Tonight we’re going to talk about the beloved community and the repeated command that they get to love one another, and how for some reason that gets misunderstood and misinterpreted.
He is stressing this one command and in the Brown Retreat (A Retreat with John the Evangelist by Raymond Brown) he says that is the commandment that John stresses. He presupposes that people will have known the sermon of the mount, those biblical and ethical injunctions. But the thing he stresses because they’re getting kicked out of the synagogue so they need to have a different sense of kinship, a different sense of inheritance, of family, is love one another and part of that is that they felt so lonely being kicked out of the synagogue, they didn’t know if they were doing the right thing. Some of them would have been separated families, they couldn’t walk around as Jews any more. They had a real identity crisis so John is saying if we love one another then we will solidify this identity that we have in God and realize that our identity doesn’t come from our parents or being Jewish but it comes from relationship with God.
The elder in First John really does stress that if you see your brother or sister in need and don’t care for them, then you can’t really say that you love God because it’s got to be tangible, concrete, related to community for it to be authentic.
It’s interesting that the context of all this language of love comes out of conflict.
What this comes to is the question of what does it mean to love? Love is often interpreted as the warm fuzzy…
But he wouldn’t say that. He would say that love is giving your life for your friends. It’s sacrifice. It’s also submitting to the demands of Christ. It’s also abiding in the Spirit. When those things are there you’re really loving. Anything else is a community club. That’s the key. If it’s just about having potlucks once a week…
Or if it’s just about being together…
I think I know what John did. He went from the sign to the world with the miracles to the glory in the community which is the sacrifice. He made a big separation between the two parts of his book. One talks about Jesus going into the world and doing these sign miracles that pointed to himself as Son of God. When the glory comes, he was lifted on the cross. That’s where the glory is. That’s what we mean by love. That’s the love of Christ - suffering, relationship. Giving your life up like Christ did for other people. But it has to be like Christ did. It’s not just a sign.
“Love is not something one has for another. Agape is what we have among us. It is what we share with God and with each other. Agape is participation in the life of God. It isn’t something one dispenses. Love is that in which one participates as lover and loved” (from A Love Supreme: A History of the Johannine Tradition by Allen Dwight Callahan, Fortress Press, 2005).
It’s that idea of the community of the trinity. It’s not that I choose to do this. It’s something much deeper than this.
Agape is not something I choose in a willful kind of way. It’s a participation in God, something that God moves through me. It happens naturally. It’s the fruit of the Spirit of abiding in Christ. So when we abide in Christ we’re connected to the Father, love flows naturally out of us to one another. But it’s not something we dispense or possess. It’s something God moves through us toward other people.