Reading for today: 1 John 3:11-21
If you have spent any amount of time on the internet, you would have seen those pictures that people post of special verses on an inspirational picture of a mountain, or people post a clever or witty statement that proves someone wrong or suggests something super moral, super upstanding. Quite often though the people posting them try to give the impression of being clever, wonderful, upstanding human beings. When I see them, I always wonder if the person who posted them lives up to their own hype. Look at these examples taken straight off a Facebook page:
I wonder if the person who posted them lives up to that hype right? Now here is the thing, each of these examples is from my own Facebook page. Gulp! What a hypocrite I am as I look back. Now I am sure the sentiment is fine, but the question is, do I live up to them? Do I really share those sentiments, or am that clever in my words? Well, I certainly aspire to them, but perhaps I struggle to live up to them. What is amazing about social media is that it highlights something we do as people all the time. We say the righteous thing, or write it. But do we live it? You see that is what really counts because at the end of the day words are cheap, and in our first reading the apostle John in his first letter says exactly that about the Christian life. This letter is a beautiful, short rambling letter written by one who knows the love of God personally and powerfully.
John starts by underlining that key thing of our faith that we are to love one another. So far so simple right? The key thing isn’t how many services you go to, or how often you pray, or how much you give, although these are all good symptoms of being a Christian. The thing that defines our faith is that we love one another. The question then is, how do we know love? Well through Christ as John says “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
But it is easy to say I love you without meaning it, just as it is easy to post an impressive quote or picture without living like we suggest we do. John says this “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Folks, we kid ourselves if we think being a Christian is simply about believing. Our faith is about loving, and you cannot love others while withholding our own wealth when others are in need. We can’t simply be about words and imagine that is enough. A living faith, a true faith is about sacrificial love. By this, by the evidence of good works of love within our lives do we know and our hearts are reassured that we are truly living the Christian life John tells us about. Yes, of course we are saved by grace, but the main symptom of that grace working within us is sacrificial love.
Now you may well be feeling unworthy or not good enough listening to John and his exhortation to love others and to see that love in good works and helping others. Perhaps your heart remembers all those times when we haven’t lived up to the standards of loving others, perhaps you feel a little hypocritical as I do when I look at some of the things I have posted on social media. One of the wonderful things about John, particularly in his letters is he has lived a Christian life and understands. Elsewhere in this letter he is able to say really helpful things like ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ How often do we hear that wonderful piece of scripture? John really understands God’s forgiveness and grace and his own human failure so well. Here in our passage it is no different – because at the end he can say don’t worry, whenever our heart condemns us, be reassured because God is greater than our hearts, and if He is greater than our hearts and we see the evidence of good works in our lives than we have boldness before God, because we are doing what we are meant to be doing.
So, in our Christian lives we need to live lives of sacrificial love, that does show itself in actual works, that shows itself not just in words but in deeds. We do so not as perfect saints but as flawed and saved sinners, made clean by Jesus and powered by His love. So if like me you post daft things online, continue to do so but make sure that they are backed up with actions as well and love everyone you come across because when we do we are living the Christian life which is the only life worth living and something worth sharing with everyone we meet.