Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 33-34; Psalm 74; 1 John, chapter 5
Scripture: 1 John 5:1-5 (NRSV) – Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Observations: There have been a number of times in 1 John when John has said something like this: “If we love God, we love people.” In these verses, John tells us that the converse is also true: if we love people, we love God. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. We cannot truly love anyone else unless we love God first, because God is love; any “love” that does not flow from God is ultimately less than true love. Human love apart from God is always tinged with an element of selfishness: I love you because you love me; I love you so you will love me back; I love you, so I want you to do this, or believe that. But the love that flows from God is not selfish; it seeks only the best for the one who is loved. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NRSV)
But John reminds us that love is not just about warm, fuzzy feelings; we know that we love when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. Satan’s lie from the beginning has been that God’s commands are a burden to us – that we need to “break free” from them and “really experience life.” God’s commands are an expression of his love for us, not an expression of some desire to control us. If God had wanted to control us, he could have created us like robots, forcing us to do exactly what he wants. The state of the world is proof that he has not done that! Jesus said that if we love him, we will obey his commandments (John 14:15). Here, John reminds us that we cannot say that we love God if we do not obey him. God has given us his commands because he knows what is best for us; he created us and knows what we need in order to be exactly what he created us to be. “Breaking free of God’s commands” is like “breaking free” from the owner’s manual for your car, by not changing the oil, rotating the tires, and doing the other routine maintenance that the car needs. It will run for a while, but eventually that “freedom” will lead to a breakdown. The same principle holds true with God’s commands for us.
And his commands are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. I remember growing up in church and singing “Faith is the Victory,” and I always interpreted this passage the way the song-writer did: “Encamped along the hills of light, ye Christians soldiers rise and press the battle ere the night shall veil the glowing skies.” But is this what John means when he says that faith is the victory that overcomes the world? In the context of this passage, and his letter in general, I think it means something else – that faith is the victory that conquers the desires and the pull of the “world” in us. Ultimately, of course, Jesus and his followers will “overcome the world” in the sense that the song conveys, but I believe that John is closing his letter with the same emphasis that he has carried throughout: walk in the light, do not sin, love each other. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world – the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches – comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, NRSV) By faith we “conquer the world” by overcoming the sinful desires that lead us away from God; by faith we “conquer the world” by showing others that living God’s way is joy and peace. God does not call us to “conquer” by physical force and domination; if he wanted to do that, he could. The book of Revelation tells us that in the end, he will. But for now, he calls us to “conquer” by love.
Applications: God is reminding me today that our focus is not to be on “conquest,” on “winning battles,” but on love and obedience. He will use the example of our obedience to show others that there is a better way than the way of the world; he will use our love to welcome them into God’s family. Our battle is not against flesh and blood; we’re to love people, not fight them. That has always been the way of Jesus.
Prayer: Father, thank you for your love for me. Thank you for enabling me to love others, and for the opportunity to show your love to them. Thank you for the reminder that my faith in you is what overcomes the influence of the world in my life. Help me today to live in ways that demonstrate your love, and the joy of knowing you, so others may come to know you. Lead me in your ways today. Amen.