Second Reading: 1 John 3:18-24
Our Standing Before God
18 Children, we should not just think or talk about love. We should love others by helping them with a sincere heart. 19 This way, we know we are doing the right thing. And when we pray to God, we can feel confident, 20 even if we feel guilty. Remember, God is greater than us. He knows everything!
21 My loved ones, even if we feel guilty, we can boldly pray to God. 22 And whatever we ask God, he will give us, because we obey his commands and do the right thing in his sight. 23 This is his command: Believe in God's Son, Jesus Christ. And love each other, just like he wanted us to. 24 The person who obeys his commands stays close to Jesus. And Jesus stays close to him. This way, we know that Jesus stays with us. We have the Spirit he gave us.
18 Little children, we should neither love as a concept nor in our words, but in deeds and in truth. 19 In this (fact) we know that we are from the truth and before him we will have confidence in our hearts, 20 if our hearts might (claim to) know (something) against (us), since God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if [our] hearts should not (claim to) know (something) against (us), we have confidence (to speak our minds) before God, 22 and whatever we might ask (from him) we will receive, because we keep his commands and we do the pleasing (deeds) before him. 23 This is his command: we should trust in the name of his SON, JESUS CHRIST, and we should love each other, just as he gave the command to us. 24 The (one) keeping HIS commands remains in HIM, and HE in him. In this (way), we know that HE stays in us, from the Spirit that HE gave to us.
3:18 "we should neither love as a concept nor in our words" is literally "we should neither love in word (i.e., a concept or mere intention) nor in tongue..." In other words, love is useless just as a concept or as idle talk.
The author of 1 John was a pragmatist. He recognized there was a difference between talking about love and actual love. (Which preacher has more influence, the philosopher or the one who leads by example and experience?) In past studies, we have pointed to love as "charity," love in action. But now the author would take the results of love as an answer to a fundamental question. How do we know where we stand before God?
Before we sink into the discussion of faith vs. works that has shaded the past four hundred years of Western culture, let us remember that the author already assumed his audience had a faith relationship with Jesus. In fact, this was the first of the author's commands. [3:23a] But we should not assume that faith alone answered the question of standing (or as St. Paul addressed the subject "justification"). Yes, we are God's children. And, yes, this standing is a free gift of grace that we can only see through "eyes of faith." But once we have faith, what do we do next? How can we know faith is alive in us? How can we know where we stand before God?
The author pointed to love in action. But he also pointed to this virtue as an ideal, that we could never quite measure up to without divine help. We may (and do) see our failures. Others see them. But what does God see? His will being lived out in those who try to love others. Remember God is so powerful he even uses evil to fulfill his will. (Isn't that the point of the cross?) If evil serves his purpose, how much more will he use our feeble efforts for his plan? [3:19-20] How much more will his use our prayers for his purposes? And see our attempts at charity worth the effort? [3:21-22]
Ultimately, we can know our status before God when we witness the results of our efforts. Did "we" perform the charity? Or, did the Spirit work through us to complete God's work? [3:24b] This is more than just a matter of perspective. It's a matter of power.
How do we know where we stand before God? We will know when our evangelization is not bragging about our efforts, but a witness to God's action in our lives. We will know when we get out of God's way and let him be in charge. Then our small efforts to love will have mighty results.
How have you tried to love others this week? How has God used your efforts?