Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.1 John 2:9-11
A few years ago I was hurt enormously by someone who was in a position of leadership over me. Even after several years have passed, I still bear the emotional scars caused by my treatment at the hands of this person, and I suspect I will carry these to the grave. What I found particularly difficult was that this person claimed to be a Christian. I found it hard to reconcile his treatment of me with Christ’s commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves. Managing my feelings towards this person is an ongoing project; just as I think I have put my anger towards him aside and forgiven him in my heart, something happens that pushes me away from forgiveness and towards raw hatred towards this person.
There are times when loving someone is incredibly hard, almost impossible, yet this is the expectation that Jesus has of his followers. He provided us with an inspirational model of this behaviour. As he hung on the cross, he prayed to his father, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). My incident pales into comparison with this. I find it hard to forgive, yet Jesus, in agony on the cross, asked for forgiveness for his executioners!
John told us at the beginning of this letter that he was writing so that we will not sin. He wants his audience to understand our wrongdoing and assure us of our salvation. He has told that that God is light and that there is no darkness in him at all (1:5). He has told us that if we are without sin, we deceive ourselves, and reassured us that if we confess our sin will be forgiven (1:8-9). He has told us that we must strive to live as Jesus did (2:6). Now, in this passage, he gives us a specific example of how some might fall short of the expectations Christ has of us. Anyone who claims to follow Jesus but hates a fellow believer “is still in the darkness.” Such a person is outside the love of God and falling short of the expectation that God has of us. John warned us in 1:6 that “if we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” If we call ourselves Christians and yet hate a fellow believer, we are, John tells us, liars.
If we hate a brother or sister, we lose our sense of direction and will struggle to follow God’s plan for our lives because we have been blinded by the darkness of the world. We have removed ourselves from God’s guiding light and opted instead to follow the ways of the world.
This is an incredibly hard message for us, yet it is resolutely a call for action. We need to reflect on the relationships that we have with our fellow believers and ensure that these relationships are based on love. That’s not to say that from time to time we will not fall out or fail to see eye to eye with other Christians, but the overriding emotion we have towards these people – even those who have, inadvertently or deliberately set out to cause us hurt – should be love. If we feel anything less that that towards them then we have lost our orientation and allowed the darkness of the world to nudge us out of our relationship with God.
I wonder if there are brothers or sisters, fellow believers, who you feel hatred towards? Do you need to ask God to initiate a process of healing, to remove this hatred, and replace it with love? I have no doubt that there will be many people who without God’s intervention will find it practically impossible to turn hatred into love – I count myself amongst that number. Yet John is absolutely clear that if we are not to be liars in our faith, we have no option but to replace hatred with love.
Having established the primacy of love in our relationships with our fellow Christians, the question follows – how do we express this love? Do we put others before ourselves? Do we recognise the needs of others – material or spiritual, physical or emotional – and help to fulfil these needs? Do we know each other well enough to recognise where there is a need? Do we build relationships that are open and honest enough to admit when there is a need? This all to me suggests the need to forge incredibly close relationships with our fellow believers, to go significantly further than the typical Sunday, “how was your week?” greeting and to foster relationships that are more than simply brotherly or sisterly in name, but in practice too.
How will you attempt to develop and deepen your relationships with your Christian brothers or sisters in order to love them more? Perhaps your Church has small groups that you could join? Perhaps you could put together a prayer triplet? Maybe you could have someone round to lunch or meet them for a coffee?