The following is an excerpt from Love is a Verb: A one-year spiritual practice resource, written by Leo Hartshorn. The resource explores the 2017 convention theme Love is a Verb through the lens of Richard Foster’s six spiritual streams. Download the entire booklet from the Mennonite Church USA resource center.
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.
—1 John 3:14-15 (NRSV)
Life and death are biological and spiritual realities. Life as a biological reality points to animated, thinking, living and breathing bodies in the world. Death acknowledges the cessation of a person’s physical life. The Bible also speaks of life and death as spiritual truths. Life is more than having a fully functioning body. And death is more than the end of our biological life. From a faith perspective, life links us to a vital relationship with God — in body, mind, and heart — and one energized by the Spirit. In spiritual terms, death cuts us off from that source of life. And spiritual life and death are not simply individual realities, but realms of being which can enlighten or overshadow corporate realities as well. The author of 1 John sees the community as moving from death to life in a type of resurrection. As “walking dead,” they lived a biological life devoid of a life-giving relationship with God in Christ. Now, being in Christ they have participated in Christ’s death and resurrection. They live a new life in Christ. They have “passed from death to life” (3:14).
And the evidence that they have new life in Christ is not simply a verbal confession of faith, but their actual love for one another. Their love for one another is evidence of their new life.
They’ll know we are Christians by our love. Without that mutual love they would still be living (biologically) in the realm of death (spiritually). To not show love for a brother or sister in Christ indicates that they remain in the realm of death. Again, the author presents these arguments in sharp contrasts and with no middle ground.
Furthermore, the author of 1 John equates not loving brothers and sisters in Christ to hating them. Again, no middle ground. And whoever hates a brother or sister is a murderer! Jesus himself indicated that anger and insult towards a brother or sister would be judged harshly alongside murder (Matthew 5:21-26). No mincing of words! If we do not love our brothers or sisters in Christ, it’s as if we have murdered them. And if that were not enough, 1 John concludes that murderers do not have eternal life abiding within them! They are cut off from life and God and are the same as unbelievers. Thank God, the writer thinks otherwise (1 John 3:14).
Admittedly, for Christians who take the Bible literally, these are hard words to swallow. However we interpret these words, we should take them seriously and reflect on their meaning in our own personal and church settings.
What do these words from 1 John say about interpersonal conflicts, congregational fights, denominational splits or other kinds of unloving attitudes and acts toward brothers and sisters in Christ?
There are high stakes when we harbor unloving attitudes and commit unloving acts towards members of our family of faith.