I just realized that I have been reading the Gospel of John at least since the age of 12 when my parents gave me a Living Bible for Christmas. That is almost 40 years. I do not know how many times I have read this Gospel. However, from that first reading forty years ago until now I have continued to underline many verses, and in some cases, whole chapters in this Gospel as I have read it in multiple translations and even in Greek.
There is much that speaks to me in these four chapters for today’s reading. Space permits me only to comment on one thing. One of John’s themes, both in his Gospel and in the letters, is love. In John 13:34-35 Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
What might the world be like if Christians were known universally, first and foremost, for their love? Loving is probably not the first word that comes to mind for most non-Christians when they think of Christians. I do not know, but “judgmental” may be the first word that comes to the mind of a non-Christian when he or she thinks of a Christian.
There may be many reasons for this. Paul says that we are to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15) I imagine there are some professing Christians who focus more on speaking what they believe to be the truth, but they often do it in an unloving manner. There may be other professing Christians who focus more on living what they believe to be a life of love, and they may find it hard to speak certain uncomfortable truths taught in Scripture, like the truth about sin for example. Yet, I believe God wants us to do both. He wants us to speak the truth, and he wants us to do it in love.
Nonetheless, I agree with what C. S. Lewis had to say on this subject in one of his letters:
It is right and inevitable that we shd. be much concerned about the salvation of those we love. But we must be careful not to expect or demand that their salvation shd. conform to some ready-made pattern of our own. Some Protestant sects have gone very wrong about this. They have a whole programme of ‘conviction’, ‘conversion’ etc., marked out, the same for everyone, & will not believe that anyone can be saved who doesn’t go through it “just so.” But (see the last chapter of Problem of P.) God has His own way with each soul.
There is no evidence that St. John even underwent the same kind of ‘conversion’ as St. Paul. It’s not essential to believe in the devil; and I’m sure a man can get to Heaven without being accurate about Methuselah’s age. Also, as MacDonald says, “the time for saying comes seldom, the time for being is always here.” What we practise, not (save at rare intervals) what we preach, is usually our great contribution to the conversion of others. (From a letter to Mrs. Johnson, March 2, 1955)
St. Francis, supposedly, put this rather succinctly when he said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”