1 John 3:16-18
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 and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (NIV).
When we learn the truth and begin to practice it, we learn the obligation to love one another sacrificially (3:16b). Instead of using the worldly language of unconditional love, it is more accurate to use biblical ideas and to say sacrificial love. God teaches us that genuine love requires us to give ourselves sacrificially for the good of others.
Notice that the apostle uses the language of “ought”. He is not merely giving good advice, like “you ought to buy this brand of gasoline to keep your fuel injectors clean.” The word John selected conveys the sense of obligation or debt (cf. Matthew 18:28, 30, 34). This is a constant obligation—present tense. Whenever we encounter others in need, we have a responsibility to do what we can to help them. Remember the parable of the “Good Samaritan” that Jesus used to teach the meaning of a neighbor in need.
We have not reached a proper understanding of love until we actually give sacrificially for the good of others. You will never express love in a relationship simply by talking about it. Anyone can say “I love you.” It is another matter to do disagreeable tasks for the benefit of someone else. You will know what love means when you have given yourself for someone else. Obviously this concept is not too popular today. It requires us to put others first and to risk personal discomfort. Someone might say, “I don’t feel like doing that!” I used to respond, “You don’t have to feel like it; just do it!” However, I find that somehow dissatisfying and not really measuring up to Christ’s example. Instead, stop and count the cost, but as you do that, factor in the truth of his love for you, and let his love rule your emotions. Never allow emotions that are unregulated by redeeming grace to have a greater authority in your heart than Christ’s example and God’s word.
How is loved proved or demonstrated (3:17-18)? John answers by illustrating with a scenario that shows the absence of love (3:17). Observe the reality test: if someone is capable of meeting a need. God is not asking you to step beyond what he has equipped you to do. But that is not the problem envisioned here! Too often we try to find a way out of simple obedience by raising objections that do not in fact apply to us or the situation.
John is talking about a person who has sufficient means to help, but closes their affections. The Greek word translated pity here means the seat of the emotions, including love, sympathy, pity and compassion. Observe the conclusion: then how does God’s love remain in such a person? God’s love changes how we act toward others!
So then, John says that love requires agreement between words and actions (3:18). He urges us to close the gap between our profession (words) and our practice (actions). Genuine love, like true faith, produces works. In fact, love produces works that are difficult and strenuous to perform. As Paul wrote, We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3 CSB, my emphasis).
One of the most difficult works we are required to perform is to evaluate a situation to determine what is Biblical, what is merely my preference, and what I must choose to do for the benefit of others! This can cause a seemingly mature saint to crumple. Or it might help you stretch your faith and grow! Consider 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Love for one another is indispensable in the church (Ephesians 4:29-5:2). We may not hold back from reaching out to meet the social and spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means that every child of God must always communicate with the rest of the Father’s family in a loving manner.
Grace and peace, David