In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (1 John 4.9-11)
The Lectionary and the Christian Calendar set the fundamental message of Holy Scripture in an orderly framework. The Gospel and Epistle readings appointed for Sunday reading leads us to a deep and clear awareness of Christian truth, and a sense of our Christian privileges and duties.
The Epistle lesson for the First Sunday after Trinity summarized the Christian Year to date. The simple lesson is, “in this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him (1 John 4:9).” That summarizes everything celebrated in the first half of the Church Year: the manifestation of God’s love in Jesus Christ as He takes on our human nature, transforms it, and elevates it to a spiritual plane making us sons and daughters of God by adoption and grace. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).”
The point of all the Church Seasons this year is that we see the love of God, and that we be reborn by the vision of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.
The knowledge that God is love is sight to the blind and the very ground of salvation. This new vision allows us to see, “a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). To see the world with new eyes is to be spiritually reborn as Jesus said to Nicodemus in the Gospel Lesson for Trinity Sunday. When you see the world with new eyes, you are saved from fear and hopelessness.
“Hereby we know love, because he laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16).” Jesus died for us because He loves us. It is our fate to be transformed by that love. That is the second point made by John in the lesson, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another (1 John 4:11).” That passage introduces us to the season of Sundays following Trinity. The Epistle and Gospel readings for the Trinity Season educate us in the practice of Christian love. God’s love manifests itself in our love for one another. God’s love is not a superficial emotion. That love is not merely, “in word and in tongue,” rather it is a love manifested,”in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).” Without the deeds that flow naturally from God’s love manifest in us, then our love of God is counterfeit, “if a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar (1 John 4:20).”
Jesus’ telling of Lazarus and the rich man illustrates this. Why is the rich man in hell? He denied God’s love. He did not love his neighbor, thus he had no love for God. That lack of love resulted in a tormented soul, a soul that rejected God’s love.
Loving another means willing the eternal good for another and acting in terms of that will. How do we do this? To begin with, our own neediness and fears get in the way of loving others. We do not begin with ourselves. Instead, we begin with God’s love for us.
“We have known and believed the love that God hath to us (1 John 4:16).” “Herein is our love made perfect (1 John 4:17).” Knowledge of God’s love enables us to love and thus to will the eternal good of another. Knowing that God loves us, frees us from our own needs and fears. We need to grow in knowledge of God’s love for us.
The passage from First John commands us to love. That seems strange. How can we be commanded to love? We modern people are accustomed to thinking of love as being spontaneous. People “fall in love.” You cannot command something that is spontaneous, but that is not the love commanded by Holy Scripture.
The approach to love commanded by the passage is more practical than the modern notion about the spontaneity of love. God’s love manifested in our love for one another is the work that flows from a Christian character, a character formed through a long process of habit formation. That formation begins with God’s commandment and our obedience, just as our worldly lives begin with obedience to our parents and those set at authority over us. Through our obedience to God, we grow in love. That growth in love is our sanctification, our growth in holiness. “And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 4:20).”