1 John 4:20-21
Love of Brother as the Proof of Loving God
One of the oddest things about human nature is how we love (or think we love) others. Americans will send billions of dollars overseas for the sake of feeding and clothing children they have neither seen nor met; or if they have seen them, it was only their faces as shown by the agency sponsoring the children. But these same Americans will do little to help the child they know down the street, whom they see every day, whose dysfunctional family they despise. To put it another way (and as others have noted), we “love” people we do not know and have never met but find it extremely difficult to love those whom we do know, who do not bathe and are ill-mannered, and who are suffering the consequences of their own sin (or parents’ sin). We find a plethora of justifications to tell ourselves that these deserve their plight and so walk on by. I do not deny that we reap what we sow and that many are where they are due to poor decisions and that throwing dollars at such people is not the help they need. I only attempt to show that we are more prone to “loving” the people whom we do not know, who might be where they are for reasons just as irresponsible, than those with whose foibles we are only too familiar.
The Apostle writes: “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.” Here, John turns our thinking on its head. We think we love God. But as I indicated above, it is easy for one to say that he loves another a million miles away. God will have none of this, for this is sheer hypocrisy. Such “love” is not worth a plug nickel. God says, “If you will love rightly, you will love the grubby, disrespectful kid next door as much as you love the starving kid on another continent.” That kid next door is just as worthy of your love as the other; you just happen to know him and not the other. If you knew the kid a thousand miles away, you would find him just as “undeserving” of your charity.
But God turns this around: If you will love me, then you will love the most unlovable person you have ever met. You will do just as much good to the man you know as the man you don’t. Indeed, if you don’t love that one, then you don’t really love me, for “whoever loves God must also love his brother.” To those who will object that “brother” in this place means “in the church,” fine: Christians find reasons to despise the man in the next pew just as easily. If we are honest with ourselves, this commandment cuts against our sinful grain. If we will love God, we must love the brother we live with.