Jesus Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown, 1825-1826

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, Ford Madox Brown, 1825-1826

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”(I John 4:7-10) 

There is no doubt of the message John intends to convey and to emphasize here: “Beloved, let us love one another.” The importance of the message, that it is the center of all John has to say, is driven home by the number of times he presents it: “The word “love” or some form of it occurs no fewer than twenty-seven times in these fifteen verses. (vv 7-21) No need to ask, then, what the subject-matter is here….’Love’ is what John has on his mind.” (N.T. Wright, James, Peter, John, and Judah, p.158)

In this John is simply following his Lord who had taught his disciples,

A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another”(John 13:34)

and

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…This I command you, to love one another.”(John 15:12,17)

So essential is love that John does not hesitate to say, “Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God.” This is true, he says, because “God Is Love”. That is, His very nature is love:

“John is not identifying a quality which God possesses; he is making a statement about the essence of God’s being. It is not simply that God loves, but that he IS love.” (Jackson, John’s Letters, IVP,p.118) And if God Is love, we must be loving.

Notice, too, that the quality of love expected of us is not left to our own definition. No, we are to have God’s demonstrated love toward us in Jesus be the model and standard of our love toward others: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation of our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” or, as John said it even more explicitly earlier in the letter, “By this we know love, that he laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our life for the brethren.” (v 3:16) Even more, in Jesus own words: “Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”(John 15:12-13)

That last verse seems to be the key. The love God has for us and the love he wants us to have for others is a love that “lays down its life” for another. It is love that puts the other first, even to the point of sacrifice. Such sacrifice may not always be great, but it is always real and concrete. On Friday it may mean death on the cross, on Thursday it may only involve washing another’s dirty feet. In fact, it rarely involves some great act, but it always involves many small acts of service. We not only lay down our life by jumping in front of a speeding car to push someone out of the way, we also lay it down by emptying the dish washer so someone can watch their favorite show. The point is, love is not necessarily a feeling but a concrete laying down our life, our own willfulness and self-seeking, for another’s well being.

Of course, it is always important to point out (for we are so prone to misunderstand) that living a life of this kind of love takes nothing from us, rather it is by it we find our richest life. After all, we were made by Love for love and it is through love we find our true selves and our highest joy.

Therefore, as Paul says, let us “

” in every human interaction. And let us make sure that love is more than just theory and feeling; let us “not love in word or speech but in deed and truth.” (v 3:18) “Beloved, let us love one another for love is of God, and he who loves God is born of God and knows God.”