After Jim McNeely’s brilliant Romance of Grace, I wasn’t surprised to find his latest work, Grace in Community, bristling with insight and comfort. 1 John is a difficult and sometimes-neglected book, but McNeely sifts through it with responsibility, originality, and a down-to-earth approach. Below, he treats the tricky subject of “vertical” and “horizontal” love – love for God and neighbor, with his trademark honesty about the Law’s demands, leading directly to God’s grace:
Notice John unifies “vertical” love and “horizontal” love. He says, “In this is love, not that we love God, but that God loves us.” He is talking about a vertical relationship here, our love for God. Yet he goes on at length talking about horizontal relationships. It is all mixed up. When we have horizontal love, God is in it. The moralist wants to split these up. The moralist wants to take the two laws as separate: love God, love your neighbor. John bridges that gap with the gospel of Christ and Him crucified. God is love, and love operates in community. He is saying, if you separate these two, you cannot succeed at the one and fail at the other. The old commandment to love presses upon us the obligation to love God and neighbor. You cannot claim success if you only do one or the other; you must succeed at both. Jesus loved and forgave His own murderers and obeyed His Father to the death. Either we succeed at both or we fail at both. It is a unity under the old covenant as well as under the new covenant. The old covenant presses upon you the obligation to do both and makes you the source of power for compliance. The new opens the door to the possibility to love, and empowers love through the grace and forgiveness and mercy which come to us through Christ’ʹs blood. In Christ, we do not boast that we know and love God; we boast that we cannot know and love Him, but He knows and loves us. We do not trust in ourselves or our perfection, but in Him and His perfection. His perfection is that though we slay Him, He resurrects to love us still. His love abides, it persists. This is the love that He has for us, and it is the love that is at the heart of the love that we have for each other.