for that answer to come. His template, then, is: pray first, then, stop praying and start acting as though that prayer is being answered. I really do believe that Elijah is correct in this but all too often I don’t act like it.
Take Away: Pray first and then act.
Faith without works
James 2: Faith expresses itself in works.
The most famous portion of the Bible on the topic of faith is Hebrews 11. While that chapter describes faith in a different way it actually underscores the truth of James’ words here. If faith isn’t put into action it’s something less than faith. If works of righteousness are accomplished outside of faith (maybe out of a sense of obligation or guilt) those works are something less than righteous. Faith and works, according to James, are joined at the hip. When the writer of Hebrews embarks on this topic he takes us through the faith hall of fame, listing for us people who inspire us to greater faith. Now, as James deals with this topic, he takes us out to the streets challenging us to practical acts of faith. He challenges us to treat people as valuable just as they are. He tells us to not just speak words of faith but to back up those words with action. After all, he says, belief without action betrays itself as impotent. James doesn’t ignore the great examples of faith completely. He takes us back to Abraham, who, in faith, takes action more than once. James is having none of this sitting around trusting God kind of faith. He demands, “If you really believe, go and do something about it.”
Take Away: What more can I say? Faith without works is dead!