Each month, we’re going to reflect on what we’ve been reading in the Know His Word reading plan. We’ll call this Reading His Word. You’ll hear excerpts from Bible studies and reflections from our team and others reading alongside us. This month we’re sharing some reflections adapted from What Love Is, Kelly Minter’s Bible study on 1, 2, and 3 John. Enjoy!
Out in the countryside of Northern Virginia, fathers smacked baseballs to the horizon and ran around bases, while moms smashed hamburger patties between buns and children tumbled down hills covered in hay. At a summer church picnic, everyone seemed as light as the clouds floating in the sky. Except, I was not floating. Fear had gripped me—something that not even a good roll down the hillside could shake. Paralyzing anxiety characterized parts of my childhood, and today was one of those days. I remember some calming words visiting me, though—words I must have memorized even earlier in my childhood. “Perfect love casts out fear.” The phrase from 1 John 4:18 (NKJV) is my earliest recollection of God speaking to me from John’s epistles. What did this mean, exactly? My 12-year-old brain wasn’t completely sure. But right there in a sprawling field, the Lord began to take His sword to the giant I knew as Fear.
As a child I was often uncertain of my salvation. At night I’d contemplate eternity, comforting myself with more of John’s words, “so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). I’d stare at the ceiling in the hovering dark, reminding myself that John said we could know, but wishing I knew just a little more. Then there were the Sunday School songs we used to sing with graham crackers in our stubby hands, hardly understanding the weight of what we were proclaiming. “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God” (3:1). Only we’d hold the “weeeeeeeee” out really long, and it always bothered me that I had to sing “sons” when I was clearly a daughter. As I grew older and guilt or doubts would overwhelm me I’d fall into that glorious phrase, “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart” (1 John 3:20 ESV). Who could dream up a line like that but John? Who could make it a reality but Jesus?
As life’s lures and temptations became more complex and magnetic I heeded words such as, “Do not love the world” (2:15). I didn’t know exactly what it meant to not love the world I lived in, but the Bible made it sound pretty serious. I had hoped this didn’t include ice cream cones, but one could never be too cautious. Still, these cautions were tempered by unforgettable lines like, “We love because He first loved us” (4:19, HCSB) and “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us” (4:10). John was laying the foundations of what I would later come to understand as theology.
In real estate terminology, John’s letters do not enjoy the benefits of location, location, location. They’re small, tucked back by the concordance, somewhere after Paul and before Revelation. While they’re often quoted, full of bite-sized nuggets you can grab in a pinch, as a whole they aren’t as well known. Furthermore, John’s letters can be hard to understand. I’ve often struggled with him: Why did you write that? What do you mean? Can you give this to me in layman terms? Some of his words shake me to the core and in the next breath wash me with comfort. His warnings are fiery and his affirmations fatherly. Though his letters were written in another era, I’ve found his message squarely for today.
John’s themes of fellowship, light, assurance, abiding, and love are wonderfully grounding. John’s heart is pastoral, his voice pleading. He’s the coach who makes you stay after practice to run the bleachers, but only because he sees your potential. And his message couldn’t be timelier.
In an age when opinions fly at us unbridled, John gives us the immutable gift of truth. When science and philosophy and your social circles say you can’t really know God, John says, yes you can. Dear child, he continues, I’ve touched Him. Where we’ve not only settled for living in the gray, but have formed our identity in it, John points us to light and dark—you’re walking in one or the other. And perhaps most importantly, at a time when the word love means just about anything under the sun, and therefore almost nothing, John tells us “this is what love is….”
And then he shows us Jesus.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations taken from the New International Version, 1984.