In the 3rd chapter of John’s 1st epistle John gives us a very clear picture of what true love looks like. We read, “16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (v. 16-18 NKJV). In the first days of Christianity laying down your life for your brothers was no abstract requirement. By the time the apostle John was writing this epistle he was the only one of the original apostles who was still alive. All the rest had been martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. We live in a world where many Christians don’t want to be challenged out of their comfort zones. We live in a culture that glories self-satisfaction and self-fulfillment rather than self-surrender. Yet it is through this kind of self-surrendering love that the world will know we are Jesus’ disciples and that we are one in Him.
In verse 16 the words “laid down” stress Jesus’ willingness to give up His own life on our behalf. Usually in the New Testament God’s love is connected with the cross. Consider Jesus’ own words in John’s gospel and Paul’s writing in Romans. In John we read, “16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”, (3:16 NKJV). What a wonderful Christmas verse that is. In Romans we see Paul’s words when he writes, “8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8 NKJV). Cain is the supreme example of hate in this passage but Jesus is the supreme example of love.
The real test of love is found in the most adverse circumstances. The real evidence of God’s love in the heart of a Christian is his willingness to sacrifice for the good of others. In a few months I will be leading a team from NDC to Word of Life in the Philippines to minister God’s Word and help with disaster relief there following a cyclone that happened this past summer. We will be warmly received in the Philippines, in fact Americans are generally warmly received there. Why? Thousands of Americans shed their blood on Filipino soil, 1st to defend those islands and then to set the islands free from Japanese occupation. Nationally you don’t forget who shed their blood fighting for and with you. This self-surrendering love doesn’t come naturally to us. Most of us are inherently selfish. But Jesus sets the example we are to follow in loving like He loved.
In verse 17 we see John’s concept of love finds its practical test in the common things we use or don’t use to meet other people’s needs. If we see (this word “see” denotes a sustained look) a brother in need and we don’t do what we can to help out with that need we are not demonstrating the love of God. God has given us in our country and state incredible riches and wealth. We are not to use those blessings simply on ourselves to live selfish, self-centered lives but we are to use those resources to have an impact on others in need. Now we must exercise discernment in our compassionate outreach but be assured God has not blessed us so we could be like Scrooge, hoarding everything for ourselves.
In Verse18 John once again reinforces this idea when he tells us “not to love only in word or in tongue but to love in deed and in truth”. Genuine love must be practical, visible and active. Someone has said “when all is said and done, a whole lot more is said than done”. I am afraid that statement is way too true in our world today. But is shouldn’t be true in the church. Let us not love only “in word or in tongue” but let us love “in deed and in truth”. Let us be involved this Christmas season in doing something about the needs we see around us. Some Christians in our Christian journey seem at times to be unlovable. That’s where we must step out of our comfort zone and allow the love the Christ to flow through us. True Christian love involves sacrifice and service. Christ didn’t simply talk about His love, He died to prove it. If we want to experience and enjoy the love of God in our own hearts, we must be willing to love others even to the point of sacrifice, this will usually involve stepping out of our comfort zone. But all praise be unto our great God who meets us wherever we are with His unfailing love.
Shalom in Christ,
Pastor Rich Sivo