Learning from St John the Evangelist

The Letter of Love. This is St. John the Evangelist’s beautiful letter which describes the divine love of God. “God is love. Whoever abides in love abides in God and God in him… There is no fear in love for perfect love casts out all fear... We are to love one another as God has loved us.”

Truly Saint John the Evangelist and Theologian’s writings are some of the most magnificent and inspiring in the entire Bible. Since we celebrated His feast day yesterday, and in today’s Gospel we heard Jesus calling Peter and John and James to leave their fishing boats and become fishers of men, I thought to focus my sermon on St. John and especially his first universal letter. I’ll highlight some of the advice this beloved disciple gave to the early Church on how to live as disciples of Jesus.

St. John clearly describes that fellowship with God implies fellowship with one another - with our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, and even our enemies. We cannot call ourselves followers of Jesus if we are not trying to cultivate a loving relationship with one another. St. John even states bluntly, “If someone says that ‘I love God’ but hates his brother or sister, that person is a liar, for if we don’t love a person who we see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen.”

Discipleship in Christ is not simply an intellectual belief but a concrete life of love.  Our Lord noted, “You will know a tree by its fruits.  A good tree will bear good fruit, a bad tree bad fruit.”  As Christians, it is not only important what we say, but even more important how we live.  Someone may say all the right things, but if their life doesn’t reflect their words, then everyone only sees their hypocrisy.

How many of us call ourselves Christians, yet we don’t authentically reflect Jesus Christ in our everyday lives? St. John advises, “People will know that we belong to Christ when we obey His commandments.”  It is easy to say I love God, but do our actions reflect divine love? We must evaluate our relationships with others by this standard of agape love. Do others see God’s love in us when we’re with our families, in the workplace, and as we participate in our hobbies?

 “Those who truly love God,” St. John teaches, “should live like Christ lived.” Yes, we are to compare our own lives with the life of Jesus Christ.  What similarities will someone see in us when they compare our life to the life of Christ?  When people see us, do they understand we are followers of Jesus?

Think of this example.  So often, parents look at their children and see aspects of themselves in their kids. Not only do our children look like us, but often they act like us – in both certain good traits or virtues as well as in our humorous mannerisms or even in our annoying vices. I see this when I look at myself and my wife and see certain mannerisms in our children. I especially see this as my siblings and I get older, and I think of my parents. The older we get, the more we look like them and act in certain ways like them. Why is this? Because we have grown up under their influence and carry their inner traits. 

It is the same with God. When we allow God to live in us day by day; when we try to walk with Him and connect with Him daily in our prayers, through reading about his life and teachings in the Bible, through living a life of love with one another, we slowly take upon ourselves many of his characteristics.

Of course, our transformation in his likeness is a life-long, gradual process.  As a grown man, I don’t consciously try to imitate my own father, and yet, so often I hear people tell me I not only look like him, but my mannerisms are like his. The same happens with true Christians.  Saints did not become holy immediately.  Day by day the saints tried to live a life in Christ, they tried to walk with Him and learn from Him.  As the years went by, and as these men and women stayed faithful in their walk with Him, they slowly became more and more Christ-like.  Gradually, people no longer saw the saints as regular people, but they saw Christ’s image within each of these holy men and women.  St. Paul described this most clearly when he wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Thus, we should all strive to walk as Christ walked, and live as Jesus lived. Yet, HOW can we be sure that we are walking with Him, and living like Him? Once again, St. John gives some guidance.

As I mentioned earlier, anyone who says they love Christ but hates someone else is a liar. Plain and simple. They deceive themselves. Hatred destroys our walk with Christ. St. John bluntly states, “Let us stop saying WITH WORDS that we love God but let us show our love for God with our actions by loving those around us!

Someone may ask, “But why should we love those who don’t deserve it.  They have offended me; they have hurt me; they have done some evil against me.”  St. John gives another clear answer: “WE LOVE OTHERS BECAUSE GOD FIRST LOVED US.”  We don’t love others because they deserve it.  Many people are mean-spirited.  From their actions, it may seem that they don’t deserve our love. Yet, as imitators of Christ, we love others because God first loved us. God loved the world even when the world was lost in its sin. And despite our sinfulness and brokenness, He created us in His divine image and constantly fills our hearts with His divine and unconditional love!

A second test of our sincere walk with God is this - Do we strive to obey His commandments? How often I see people who pick and choose which commandments to follow, choosing those commandments that won’t interfere with their desired lifestyle. A disciple of Jesus is one who follows Christ wherever He may lead! And this may often mean sacrificing our own desires and plans and putting our life in line with His.

Our goal in life is holiness and perfection. God calls each of us to become holy, to become pure of heart, to become one with Him.  Purity means without stain of self-centeredness, without stain of pride and ego, without stain of hatred, without stain of dishonesty or greed, without stain of insincerity. 

A third test is to evaluate our goals and direction in life.  St. John warns, “Be careful about loving the world and the things of the world – money, earthly pleasure, power, fame.  These interests should not be our central pursuit.” As disciples of Jesus, our goals must center on the eternal virtues of love, humility, repentance, self-denial, and service to others, not on temporary and fleeting worldly pursuits.

St. John’s fourth test reminds us that if anyone has the means to live comfortably, and sees another person in need, yet doesn’t help them, then God’s love does not abide in them. Generosity in giving and compassion toward others, especially the poor, clearly reveals God’s presence in our lives!

As we reflect on the life of the beloved disciple of our Lord, John the Theologian, let us meditate upon his advice in his first epistle.  A challenge I want to leave each of you today is to go home, take out your Bible, and read through the five chapters of the First Epistle of John. Such beautiful words. Meditate upon them and reflect upon they say to you in your own life.  May the prayers and wisdom of St. John the Evangelist help us follow Christ, walk with Him, and be filled with His divine and unconditional love.

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