Father John Ashfield on 1 John 4

First book of John, chapter 4, verses 7 to 21:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way. God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us because he has given us of his spirit. and we have seen and do testify that the father has sent his son as the savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the son of God and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.

Love has been perfected among us in this that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, I love God and hate a brother or sister are liars. For those You do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

The passage we’re going to look at is 1 John – 1st letter of St. John – chapter 4, verses 7 to 17.

I think you’ll have read it or heard it. I think maybe one of the main things that we can get out of this text is to remind ourselves that the love that John is speaking about here is charity – is God’s love Himself, God’s love itself, and how that is a love, which is of divine origin, and which is given to us. And this is why, I think, John tells us that this is perhaps the best way to be able to see God in this world – the best way that God can become visible.

He who in Himself doesn’t have a physical way of life in Himself, although He takes on that form in Christ to show us, to manifest himself to us, but He, in Himself, the mystery of God Himself is one which is spiritual. which we share in through our own spirits, and the best manifestation of that, says John, is the love which comes from God and which he calls charity – ‘agape’ in Greek.

So, when John talks to us about love here, he’s not saying, you know, wherever you see any kind of emotion of love manifesting itself, there you’re seeing God. No, he’s saying wherever there’s charity, wherever there is agape, wherever there is divine love. So, I guess that begs the question for us of what exactly is divine love? What exactly is different about the love which comes from God, the love which is in God?

St. Thomas Aquinas helps us with that when he talks about charity in his theological works. And he says the essence of love itself is to ‘will the good of the other’ – to want the good of the other more than anything else. That’s what love is itself. And I think the point at which that becomes, or the thing about that which is divine – the divine version of that, so to speak – is that it is victorious over all kinds of obstacles to that.

So, all the kind of daily obstacles or huge obstacles which we see in our lives or in the world today, where obstacles to a victorious love – a love which is triumphant over all kinds of evil, all kinds of opposition to that. That’s divine love – a love which is a source of life, a love which doesn’t just want the good of the other person, but which actually, you know, strives to achieve that, strives to give that, strives to give life back where there was death and destruction in any way, shape or form, great or small.

So I think that’s what we’re given, and St. John tells us at one point, he says… I’m just looking for the point here … yeah, “this is the proof – that we remain in Him and He in us.” This is the proof in other words that we are, you know, kind of abiding in that love and his love abiding in us his charity this victorious charity of willing the good of the other in all circumstances.

“This is the proof that we remain in him and he in us – that he has given us a share in his spirit.” So, you know, that’s what we’re preparing for, I guess, with Pentecost, right? The gift of the spirit. And elsewhere, St. Thomas Aquinas says that it’s impossible to live the divine life. It’s impossible to live, therefore. this life of charity of God, which stops at nothing and which is triumphant over even the most destructive attacks on life, attacks on reality, attacks on goodness. It’s impossible to live that. It’s impossible to have that in us. It’s impossible to look at it and keep it before our eyes and in the centre of our action without the Holy Spirit.

So, I think that’s what John is saying here. He’s saying the proof that we have this in us is that He’s given us his Spirit. You know, there’s another force at work within us. When we are defeated by any kind of evil in this world. And yet somehow within ourselves we find the strength and the source to return to wanting the good of the other person, like Jesus did during the crucifixion, right? He kept on wanting their salvation. He kept on wanting our salvation. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s something which goes beyond the capacity of human beings, right? At some point, all human beings would simply not be able to keep willing the good of the other in all kinds of destructive situations.

So, you know, it begins there in verse 7 – “My dear friends, let us love one another since love is from God let us have charity for each other since charity is from God and everyone who has charity is a child of God and knows God.”  It’s the ultimate way here on earth of getting into a life with God is to ask for this victorious charity in all circumstances, and I think that’s the perfection that he’s talking about in verse 17. Love comes to its perfection in us when we can face the day of judgment fearlessly.

So that’s the perfection we come to not that we’ve never done anything wrong not that we’ve never been weak not that we’ve never been sinful but that we have known, received the victorious love of God for us.

There’s another point in which he says this, right? Verse 10, “love consists in this, charity consists in this, God’s love consists in this. It is not we who loved God, but God who loved us and sent his son to expiate our sins.” So, you know, it’s a new love, right? It’s not coming out of us. It’s being given to us. And when we experience it, when we know it, we can constantly return to that.

First broadcast on www.thesundayeucharist.com on April 28th, 2024

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