Life on the Line

dandilion seed taking off
Photo credit: <a href="">Neal Fowler</a>

1 John 4:7-12

Dearest friends, let’s love each other because love is godlike. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever doesn’t love has no idea about God. God is love.

We know God is love because God sent Jesus into the world. With him, real life is possible. We didn’t love God first. God loves us first and sent Jesus. Jesus, the one in whom wrong is righted.

Dearest friends, since God loves us so much, we should love each other. Nobody has seen God. But if we love each other, we can see God’s life and love in each other.

The Greek word hilasmon appears only here in the New Testament. On it’s own, it means literally, “the making one.” In the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures, though it came to be used for the “mercy seat,” the place where God sat, in the temple, over of the arc of the covenant. As such, it was the place where sacrifices were made. So many translations render it, “propitiation” or “atoning sacrifice.” The point, though, is not the method. The point is the result, setting people right again after they’d gone wrong. It’s the place where wrong is righted. In the Hebrew covenantal law the method was blood sacrifice. In the New Testament it’s Jesus.

If Jesus is the method for setting people right, then John’s bracketing this central affirmation between pleas that people who follow Jesus ought to love one another makes sense. Love for one another becomes the real care that is willing to go out of the way for, even to put one’s own life on the line for, the sake of others. In John’s tradition, Jesus did this freely (John 10:18). Now, John commends the same self-sacrificial action to those who want to follow Jesus.

Indeed, the re-enactment of Jesus’ life, putting your life on the line for the sake of others, is the only way people can have any idea what the New Testament understanding of God is about. Putting your life on the line for the sake of others is still how wrong is righted.