1 John 3:18-24
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Our reading from the First Letter of John includes a verb which is repeated in the Gospel according to John and in the three Letters of John: love. This is a distinctive kind of love which is not obvious in English but readily apparent in the Greek. When John peaks here of love – for us to “love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” – he is using the word agapē love.[i] This is not the love of inclination (another verb), that is to love people who are like-minded or who have our similar interests: if you love opera you may be inclined to love other opera buffs; if you love rooting for the New England Patriots, love anchovies, love Republicans… you’re inclined feel like one of them because you share something in common. No, the verb used here is not the love of inclination.[ii] Nor is this the love of affection, that is people who are dear to you, who have found their way into your heart, not necessarily because of some shared value, or preference, or interest you share, but more likely something very personal and where you find genuine affection for one another – someone’s who’s a very good friend, who travels the way with you, understands you, cherishes you, challenges you. You might call them your buddy or soul mate.[iii] No, not that kind of love does John speak of in this letter. Nor does John use here yet another Greek verb for love, eros, erotic, passionate love, the love of our sexual chemistry.[iv]