“By this we know.” We hear this phrase four times in our reading from the first letter of John this morning. Knowing is fundamental to this letter, as are three interrelated questions: what we know, how we know it, and what we are going to do with that knowledge. As we begin this season after the Epiphany, as we recall God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, these three questions can guide our own discovery of God in and among us now.
First, what do we know? From this first letter of John, quite a lot. We know that God is light. We know what love is. We know we belong to the truth. We know God lives in us. This is big stuff—the foundation of our faith, of our relationship with God and with each other. So big, though, that these truths can feel remote from our daily lives. What does it mean for you, here and now, to know that God is love, and that God lives in you?
Reflecting on how we learn, how we come to know, can help bridge these eternal truths and our daily, particular experiences. For John, we know by sense—by what we see, hear, and touch—by example, and by assurance from someone we trust. Each of these modes is familiar to us, and I’m sure each of us learns better in one way than another. I know I learn best by touch, by moving my body, and by holding, tinkering, and manipulating.
But this is not just about learning. It’s not just about discovering our strengths so we can reach out for and acquire knowledge. It’s also about God using those same strengths to reach out to us. So just as I come to know by touch and movement, God is revealed to me most fully in a sensory, tactile, and kinesthetic way: moving and being moved, holding and being held. You’re probably different, but each of you has a way of knowing that can serve as a highway for God’s grace, for God’s self-revelation to you.
This knowledge is important, but it is not the end. Knowing, John urges us, informs action: “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” We come to know God as love, as light, as indwelling presence so that we may be transformed, and so that we may be love and light and presence for others: “And this is his commandment: that we should . . . love one another as he commanded us.” So in this season, reflect on how you can come to know God better and more fully, and pray that you may live and act so that others may know God through you, so that others may say of you, “By them we know.”
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