By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. – 1 John 3:16-18 ESV
1 John 4:7-21
I had an interesting thought hit me this morning. It was one of those thoughts that I couldn’t get out of my mind. It had to do with the love of God and His command that we love others in the same way that we have been loved by Him. We like to use verses like those above to prove that our love for others is to be practical and tangible. We place them alongside other verses like those found in the book of James. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16 ESV). From these passages and others like them, we conclude that our love must be expressed in real ways if it is to be real love. And while I would agree with this assessment, the thought hit me that we might be missing the point of these passages. We might be shifting the focus of what God is saying to us about His love for us and our love for others. Jesus told His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV). He gave them this message during His final celebration of the Passover meal with them. And it came after He had washed their feet and shared the bread and wine with them. This was just prior to His betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion. So at this point, the disciples would have concluded that his example of love, his meaning for “just as I have loved you” would have been from what they had seen Him do during the years He had spent with them in ministry. But Jesus was speaking with an eye on the future. He was focused on what was to come: His death. Not long after this scene in the upper room, Jesus would repeat His command, but with a qualifier. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13 ESV). Jesus was clarifying what He meant by love. And we have to stop and think about what the purpose was behind Jesus’ death. Why did He lay down His life? He answered that question when He stated, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Matthew 20:28 ESV). John told us earlier in his letter, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV). Paul wrote, “this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NLT).
So what’s my point? What is the thought that I had this morning? It is this: What if the love we are to share with others is to be redemptive, restorative and regenerative in nature? What if our love is to be ever and always about the spiritual well-being of those whom we are loving? I am NOT suggesting that we look past the physical and emotional needs of others. But I think we may have missed the point of what John was saying when he wrote, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” I believe John was using this as an example or earthly comparison. He put love in terms that his readers could understand. They knew poverty well. They also knew that to have the resources to alleviate someone else’s poverty and not do it was anything but love. You didn’t have to be a follower of Christ to know that. That’s just common sense. So John uses that scenario to make a more important point. If we, as believers, have the richness of God’s love abiding in us and we fail to share that love with others, we are, in reality, loveless. But remember, what was the point of Jesus’ love for us? Our redemption. Our restoration to a right relationship with God. Our salvation, sanctification, and, ultimately, our final glorification. We have heaven’s goods and we are surrounded by those in spiritual poverty. Yet how often do we close our hearts against them. If all I give them are worldly goods to meet worldly needs, I leave them mired in spiritual poverty and death. Our love must have a temporal and practical side to it, but it will prove to be short-lived and ineffective if it does not lead them toward reconciliation and to the bread of life that will cause them to hunger no more. We must lead them to the living water that will result in them thirsting no more. The greatest love I can share with another human being is to be willing to sacrifice all that I have in order that they might enjoy all that I have received in Christ. I am reminded of the words of Paul in his great “love chapter.” “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3 NLT). God is love. If those around us don’t end up reconciled and restored to God, they will never know true love. Am I willing to give my life so that others might discover the eternal life that I have received? That seems to be the point. That’s real love.