The writings of our text in John’s gospel and in the Epistle can seem puzzling because they do not come down on one side or the other, sort of like the question which comes first- the chicken or the egg ?
So, which comes first, the love of God or the love of our neighbour? Which is more important, being or doing? Are we saved by grace or by works?
Instinctively most people come down on one side or the other and we tend to hear only those parts of the good news of Jesus Christ that seem to reinforce what is comfortable to us.
Some people instinctively hear the message in Jesus’ first public statement of ‘good news to the poor, release to the captives, sites of the blind, freedom for the oppressed. Luke for 4.18-19.
Indeed, this is the heart of Jesus’ ministry they argue. Christians witness Christ as the most faithful when he is actively doing things to improve life for society. Other people automatically see that all Jesus’ activity arises out of his times of silence and prayer.
So there this tension between being and doing, and many of us struggle with these ideas.
The problem is that today’s gospel and Epistle, like most New Testament, does not have an either-or worldview. This means the Bible is not written with a dualistic lens.
Instead, they argue it is always both. Both Epistle and costs for talking about the nature of God, which we contemplate with or at which we are drawn deeply into. We see this in Jesus ministry that begins starts not as he stands up and speaks- but as he wrestles alone in the desert.
First, St John talks about love as the fundamental nature & of God. Out of love, God the Son comes to die so that we can draw back into the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In God, love is not an abstract quality but one we experience directly and actively. We experience being- we also experience doing.
God acts lovingly towards us, and that is how we know that he indeed loves. Being and doing are not separate – God is love and acts lovingly in creation.
For us, that is not always the case because, unlike God, we are not yet complete. We don’t always act lovingly in creation. The people to whom 1 John is addressed are presuming the people who have accepted the saving love of God. But for most of us particularly in this western world view, Love has a beginning and a finite end.
The view of Love that God has, is embed within his own self- God is love. Its is possible to be and do at the same time. Doing comes from our sense of being- which has not a start or end- it just is.….
Look at it his way – The great aim of our life is to make the beginning and the end of love get further and further apart from us so that there is more and more room to love. In other words, God’s love has no beginning and has no end, and nor should ours. As the great 17th-century poet John Donne said in his Christmas sermons, God love is like a circle. It’s endless.
Our gospel reading points out another one of God’s undeniable characteristics: life.
The language 1 Johns about love can sound repetitive and soft-edged, despite the urgency and power of what’s being said. Still, if you put 1 John alongside Johns gospel, the reason for the urgency becomes clearer.
God is the only source of life. If you pick flowers, they die. If you take people away from God, they die. It is not that this is a punishment, exactly. It is more than it is just a fact of life.
If people choose to live apart from God, that choice is sustained into eternity.
Because it is sustained into eternity, God urgently invites us with the help of the Holy Spirit to live in God in Christ, each and every day that we enjoy mortal breathe.
In choosing God, we are grafted as branches into the true vine. There we can live, and bear fruit of the exact nature as the tree.
The choice between being and doing is a false one. You are either alive with the life of God, the life in which there is no distinction between what God is and what God does, or you are not alive at all.
Many of us would like to rely on the life-giving love of God for ourselves without having to change too much. In today’s story from Acts, Philip wouldn’t understand the question, ‘should I spend time being or doing- should I be praying, or should I go out and preach?
Philip has allowed himself to be directly grafted into the life of God. so, Philip prayed, and Philip also preached. Phil came across An African who was miles from home. This guy was reading the Bible – Hebrew Scripture- and had some questions. Philip reacted by being and doing, at the same time and the African eunuch came to faith and was baptised. Most of us wouldn’t know such an opportunity if we part if it passed us by, not even in a golden carriage and so we miss the chance that Philip seized to work with God. And as Philip showed people the love of God wherever he went.
And we see the love God for us in elements of bread and wine.
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Paula Rose has a Bachelor of Pastoral Counselling and Theology, Vision Christian University, USA Master of Arts In Counselling & Professional Development, specializing in Spiritual Abuse through The University of Derby, UK.
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Paula Rose Parish is a Pastor, Author, and founder, of Hope. Faith. Love, and Your Wellness Matters. She studied at the University of Derby and received a Master of Arts in Counselling in Professional Development. Over the years, Paula Rose has served as a pastor, chaplain, counsellor, and coach and taught at a Christian university. In addition, she has led workshops and retreats and spoken worldwide on Christian spirituality.
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