We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world-our faith.
1 John 4:19-5:1-4 NASB
I included the whole passage because I find it puzzling. At first, I thought I would just reflect on the first verses. These, to me, have a clear application. And their application fits nicely with the things I am thinking about at the moment, to do with the Church and the kind of love that marks the Church as the body of Christ. See? Here it is: the love for brothers and sisters in Christ (at least) is what identifies us as Christians. The verses in 1 John don’t offer any provisos that would allow us to choose which brothers and sisters to love–only those who love us, or think like we do; or only those who are able-bodied, or of sound mind. The only possible qualification is that we love the ones we see. But I am not sure that counts, exactly.
I like this, because I am writing about the Christian calling to love the poor and the weak. I would like to say that the measure of the Church’s love and holiness is the way she receives those who suffer and are in need, those who the world says have nothing to offer. That’s because the world doesn’t understand that Christ offers himself to us in the broken and the desperate, that we might receive Him. We cannot see God, but God has made us in his image, and in Christ God has shown himself truly and fully. God came to us poor, and still comes to us poor: we are to receive him with love.
But what about this business about the commandments? I would have thought that we would be able to tell that we love the children of God pretty straightforwardly. Isn’t it obvious that we can tell that we love by our demonstrations of that love? Apparently not. I suspect that there is a lot more to this passage than I yet realize, and it is worth a great deal of unpacking, so I will make just one observation (which is also related to the Church). Loving the children of God is not not about those actions that show love. It is about more than those actions. If I am grasping this accurately, keeping the commandments is also about integrity and holiness. Loving the children of God and living in sin are incommensurate, maybe even mutually exclusive. There is no ‘private’ sin, sin that only affects us. When one member suffers, the whole body suffers. That’s a mystery; that is, we don’t know how the sort of sin that seems just to be between ourselves and God affects the whole body. How does such sin impair our love for the children of God? (Maybe all sin has a horizontal dimension?)
However such seemingly private sin weakens the whole body, it is a sobering thought, and one that makes me more eager for the sacrament of reconciliation and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. For though it is hard and serious news, it is still, after all, good news: Christ came to save sinners.