“Your husband has something that I don’t have,” Anthony told my wife. They were waiting in the mobile home park laundry room for their clothes to dry.
“I’ve sensed it in other Christians. It’s the peace he has that I want.”
I had no memory of Anthony and, as Lanell put it, “You’re not my idea of a person at peace with the world,” but on our next vacation to Florida, Anthony came up to me,
“I’m the one who talked with your wife. When can we talk?”
Later, under the carport of his mobile home, Anthony told of losing his childhood faith when he was sent to Vietnam. He ended up in intelligence. After the Paris Peace Accords, Anthony spent two years leading a small undercover intelligence team retrieving American assets and equipment from Vietnam jungles.
“I did things I am not proud of, things I did not think God could forgive, but my job was to keep my team alive. Now I want the peace back I had as a child. How can I get what you have?”
What would you have told Anthony? He wasn’t asking for a Bible study; instead, he craved the peace of feeling accepted by God.
My response at first seemed inadequate. I spent an evening with him and a couple of his friends under his carport. Anthony told me that after Vietnam, he had become a writer and taught creative writing. I shared something of my life and prayed for his service-related disabilities. I walked back to my place feeling like I hadn’t met his needs. The next day I received this text,
Doug, I cannot tell you how much I got out of our talk. I really do want to come into God’s embrace and am hopeful I can reach my goal with your help. Godspeed Doug, and thank you, Anthony.
When we share the story of Jesus, what are we really sharing? Mark Finley, in the September 5–11 Sabbath School Study Guide, writes, “Witnessing is sharing what we know about Jesus?” But how do we do it? My experience with Anthony and others confirms what John wrote in 1 John 4:7 (NIV 1984): “Dear Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Our love for others is the family trait that identifies us as God’s children.
John continues in 1 John 4:8: “Whoever does not love does not know God.”
Why? Because “God is love!” It’s His very nature, if we don’t love one another, we don’t possess God’s DNA, we don’t really know Him. But the fact that God is love is not the only reason why John invites us to love one another. How has God shown His love among us?
“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.” 1 John 4:9
We deserve justice and punishment because we have rebelled against God, but Jesus came to live among us as one of us to show us God’s love.
Lest we misunderstand the radical difference between God’s love and what we often describe as love, John makes it explicit in verse 10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us.”
The amazing truth of the Gospel is that God loved us first, and the second half of 1 John 4:10 says He loved us so much that he “sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Some translations use words like propitiation or expiation. These words describe sacrifices made to satisfy a god’s wrath or fines paid to satisfy the law. In many religions the sinner must make the gifts to the god to turn away its wrath and today many misunderstand God’s justice as somehow incompatible with His love.
The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus reversed the traditional roles of God and man. God’s love led him to send His Son “as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God makes the sacrifice; He pays the penalty.
Justice is not ultimately about punishment; instead, it is about restoration and re-creation. That is what Jesus’s death does. Jesus’s death is the substitute for our death and by His resurrection He has conquered death, He has reversed the history of our world of sin and promises to restore us and everything else to our pre-sin condition. That’s the power of Jesus’s death and resurrection.
That’s ultimate justice, the reversing of the effects of sin! God transforming John from a son of thunder to the apostle of love and turning Saul the persecutor into Paul the preacher shows what he wants to do for everyone. When we share the story of Jesus, we are just passing on the love Jesus gives to us.
And, as I discovered with Anthony, we can share the story of Jesus without saying anything. St. Francis of Assisi observed, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”
This is why I believe John concludes in 1 John 4:11: “Dear Friends, since God so loved us, we also should love one another.” John calls us to love others the same way God has loved us, to focus not on what a person deserves to receive, but what they need to receive. It is the perfect conclusion, but John continues in 1 John 4:12 with what at first seems a strange interjection: “No one has ever seen God.”
John has been talking about God’s love and now he is talking about His invisibility. What relationship does God’s invisibility have with His love and with John’s call for us to “Love one another?”
God loves beautiful images—just look at His creation which surrounds us—but he doesn’t reveal His image to a sinful world addicted to selfie photos. Instead, 1 John 4:12 tells us: “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.”
My family and I were driving from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, New Mexico through a summer thunderstorm when we saw the most complete, beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen stretching down at either end to the desert floor.
What causes rainbows? The colors, the various light waves present in sunlight are invisible until that light travels through a medium like airborne water droplets. Each wavelength of light travels through the water at a different speed and is refracted or bent at a different angle, separating the individual colors into the bands of the rainbow.
It is no accident that John says in 1 John 1:5 that “God is light” and in 1 John 4:8 says that "God is love." Love is the visible expression of God’s light in the world. You and I are like the colors of the rainbow. As the light of God’s love shines through us, we refract that love and make our invisible God visible in the world.
As God’s love is refracted/reflected through us, a picture of the invisible God is revealed to others. Every day we meet people like Anthony, who need to see a picture of God’s love. Each person is an opportunity for us to add another color to the picture of God’s love.
When God lives in us and His love shines through us, John says that “His love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).
At first I thought that my ability to love was made complete, but as I’ve thought about the infinite colors that make up the spectrum of light, I have come to believe that there is a unique color of God’s love that only you can reveal. In a real sense the way you reflect God’s love in this world completes the portrait of God. His love is invisible, it is incomplete without you. That is ultimately why John tells us “Dear Friends, let us love one another,” and that is ultimately how we share the story of Jesus with others.
Douglas Jacobs is a research professor in the School of Religion at Southern Adventist University and community health coordinator for the Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists.
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash
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 Anthony is a pseudonym
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10710