Thought for the Week: 2nd May 2021

Our thought this Sunday is by Steve Langton

Balancing love

One of our readings for this Sunday is 1 John 4: 7-21:

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

This is one of the great passages in the bible about love, alongside 1 Corinthians 13 and Jesus’s summary of the law in Matthew 22:

‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself."

There are so many thoughts that stem from these words, but the point I would like to emphasise today is that balance between loving people and loving God.  Both passages show that these are inextricably linked and yet the church has so often got the two out of balance.

On the one hand Christians sometimes get so focused on worshipping God and serving him that they lose that love for the people around them.  It is possible to get so involved in Church activities that we get out of touch with the wider communities which God calls us to serve; both the secular society around us and the wider Christian community.  Our religion can then become very legalistic, in much the same way that the Jewish establishment did in the time of Jesus.  We can become very dogmatic about what is right and wrong, at the cost of losing both sympathy and love for the sinners.

That love of sinners was something very evident in the early history of the Methodist movement.  Visiting prisoners in jail was an important activity for the young John Wesley and his group in Oxford.  It was also evident in some of the words from the hymn Charles Wesley wrote following his encounter with God in May 1738:

Outcasts of men, to you I call,
Harlots, and publicans, and thieves!
He spreads his arms to embrace you all.

Interestingly this verse has vanished from modern hymnals – that expression of God’s love for named groups of sinners was perhaps too explicit for the middle class congregations of the Methodist Church in later years!

But at the other end of the spectrum, we can get things out of balance by focusing so much on our love for people that we lose our focus on God, reducing the Church to just another charitable cause.  This is something that our epistle reading explicitly rejects, instead emphasising that we love people because of God’s love for us.  The same thought was perhaps in the mind of the compilers of our lectionary because today’s gospel reading is ‘Jesus and the true vine’ from John 15:1-8.  This tells us that we are the branches of God’s vine; to be fruitful and to achieve good things we need to remain firmly anchored in the loving arms of God and his church.