Next to my bed, written on a yellow scrap of paper in scribbled handwriting, was a quote. I don’t know where I found it or when I wrote it down. I just knew that I wanted to remember it and to one day write about it. For months it’s been sitting on the stack of books that I eye every evening, wishing I had an extra two or three hours in my day so I could enjoy one of their author’s insights. Instead of reading the books though I read the words written on that fragment of a yellow legal pad. Over the last several months I have pondered the words. They have affected me deeply.
“How can you love the one you cannot see if you don’t love the one you can see?”
These words are powerful, insightful, beautiful, and true. The quote, wherever it was that I found it, was attributed to Venerable Fulton Sheen. When I went to do a little research to make sure he truly wrote it before quoting him here, I couldn’t find a reputable site that would lead me to believe he did. In fact, I couldn’t find a direct link to anyone saying these exact words. However, I decided to use the quote anyway. It is so compelling and persuasive. I knew, regardless of where the quote came from, I needed to share it.
As I further researched I was lead to 1 John 4:7-21 (don’t worry… you can go look it up, I can wait for you!) This, this was exactly what I was looking for! It was exactly what God was placing on my heart! It was exactly what I knew God wanted me to bring to you, my friends.
In 1 John 4:7-21 we read about love, but not just any love. We read about God’s love- a love so beautiful and so giving that we can’t possibly understand the depth to it. We are reminded that God’s love for us is so great that He sent His Son to die for us. We read “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” God wants us to live in Him and He wants to live in us. But this isn’t where the passage ends. There is much more to this whole love thing.
While God wants us to love Him with our whole hearts, minds, and souls, He also wants us to go a step (or two or a thousand!) more. This passage doesn’t tell us that we just have to love God. No, God insists on much more from us. We are reminded that to truly love God we must love each other as well. Verse 11 of this passage reads, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” It’s simple really… God loves us and so we love each other! Ugh, but wait, what about those people? You know the ones- they sit in judgment of everyone; they ridicule the weak and don’t take care of the poor; they think they are better than everyone; they are hypocrites, racists, and bigots; they profess other faiths or sometimes even no faith; they were in jail once; they look different than we do- what with their hair and skin being different from us and of course the way they dress; they are from other nations and speak foreign languages. What about those people?
The answer is made clear in verses 20-21, “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” We can’t claim to fully love God if we don’t love our brother. Because we believe that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, each of those people listed above are our brothers. We must love them as well. If we don’t we can’t truly and fully love God.
“For the one who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” This sure does sound an awful lot like the quote I shared above! But what does that mean exactly?
When we treat our family and friends poorly, ignore the pleas of those in need, judge the hearts of others, pretend to not see injustices happening around us, put down others for their beliefs, look past the beggar with his hand stretched out, turn our backs on the abandoned, the lonely and the discarded, condemn others for what they have done or been in the past, and when we refuse to recognize Christ living in each and every person around us we fail to love our brother and thus fail to love God.
“We love, because He first loved us.”
Christ has modeled this brotherly love for us. We only have to look to the cross to see how much He loved us. He didn’t look out at the crowd and tell them, “I can’t love you!” No, he looked at the crowd and said, “I love you so much I will give my life for each of you!” There was no distinction between race, creed, sex, political leaning, nationality, profession, or any other dividing characteristic. Christ loved each of us regardless of our backgrounds. Likewise, there shouldn’t be qualifiers for our love either. When we profess to love like Christ it must be all encompassing. We must love despite our differences. We must love because He first loved us.
When we love those we see we show our love for God, the one we cannot see. Christ tells us, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” He reminds us that everything we do for others we do for Him. He also reminds us that when we ignore those in need we ignore Him. He speaks clearly to us- love those around us and we will love our God!