Meditations in 1 John : 40 : Practical Love
1 John 3:16,17 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
You sometimes hear silly complaints about the Christian faith that it is ‘pie in the sky’ or that it is of no earthly use to anyone. Communists make great play on caring for all classes but it is an enforced (and unreal) caring that is a poor copy by the enemy of the Christian faith. Our verses above lay the axe to the lie of the Christian faith being impractical and it all starts with love.
There can be much debate about what love is but you have to come to the Bible to find any real meaning. If you belong to the school of “no God, world just a chance accident, material is all there is”, then love is just an odd jumbling of the molecules in the body, something that somehow in millions of years has become a genetic oddity. But John challenges the world and says, “You want to know what love is all about? Then look at Jesus Christ! He, the perfect, sinless Son of God laid down his life for us very imperfect sinners, so that our sin could dealt with in such a way that justice is satisfied, and we can be forgiven and even brought into a living relationship with God Himself. This is a demonstration of what love is all about.” This brings me to conclude that real, genuine love is ‘selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others’. Watch a mother’s feelings towards her small child: selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards her child. See a young man who has fallen head over heels in love with a young woman: selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards her!
And the model for that love is Jesus. But it doesn’t just stop in describing Jesus’ love for us, because we have now joined his family and we are becoming like him and so “we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” If he is like that, our goal is to be like that because we are becoming like him. But what does that actually mean, this laying down our lives for one another? Is that just a nice religious platitude? No, John doesn’t allow us to make it that; for him it has very practical outworkings: If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? To lay down you life for another means you put others first. The apostle Paul writes, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4)
It has been this outlook that has stirred Christians through the ages to stand up for others, to care for the weak and the poor or as one writer put it speaking about the activity of the Church down through the ages, it was known for its “care of widows and orphans, its alms houses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies and so on.” Yes, down through the ages it has been the church that has worked into society providing the things that today the Welfare State tends to provide. When there was no Welfare State, when no one particularly cared for the needy, it was the Church who stepped forward, expressing the love of Jesus to his world.
But let’s apply this to our own church group, for it must have very practical outworkings right on our doorstep otherwise it is mere words. If there are people who come in with real physical or financial needs, how do we look at them? Do we leave it to the ‘church administration’ to do something or does compassion move us to provide when we see need? Of course it is very easy to say, “Well here in the Western world there is no real need because the State provides for the really needy.” Is that always so? Are there people in your congregation who cannot do things they would like to do, because of lack of funds, things you can do because you do have the funds? What does love say?
Are there opportunities just waiting there, for us to bless young people who would love to enter some particular career but don’t feel they can afford it? Is there someone yearning to set up a small business but just don’t have the funds to do it? Yes, we not have the chronically poor with us, but we may have those not so well off as us whose lives are restricted because of that, restricted in ways that we could deal with. The difficulty here is getting people to open up and share such needs or desires, and that only comes about in a loving, caring, accepting and compassionate community of God’s people, where each one feels sufficiently secure in the love of those around them, that they feel they can open up and be honest. There is the real challenge.
But the big challenge to all of us is to make love real, not just something we talk about: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (v.18) The apostle Paul in 1 Cor 13 says we might have various spiritual gifts but if we don’t have love we are just like a noisy gong. John goes further than that and challenges us to ensure we don’t just talk about love, but make sure that our actions reflect love and flow from love, and that we are thus being truthful. If we say we have love but don’t show it through our actions we are not telling and living the truth. Beware!