If our texts from 1 John and Ephesians were the only scriptures available to us, we would have everything we need for a vital spiritual life. John’s letter affirms the deepest conviction of our faith: that God is love.
The One who created the universe and holds each of us in trustworthy hands is Love itself — not an abstraction, but a lavish flow of love continually poured out in the world and into each life. Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus affirms the same truth but provides a context.
Even before we were aware of the magnificent gift offered to us, and even if we resist it, the Love at the heart of the universe still flows toward us, inviting us into relationship. This is the nature of Love. It cannot be stopped. Nothing can halt its flow.
Nothing was more important to John than this luminous clarity: God is love. End of sentence.
Except there is more. To receive such love makes us lovers as well. To be loved so deeply and profoundly transforms us, making us bearers of light and love, partners with God in renewing the world. Fear and hatred wither in the presence of such an overwhelming gift of grace.
John never tired of reminding believers of these truths. More than 20 times within his brief letter, John proclaims God’s love and our true identity as God’s beloved children. According to early accounts, John continued to preach the message of love into old age, even when he was so feeble he had to be carried into the church at Ephesus. Unable to stand, he would rise up on one elbow and say simply, “Little children, love one another.”
Each week he repeated the same message, “Little children, love one another.”
Someone asked him why he gave the same message each week. John replied, “It is enough.”
Both John’s message and Paul’s message are the same as Jesus’ message. When asked about the core of his faith, Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God . . . and your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). Love was the luminous center for Jesus as well.
For a faith so amazingly simple, Christians have managed to make it complicated and burdensome. Human beings have difficulty accepting anything freely given. “You shouldn’t have!” or “I couldn’t possibly take it” is what we often hear when someone receives an unexpected or extravagant gift.
The Apostle Paul picks up on that reluctance when he reminds his readers, “By grace you have been saved through faith. . . . It is the gift of God — not the result of works” (Eph. 2:8-9). God’s rich mercy and great love do not come with strings attached. Love flows abundantly because it is God’s essential identity. It can’t be turned on or off depending upon our worthiness.
It’s like what happens when parents give birth to a child. For months they wait, longing for the day of deliverance. And then, after the suffering and travail, when they finally behold the face of their newborn, their hearts open to a love deeper and more astounding than anything they could ever have imagined. Every cell of their bodies rejoices, though the child has done nothing to earn their love. Children are loved because they are, not because they are deserving.
Perhaps that awareness is why John keeps addressing his readers as “little children.” In the reign of God, we are always children, beloved forever. That same love penetrates and energizes every atom of creation, assuring the fulfillment of God’s hopes.
“Love alone endures,” the Apostle Paul declares elsewhere. That is indeed all we need.
Marlene Kropf is retired from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Mennonite Church USA. She is the author of Faith Travels: Trusting God in Life’s Transitions (MennoMedia, 2016). In retirement she leads retreats, offers spiritual direction and enjoys hosting guests with her husband, Stanley, at their home in Port Townsend, Wash.