April 15, 2015
1 John 2:9-11
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 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.
I will never forget it. I was about sixteen and headed to the woods after school, as was my practice, to hunt deer. At dusk a young buck walked along a ridge nearby. I took aim and fired. The deer fled. “How could I have missed,” I thought to myself. I began walking through the woods in search of this animal. Just as I was about to give up, I spotted the deer in the distance. I had been successful with my shot only to realize I had a bigger problem now. It was dark and I was lost. I frantically walked in one direction to no avail. Then I walked in another direction, again to no avail. Then I lost track of the deer and began in desperation to re-find him, which I did. I was literally walking around in darkness. I had no idea where I was going. The darkness had blinded me.
Being lost is not primarily a subjective experience. It is an objective reality. I am not lost because I “feel” lost. I am lost because I am walking around in darkness and have no idea where I am going or how to get there. The thing about being lost is you don’t realize you are lost until its too late. The truth for me that night in the woods? I was lost long before I realized it.
John once again shoots straight. He’s not asking people whether they are walking in darkness. He is looking at their relationships. He says, in effect, our relationship with God is about as good as our worst relationship with other people. That’s hard to swallow. I so want to assess my own walk with God according to how near I “feel” to God. Am I spending time in God’s word? Am I spending time in prayer? Am I sharing in fellowship with other believers? Am I taking care of those in need? These are the ways I want to measure the state of my relationship with God.
John will not have it. He says we can read and pray and fast and study and do good and be in small groups until the cows come home and it won’t matter one whit if we are not loving our brothers and sisters around us. Remember, love is not a “feeling” or “affection” for John. Biblical love means putting the needs of others above my own self interest. Neither is hatred a feeling for John. Hatred is not so much raging animosity toward others as it is our indifference to or neglect of their need. There is no middle ground here. You either love others by putting their interests above your own or you don’t do that which means, in John’s inspired vision, that you hate them.
I’m going to put this into the most unvarnished language I can come up with. To the extent that I am not actively putting my self-interest aside and serving and helping and looking out for the best interest of the people around me, I am walking around in the darkness, lost as I can be. It doesn’t matter if I feel lost or not. It doesn’t matter if I can talk a good game or preach a good sermon or lead a good bible study or do a good mission project or anything else. If I am not actively caring for the people around me, I am lost.
I hate to say it that way, but I do think this is what John is telling us.
The smartest thing I did that dark night when I was lost in the woods was to admit that I was lost, at which point I stopped walking around. I sat down and I prayed for the mercy of God in the form of someone coming to find me. And that’s what happened. I will always remember my first glimpse of the flickering flash light winding its way through the thick forest in the hands of my Father who had come to find me. I will close with the fitting words of that great theologian of country music, Hank Williams Sr.:
“I saw the light. I saw the light. No more darkness. No more night. Now I’m so happy no trouble in sight. Praise the Lord I saw the light.”
I’m feeling like I may need to sit down right where I am and roll through my relational rolodex– even just the people I see on a daily and weekly basis.
Let me be clear in closing. Loving other people is not the condition for salvation. It’s the confirming sign of it. I don’t have a relationship with God because I say I do or because I feel like I do or because I’ve prayed the right prayer. photo Do I make those relationships about them, or is it all about me? There’s your sign.
J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the Daily Text delivered to your inbox fresh every morning. Subscribe HERE.