If there’s a single word which is typical of John’s first letter, then without a doubt that word is ‘love’. But if there’s a second, it strikes me today that it’s the word ‘abide’. It’s not a word that we use much outside a single hymn – one of the most common at funerals – but it’s a word with its own strength, and John seems to use it here more than anywhere else I’ve noticed in the Bible.
I’ve just done a quick search on my Bible app (‘Bible’ by faith life, if you’re interested!) In the NRSV translation, John (in his gospel and letters) uses the word 35 times, 16 of them in chapters 2 and 3 here. Thanks to the same search, I can quickly tell you that those times are in 3:6, 9, 14, 15, 17, 24 (three times), 4:13, 15 (twice) and 16 (three times). This compares to to 19 times in the whole Old Testament, and just once in the rest of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 13:13).
A couple of years ago, I read a book which has stayed with me since – ‘Abide’ by Ben Quash. I was struck by this word then, and am still. It has a great sense of stability and contentment – a contentment which is chosen, not necessarily one that comes naturally through circumstance. It’s a word that carries a sense of ‘staying put’ – emotionally, spiritually or physically. To John, it seems to carry a deep level of resting in God, and with God resting in us. Yes, he writes in these chapters about the struggle to become the person God sees us to be, to leave sin behind and become pure; but the confidence for that struggle comes from this sense of solid, stable presence in and with God.
Perhaps my challenge for today is simply to rest and enjoy the presence of God in me, and my presence in him; to be confident that his love and care for me will never end or change.
Going back to that hymn – only once with the word ‘abide’ does John use the word ‘with’ us of God’s presence. Every other time, it’s ‘in’ – both of us abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in us (or his love, truth etc.). We’ve probably over stressed the deep wonder of God ‘with’ us if we’ve forgotten that he is in fact ‘in’ us – and we in him. We need to look more fully within ourselves to see the signs of God at work (and rest and play), not just in the world outside us, however close. The more I become used to the shallow waters of contemplative prayer, the more I realise how much more I have to learn of this – how much deeper the water is!