Imagine two scenarios.
Scenario 1: We are on a ship. It springs a leak and starts to sink. While we’re fleeing to the life-rafts, you manage to grab a bag. Unbeknownst to the rest of us, your bag contains a bottle of water and some canned meat – tuna, spam, etc.
We all huddle together in the life-raft, bobbing along the open sea. Eventually we spot an island in the distance. We start paddling towards it and as we get closer we see that the island is incredibly bare. Not a stick of shrubbery, no sign of fresh water, it’s basically a big rock in the middle of the ocean. But it’s our only hope. So we row towards the island and as we get closer your brother turns to you and says “Boy I’m thirsty.” What do you do?
Scenario 2: We’re on a ship. Our ship sinks. We flee to the life-rafts. Unbeknownst to everyone you have a bag containing water and canned meat. As we bob along in the open sea we spot an island in the distance. As we paddle towards it, we see that it’s lushous, luxurious, full of life. You can see the trees heavy with choice fruits. There’s a gushing waterfall in the distance. It’s a tropical paradise. As we row towards shore your brother turns to you and says “Boy I’m thirsty.” What do you do? Do you give your brother a drink of water?
Surely you are more likely to share the wealth in scenario 2. But why?
Are you a much nicer person in scenario 2? Are you suddenly more moral? What has changed between scenario 1 and scenario 2?
Surely it’s this: your vision has changed. You have seen an abundance of life and it’s liberated you to be generous. You’re still the same bundle of sins and selfishness. But now you’ve seen something captivating. Now you’re celebrating. Now you’re assured that things are going to be ok.
In his first letter, the Apostle John makes precisely this argument: Christians are those who have seen the abundance of grace and love flowing from the Father, through the Son. We have seen Jesus and said “that is the life!” Christ has invited us into the “fellowship” He shares with the Father (1 John 1:1-4) and now we share this wealth with others.
The whole letter is summed up in chapter 4, verse 7:
“Beloved, let us love.” (1 John 4:7)
In Greek it’s only two words. Beloved, love. We who are dearly beloved, may we go and love others.
Because we are not just those who are heading towards a tropical island. We are residents of a kingdom of overflowing life, recipients of a torrent of unending blessing. Children adopted into the ultimate royal Family. Therefore we can afford to crack open our little stashes and be generous with our supplies.
So John would say to us: if we are not loving, have we really received the love of God? If we’re not overflowing to our brothers and sisters, has God’s love really been poured out to us? From the fountainhead of our beloved-ness will flow our life of love.
Thus John would have us meditate on that word “beloved.”
The Greek word (agapetoi) is most often translated “dearly beloved” in the King James Bible (e.g. Romans 12:19; 1 Corinthians 10:14; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 12:19; Philippians 4:1). And that phrase is probably best known to us as the opening words of the marriage service.
It’s interesting to note that “dearly beloved” occurs seven times in the Book of Common Prayer. On three occasions it refers to the congregation. On four occasions it refers to Christ, “the dearly beloved Son” of the Father.
That’s highly significant. The theology of Thomas Cranmer is very biblical here: What the Son is singularly, the Church is corporately. How the Father feels about His Son is how He now feels about us – clothed in His Son. As Jesus Himself said:
The Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. (John 16:27)
We are dearly beloved. Loved with the very love that predated and produced the universe.
Therefore, as John continues:
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (1 John 4:11)
There is abundant life overflowing for us. Ultimate reality is not like that barren rock in the ocean, forbidding and sparse. Ultimate reality is paradise. It’s the God who is love and who has invited us in. If we’ve seen anything of His love, won’t we reach into our supplies – our time, money, goods, emotional energy – and won’t we share what we’ve got?
Dearly beloved, let us love.