Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
John 13:1-5; 1 John 4:17-21; Job 19; Ezekiel 37-38
John continues his teaching about the importance of love in Christian ethics. He concludes the chapter was a succinct restatement of the central command: those who love God must love one another (1 John 4:21). Jesus taught the same thing, and in John 13 gave a practical demonstration of what this looks like. In washing his disciples’ feet, he humbled himself to do a menial task for the good of others. Such love of others, however, should he grounded in the love of the Father. Before acting, John tells us that Jesus reflected on what the Father had done for him, and on their relationship, and this led him to love the disciples (John 13:3). John’s letter likewise notes that we love others because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Reflecting on God’s love is important to prevent the command from becoming legalistic. We can do the right thing for many reasons, including being afraid of what might happen if we don’t. The underlying motivation is then one of fear. We fear that if we are not good, something bad will happen; if we are not nice to someone, they will not reward us. From an eternal perspective, we may lead a good life because we are afraid of falling short on Judgment Day. John tells us that we can approach that Day with confidence if we understand God’s love. We are secure in his unfaltering love for us because it is not based on how well we love: it is based on the fact that he is love. His perfect love for us should drive out any fear motivation from us.
Knowing God’s unconditional love for us should then lead us to love others in a similar way. We did not deserve to be loved, but he loved us when we were still his enemies (Romans 5:8-10). Others have not loved us properly, have hurt us, and may even be our enemies. But we are to love them regardless. It may be difficult; it may seem unfair. It was certainly that way for Jesus as he faced life, and then death, in this world for us. If we know God’s love, the first command is to love God (Matthew 22:37-38). If we claim that we love God, the second command is like it: love our neighbours (22:39-40).
When we struggle to love those around us, we need to go deeper into God’s love for us. Therein we will find the motivation to love others. But we are commanded to love others even if we do not feel God’s love. Through loving others we can come into a new experience of God’s love for us. We may see God’s love in meeting the needs of another, or seeing their humble gratitude. As we love others we may sense God’s empowering and get in touch with God’s love. Earlier John said that love is made complete in us when we love (1 John 4:12); here he says that love is made complete among us as we love others (1 John 4:17). Our inner sense of God’s love is intimately linked to our love of one another. Loving God and loving others are two sides of a spiritual coin. One without the other is not worth the same.