1 John 3:16-18
I know we talked about love yesterday, but since there’s so much confusion about this virtue, I decided to spend another day on it.
I really think that this word is waaaaaay overused. We say we “love” hotdogs and we “love” our spouse and children. That’s because we tend to view love as a feeling we have towards something or someone. That’s not the biblical definition of love.
John’s been called the “Apostle of Love,” and with very good reason. The Gospel which he authored uses the word 39 times, and the epistles he wrote (minus Revelation) employ it 34 times. No one else even comes close to using the term so often, so it’s obvious that the man had the issue pretty high on his priority list. But most of the time, he’s using the term in very practical terms, not as a feeling we have.
This is illustrated by a story I heard once. The church deacons came to a pastor and said “Pastor, we’re tired of you preaching about hell and about things that are so controversial. Why don’t you preach about love for a while?” The preacher agreed. The next week, his sermon was about “Love the Lord your God.” The next week was “Love your neighbor as yourself.” After that was “Do not love the things of the world.” Next was “If you love me, you’ll keep my commands.” After that, the deacons came to him and asked him to quit preaching on love.
You see, love is a very practical thing. Take a look at today’s passage, just one of several I could have picked from John’s writings. How do we know what love is? What can we point to as the ultimate expression of love? God was not up in heaven sighing to himself saying “I love those people soooooo much! I think I’ll send them a Valentine Day’s card.”
No, he sent his one and only Son down to earth. This Son had to put up with the nasty rotten atmosphere of sin which pervades this world like water fills an aquarium. Just like fish wouldn’t have a word for “wet” if they could talk, we don’t recognize how bad this world is because we’ve never known anything different. But the Son did.
He put up with the demands of his ministry, every day looking after the needs of others: Healing, teaching, providing. But that’s not the ultimate expression of love.
That came when he willingly went to the cross and laid down his life for us. In another passage John says that he was the “atoning sacrifice for our sins.” That means that he turned aside the wrath (the righteous anger) away from us and onto himself. He carried our sins upon his own back. And died in our place.
And that’s the standard for you and me.
That’s why John doesn’t talk a lot about feelings here. He talks about sacrifice for the good of others. He says that if you see a brother (or sister) in need and look the other way, then the love of God is not in you. This doesn't mean that if someone is low on money that the best way to help them necessarily is to hand them cash. If someone is poor because of bad financial decisions or because of addictions, then it’s not loving to enable them. But we need to take the time to find out what they really need and do our best to help them, using God’s word and guidance.
And to cap it all off, he reiterates what he’s been saying all along. It’s easy to talk a good game about loving someone. It’s easy to love someone with our “words or tongue” but not so easy to love them “with actions and in truth.” Again, just handing out cash is usually the easy way, not the way to show them love “in truth.” Love has both hands and a brain, and its mouth is used sparingly.
That’s one of the signs that we belong to him and are in good fellowship with him. Is it there?
Lord Jesus, I want to follow your example, and I want to be generous and a good steward. I can only do that by your grace. Please change me.