The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – The 4th Sunday of Easter (Day 3)
1 John 3:16-24
18 Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 19 This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence. 20 Even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we have confidence in relationship to God. 22 We receive whatever we ask from him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us. 24 The person who keeps his commandments remains in God and God remains in him; and this is how we know that he remains in us, because of the Spirit that he has given to us.
The Apostle John speaks to the reality of the resurrection in terms of three relationships that we often find it difficult to keep straight. First, is our relationship to our “stuff.” It is simple though far from easy. Jesus sets the bar pretty high. He gave his life for us, therefore, we ought to do the same for others. So far that’s pretty good preaching. But John goes from preaching to meddling when he brings that teaching to bear on life: “But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him?” Human need, John makes as clear as human language can make it, always trumps “stuff.” The place of the resources we have to the need we encounter is always secondary. “To each according to their need, from each according to their ability” – is a biblical principle. This is another way of saying that people are always more important than possessions.
The second relationship is also troublesome for most of us: the relation of saying and doing. We all know there is a significant and disgraceful disconnect between the two in much of North American Christianity. Many of us talk a good game; fewer actually live a good game. Sometimes guilt paralyzes us. We know we fall short from time to time and assume that God is displeased with us as well. However, Jesus was raised for our salvation and forgiveness. God’s love thus exemplified trumps the guilt we place on ourselves and allow to paralyze us. As followers of the risen One we do, in fact, do what God commands and pleases him – trusting Christ and loving one another. Genuine faith always keeps the two, saying and doing, together. In faith, there is no disjunction between what comes out of our mouths and the acts we perform. As always in 1 John, he is talking about more about our lives as a body of work not some form of perfectionism. John acknowledges this when he writes about God trumping our hearts with forgiveness that cancels out guilt. In Christ, the risen One, the unity of our saying and doing, our walking the talk, is restored.
The third relationship is the source of our vitality as followers of Jesus. We do not, as we too often suppose, walk the talk or live out a right relationship with our stuff out of our own strength, will power, commitment or zeal. We are “abled” to do these things because we “remain” (or abide) in God and God abides in us. And this is no mere intellectual or doctrinal assertion! Rather we “know” it (and in John to “know” something usually means to experience it) because we have been given God’s Spirit. God’s own life, our Spirit-uality, animates and sustains us as we learn to live in this integrated and integral fashion.
These may seem like simple and elementary matters. And in some respects they are! Yet the genius of John is to discern and highlight those simple (though not simplistic) elemental aspects of following Jesus that we never outgrow and leave behind. Indeed, we spend out whole lives living into them. As has been said of the gospel that bears his name, so here in this epistle, the waters are shallow enough for a babe to wade in yet deep enough for an elephant to swim! And that’s all because God raised Jesus from the dead and gave us new life in him. Thanks be to God!