Who needs whom?
“Whoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (I Jn 4:15) We needn’t use many words: “Whoever shall confess”: not in word but in deed, not with one’s tongue but with one’s life. For many confess with their words but deny with their deeds.
“And we have known and have believed the love which God has for us.” And, again, how do you know this? “God is love” (I Jn 4:16). He already said this above, and now he repeats it. Love could not be more fully commended to you than by its being called God. You might be ready to despise God’s gift, but do you despise God himself?
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.” They mutually abide in one another, the one who holds and the one who is held. You abide in God, but so that you may be held. God abides in you, but so that he may hold you lest you fall. Don’t think of yourself as a house of God in the same way as the house that supports your flesh. If the house in which you are is withdrawn, you fall; but if you withdraw yourself, God does not fall. He is no less when you desert him; he is no greater when you return to him. When you are healed, you do not bestow anything on him, nor when you are cleansed, when you are refreshed, when you are set right. He is a medicine for the ill, a rule for the crooked, a light for the darkened, a dwelling for the abandoned.
All the benefit, then, is to you. Don’t think that you confer anything on God when you come to him, not even as a servant. Will God have no servants if you are unwilling, if all are unwilling? God does not need servants; it’s the servants who need God. That’s why the Psalm says, “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my God’”. He is the true Lord. And why? “Because you do not need my goods” (Ps 16:2). You, however, do need your servant. Your servant needs you to feed him, and you need your servant to help you. You can’t fetch water for yourself; you can’t cook for yourself; you can’t run before your horse for yourself; you can’t take care of your mule. You see that you need the good of your servant; you need his service. So you are not a true lord when you need an inferior.
But He is the true Lord who seeks nothing from us, while it is woe to us if we do not seek him. He seeks nothing from us; and he sought us even though we were not seeking him. A single sheep had strayed, he found it and rejoiced as he brought it back on his shoulders. Was that sheep needed by the shepherd; wasn’t it that the sheep needed the shepherd?
The gladder I am to speak about charity, the less willing am I to see this Epistle come to an end. None is more ardent in commending charity. Nothing sweeter is preached to you; nothing more healthy is drunk by you, but only if by living well you confirm the gift of God in you. Do not be ungrateful for so great a gift from him: although he had an Only Son, he did not wish him to be alone. So that he might have brothers he adopted unto him those who with him were to possess eternal life. (Augustine on I John, Hom. 8, 14; PL 35, 2044)