Trust God’s love (April 19, 2015)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: 1 John 4:13-5:4 

One of the most vexing questions people face today is “Who is trust-worthy?” If a recent Gallup poll is accurate (should polls be trusted?), many people consider nurses, doctors and pharmacists to be very trustworthy, while sales people and members of congress are at the opposite end of the trust spectrum. Police officers and clergy have the respect of many people, but in some communities and in some religious traditions that trust has been seriously eroded.

“Don’t trust anybody older than 30,” some young voices warn, and a fearful older generation worries about the moral standards of young people today. The cynics among us question the reliability of others as a general rule. Who can be trusted?

1 John 4:13-16: God is love 

John’s answer is that we can trust God’s love. “God is love,” John says, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” We seldom use the word “abide” these days, so perhaps a better translation of verse 16 would be “those who live in love live in God and God lives in them.” What does it mean to live in love? This whole epistle, which is really a short essay or homily on the love of God, answers that question from several perspectives.

In verse 13 the word “this” points forward to the end of the sentence and refers to the phrase “because he has given us of his Spirit.” God’s gift of the Holy Spirit assures us that we have a close and vital relationship with God, that we abide in God (to use the terminology of this epistle). To live in love is to live a life filled with God’s spirit (cf. Galatians 2:22-25).

To live in love is also to confess that God sent God’s son to be the savior of the world. Some of the Roman emperors had also claimed to be saviors of the world in a political sense. For John, however, and for us, Jesus is the savior of the world in the sense that his death and resurrection redeemed the whole world from sin (1 John 2:2).

1 John 4:17-19: Love casts out fear 

God’s love gives the believer “boldness on the day of judgment.” Christians do not fear the return of Jesus, 1 John says, “because as he is, so are we in this world.” This is a very perplexing sentence. Perhaps influenced by 1 John 3:2, some interpreters slightly emend the text to say that at judgment day believers will be transformed to be like Jesus. Others, like commentator Stephen Smalley, look to John’s Gospel, with which 1 John has several close affinities. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is said to have obeyed the Father’s commandments and thus remained in the Father’s love (John 15:10). Likewise, here in 1 John believers who obey God’s commandments abide in God and God abides in them (1 John 3:24). In that sense

believers who obey God’s commandments in this world are like Jesus.

Christians who live without fear of punishment on the day of judgment demonstrate God’s love completely (a better translation than “perfected”). We can live without fear because God has first loved us.

1 John 4:19-21: Love God and love others 

It is self-contradictory for someone to say “I love God” and at the same time hate one’s fellow human beings. 1 John rather bluntly calls such a person a liar. Here the author is con-demning people who expressed their disdain for their fellow Christians by withdrawing from the congregation (1 John 2:19). Unfortunately, differences within the Christian community had escalated and become estrangement and disdain.

1 John 5:1-4: Faith in Jesus defeats the world 

The believer who says “Jesus is the Messiah” (i.e. Christ, emphasizing his divinity) and “The Messiah is Jesus” (emphasizing his humanity) has been born of God. Both of these statements are part of a Christian’s basic confession of faith. To love God is to love God’s children and to obey God’s commandments. Faith in God is both believing and acting in accordance with God’s revelation in Christ and in God’s commandments. They always belong together.

For discussion 

What disagreements divided the community to which 1 John was addressed? “No Fear” has become a popular slogan in a variety of contexts. What does it mean to you to live without fear? What does it mean to fear God? The recent movie “Selma” is a powerful statement that faith can overcome fear in our world today. How would you describe the faith and the fear portrayed in that movie? Why to you think some Christian people hate other Christians?