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?
What, to the apostle, seem logical steps may seem a lot less clear to us. If you love God, then you’ll love his children. The problem is, that children aren’t necessarily like their parents. You may well have good friends whose children you have always found stubbornly unlikeable. Love the parent, Yes! But the children, No!
So far as life in God’s family is concerned, there are going to be times when it’s hard to feel warmly towards those we are commanded to love. When I ministered in Yorkshire I sometimes heard the phrase “Chapels and choirs: nowt but strife” – and I think not always uttered by the outsider looking in. Having significant things in common sometimes accentuates those human differences that mark any community, and which in church life result in what we should experience as a school for saints becoming at best a much-needed hospital for sinners.
Yet it’s within this sometimes fractious community (and remember that John is writing to church members: they know what it’s like) that we may just learn that what at first seemed impossible can somehow be achieved. Without necessarily all being the best of friends, we realise that we can work together, listening to one another and learning from one another, and discover together what God may be asking of us in our particular time and circumstances.
So the bald statement “his commands are not burdensome” may turn out to be more than wishful thinking. If we could just escape the human logic that links loving and liking too closely, we might recognise that within the company of believers, for all our shortcomings, there is something powerful at work as we try to align ourselves with God’s loving purposes. Even here, there may just be glimpses of that “victory that conquers the world!”
Loving God though we are challenged by your commandments may our love for you be real and may that love be reflected in the life we share as children within your family. Amen
The Rev’d John Durell, retired minister and member of Waddington Street URC, Durham.