by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
Love makes the world go ’round.
In the mind of John, the new life in Christ is manifest two ways: The first is outward and empirical; it looks at the evidence of one’s love for those to whom he is joined in Christ. The second is inward; it has to do with a transformation of the Christian consciousness and is manifest in the confidence of prayer. Life in Christ is not guess work. In both cases John speaks of “knowledge”; “we know,” he says. If we love one another, we know we have passed from death to life, and, when, we pray, we know that God will grant what we ask.
Outwardly, the certainty of this new life in Christ is displayed in the love believers have for one another:
“We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. He that does not love continues in death” (John 3:14).
To abide in Christ and His Father (John 15:1-8) is to abide in love (15:9-17).
Although it is expressed as a command—
“Love one another!”
—this love is, in fact, a gift, the source of which is God Himself. More specifically, it is a rebirth granted to believers through the atoning death of Christ:
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. He that does not love does not know God, for God is love (agape estin). In this was God’s love revealed in us—that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world so that we might live (zesomen) through him. In this is love—not that we have loved God but that He Himself loved us and sent his Son, the atoning sacrifice (hilasmon) for our sins. Beloved, since God so loved us, we also are obliged to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us” (1 John 4:7-12).
The gift of Christ’s love, revealed in the Cross, is the source and basis of mutual Christian love. It is important to note John’s use of the aorist tense in the affirmation,
“He Himself loved us—Avtos egapesen hymas.”
The “loved” is not expressed in the perfect tense (“He Himself has loved us”) but in the aorist, which denotes a particular act of love. This reference to the Cross is made explicit in the parallel construction that follows it:
“and sent his Son, the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
John’s thesis here is identical with that in the discourse with Nicodemus:
“God so loved (egapesen) the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” (John 3:16).
When Christians love one another, therefore, the source and impetus of that love is God’s love given in Christ:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I loved you, so you also, love one another” (13:34).
Once again, John uses the aorist tense—“I loved you”—denoting Christ’s death on the Cross, the specific act expressing His love. This “aorist accent” is also Pauline:
“I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved [agapesantos] me and handed Himself over for me” (Galatians 2:20).
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I loved (egapesa) you. Greater love than this no one has—that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
Here the force of the aorist tense of the verb “loved” is strengthened by the explicit reference to dying for one’s friends.
Inwardly, this presence of the new life in Christ is manifest in the confidence, the God-given “boldness,” which takes hold of the believer’s conscience in prayer. John writes,
“Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness (parresian) toward (eis) God; and we receive from Him whatever we ask, because we obey His commandments and do what pleases Him” (1 John 3:21).
John writes a bit later,
“And this is the boldness (parresian) we have toward (pros) Him, that if we ask what is according to His will, He hears us” (5:14).
This boldness before God drives out servile fear (4:18).
The boldness of Christians in prayer is based on the promise of Christ. In John’s Last Supper Discourse this thesis is affirmed with thematic frequency:
“If you ask something in My name, I will do it, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask something in my name, I will do it“ (14:13-14).
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (15:7; cf. 15:16).
This promise of Christ is the source of John’s confidence in prayer:
“And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the things requested of him” (1 John 5:15).
This boldness in prayer is a source of Christian joy:
“Amen, amen, I say to you: if you ask something of the Father in my name, He will give it to you. . . . Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be filled” (John 16:23-24; cf. 15:11).