We’ve all seen this sign: there is a bumpy road ahead. There are bumps ahead for all of us: political and economic bumps as systems weaken and collapse in the face of “the beginning of sorrows” that Jesus prophesied in Matt 24:7, and emotional bumps as we navigate our paths over them. Some will be minor disturbances; some will be catastrophic upheavals. Some we will face as individuals; some as churches, and some as nations. But whatever goes on in the world, the truth is this: “He that is in us is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Is this truth something that is alive for us, burning in our hearts like a bright fire against the cold and the dark, or is it just another Bible verse – albeit a powerful one, we acknowledge – that we know is true but that somehow we don’t experience the truth of? We know that He has given us His peace, “not as the world gives,” but do we walk in it? “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) As we hit the bumps we need to know how we can receive the peace that the One who is in us is giving. The apostle John gives us some pointers:
“No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4: 12-16)
By this we know…
If we wanted to write down two of the central planks of New Testament theology it would be that we are in Christ and He is in us. In these five verses we find four references to God being in us, and three references to us abiding in God.
We know it’s true that we love one another. (verse 12) We might not express that love all the time, and we may not feel it consistently; but there are times in our lives when we know that the love that God has “poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5) flows through us and reaches a brother or a sister. John tells us that this love that we carry in our hearts for one another is the proof that God “abides in us”, because it comes from Him, not from our own flesh. However this is still head knowledge, and to have the proof in our heads is not enough for it to become the experience of our hearts. John – and Jesus – wants more than that for us. He says “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”
More head knowledge, you may say. But I don’t think it is. To “know” – ginōskō – is to know fully and intimately, empirically as well as intellectually. We know fully and completely the reality of God dwelling in us when we experience the person of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives. “By this we know – have experiential knowledge – that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”
So the proof that he abides in us is that we love one another, but the experience of that truth is the empirical knowledge of the Holy Spirit who has put that love into our hearts. What follows from those two statements is this: the more we express the love that we have for another, the better we know the one who is in us. And the better we know the One who is in us, the better we know that He is greater than the one who is in the world, and the more we are able to express the love that He has given us for one another.
Gently does it.
And so we come to the bumpy road and a practical application of these verses. How do we go over the bumps? By going slowly. Gently does it. If we don’t go gently we are likely to crash. This is not just an application of material experience to spiritual ideas: it is a scriptural principle. Gentleness is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus tells us to learn from His gentleness in Matt 11:29. When we hit the bumps in life, our first recourse must be to behave gently and not be quick to react. The victory that has overcome the world is our faith (1 John 5:4), and we need faith to slow down instead of being driven headlong into the bumps by our flesh. It is only by trusting God and not our own abilities that we can be still enough to listen to Him and be led by the Spirit in gentleness. Those bumps might be out there in the world, or they might be right inside our own front doors. Wherever they are, trusting God enough to be gentle gives us time to love, and when we love we walk in the proof of His presence within us, the One who is so much greater than he who is in the world.
There is bumpy ground ahead: when we face it, we need to remember to walk slowly enough to love one another, because
When we love one another we can know His presence,
When we know His presence we can feel His power,
And when we feel His power we can receive His peace.