Do you love God? If we consider ourselves Christian, we know we ought to. Greatest commandment and all…
But if we say we love God we could be lying. After all, “God” is just a four letter word. Almost like a junk drawer in the kitchen we can insert whatever we want and call that “God”. We’re always in danger of this – inventing God for ourselves.
This danger – idolatry to be technical about it – is forever with us. So we need some kind of test in order to know whether the God we say we love and believe in is the True God. Do we really love God?
The Apostle John gives us such a test. It’s not a theological exam like we might expect (although theological knowledge is important and helpful). It’s not whether we can recollect certain Bible verses (although familiarity with the Scriptures is essential). It’s far more simple and concrete than that.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21
The test is whether we love our brother (sisters). It’s whether we’ll keep going to church and loving those we go to Church with.
God we can’t see. Therefore our devotion to Him is always in danger of becoming abstracted. Love can often become abstract – thus rendering it not love at all but merely an idea about love. The peace activist may be motivated by a supposed “love for humanity” but when it comes to the real people she’s in contact with, she can’t stand them. Humanity is abstract, humans are not. Love for humanity is great but we don’t know if it real unless we love the humans who make up that great abstract of humanity.
It is the same with love for other Christian. Sometimes people have very highfaluting talk about appreciation for “the Bride” or “the Body”. But these are mere theoretical constructs unless we actually appreciate the people who make up such. John doesn’t let us have abstractions or theories. He wants to know if we love the brother that we can see. That’s the person we go to church with.
This is why, although not mentioned explicitly, local church participation is so vital for following John’s logic. Local churches, filled with imperfect and sometimes unattractive people, are the laboratory is which we test whether our love for God is real. God I can’t see. These people I do see, week in – week out as we pursue congregational life together. They let me know whether I’m lying or not when I say I love God.*
- I’m indebted to Mark Dever here for this logic. Credit given where credit is due.