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True (Christian) Love - 1 John 3:16-18

Christian love for Christ is proven by the provision of one another's needs. The absence of such works of love are strong evidence of the lack of salvation.

John 3:16-18, 23; Acts 2:42-47; Ephesians 5:25-33; James 2:14-17;

Aug 31, 2014 12:00 AM

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[16] By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. [17] 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? [18] Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18 ESV)

One of the most obvious truths in American culture, based upon what we hear in popular American music, is this: Hardly anyone has any idea what the word “love” really means.  In rock music, love has been dumbed down until it has become the equivalent of seduction for the purpose of sex.  Love is an emotion that makes us happy.  And consequently, when the happiness subsides, the so-called love soon follows.  Here are some quotes concerning the nature of love:

"To be in love is merely to be in a state of perceptual anesthesia." - H.L. Mencken
"Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness." - Oliver Wendell Holmes
"Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired." - Mark Twain
"We're all a little weird, and life's a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love." — Dr. Seuss

And then there is this statement:
"Love is more than three words mumbled before bedtime.  Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day." - Nicholas Sparks

That, I believe, is the love which the Scriptures teach us we must have for one another as Christians.  It has nothing to do with emotion or hormones.  It is a command from God to be obeyed by us.  The motivation behind such brotherly love comes from at least three things:

1.    Duty as faithful followers of the Lord Jesus
2.    Gratitude for the undeserved love we have received from God
3.    The Holy Spirit

Duty drives us to love the brethren.  We call Jesus “Lord”.  We call fellow believers our brothers and sisters.  If the Lord Jesus loves our brothers and sisters, logic and duty should drive us to love them also.  But love for the brethren is commanded of us.  We have no option in this matter.  Our Lord has spoken, repeatedly, in this regard, and we as loyal subjects to our King must submit our wills to His and love those whom He loves.

And how has He loved us and them?  The text tells us that the actions of Jesus Christ on behalf of His own are the definition of supernatural love: He laid down his life for us.  Even more, Paul tells us He laid down His life for the ungodly.  More than that, He laid down His life for His enemies.  So if Christ has loved us while we were still His enemies, certainly it is reasonable that we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

If the sinless Son of God thought it was needful and right for Him to love us to the point of crucifixion for our sakes, should we not logically and reasonably be willing to do the same, we who most certainly are not sinless?  We have a duty and an obligation as disciples of Christ to love those whom He has supremely loved by giving up His own life for their sakes.

Secondly, gratitude should drive us to love our fellow believers.  We and they share a common salvation that was effected toward us by God’s love.  God loved the world and gave His Son for us.  It was love that moved God to love the unlovely, to send His Son to die for the ungodly, to save us by the shedding of His blood for our sakes.  This is how the love of God is defined for us: through the substitution of the Son of God for the sons of God.  

And it is all by the mercy and grace of God.  We understand we have done nothing to deserve this kind of treatment from a holy God.  On the contrary, we have given Him every reason to reject us forever.  And yet, somehow, He has chosen to save us in order that He might make us not merely citizens of the eternal kingdom, but members of the household of God, and co-heirs of the universe with His Son.  How did this happen?  The love of God made it happen.  And He made it happen to you!  And me!  Should not our gratitude for the grace and mercy and pity that has been shown to us move us to show mercy and love to our brothers and sisters in our like precious faith?

Thirdly, in addition to duty and gratitude, God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit compels us to love one another.  Certainly, if the Spirit of God is the agent of our conviction of sin and the giver of repentance and faith, surely now that we have been born again and have become children of God, the Spirit of God will move us to a hatred of sin and a godly life.  And according to John, one of the most prominent evidences of a regenerated life is love for one another.  We cannot help ourselves.  The children of God love the children of God.  This is an automatic consequence of being indwelt by the Spirit of God.

But . . . Love for the brethren isn’t automatic, is it?  Yes, there is a Spirit-inspired affinity toward other Christians which we all possess.  We feel a familial love toward one another because we are in fact the family of God.  But loving the brethren is not automatic.  That is why the Spirit of God moved the writers of Scripture to command it of us repeatedly throughout Scripture.  We have been commanded to love one another specifically because we do not automatically do so.  It requires an act of the will:

"Love is more than three words mumbled before bedtime.  Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day."

Love is work.  It requires us to act.  And it is specifically required of us toward each other, toward our fellow Christians.  But in our text today, John doesn’t just tell us we ought to love one another.  He shows us how we may be deceiving ourselves into thinking we love one another when we really don’t.  Look again at 1 John 3:16.

[16] By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

None of us have any problem with that statement.  Christ died for us.  We ought to be willing, if necessary, to die for one another.  Jesus said that is the greatest degree of love, to lay down one’s life for ones friends.  And I believe we all feel as though if the circumstances were such that we could save the life of a fellow believer by taking a bullet for him, or by sacrificing our own lives in some other manner for their sake, we would do it.  At least we think we would be willing to do so.

But John doesn’t stop there.  In some ways, he makes our love for one another more difficult than giving up our own physical lives for one another.  Notice what he says:

[17] 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?

It is a rhetorical question.  If my Christian brother is in need of something I have and I withhold that from him in his hour of need, how is it possible that I am a Christian?  The answer is, it is not possible.

At the very beginning of the New Testament church, this kind of selfless love among the brethren was put on display.  It was one of the first fruits of the Spirit in their lives corporately.  We read this in Acts 2.  The apostles have just led the very first evangelistic crusade meeting in Jerusalem where they spoke in the languages of all the different nationalities that had gathered there for the celebration of Pentecost.  Verse 41 says there were about 3,000 souls added to the church that day.  Then Luke records this for us:

[42] And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [43] And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. [44] And all who believed were together and had all things in common. [45] And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. [46] And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

They were not only concerned about the apostles’ teaching.  They did not find doctrinal correctness to be the sum total of the Christian life.  They were concerned for one another’s physical well-being.  They spontaneously loved one another practically, not just theoretically, even to the point of selling their extraneous belongings in order to meet the real and critical needs of the poor among them.  That is real Christianity, not just Christianity in name only.

Look with me for a moment at Ephesians 5.

[25] Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. [28] In the same way husbands should love their wives

Now if Paul had stopped there, we could understand him to mean all Christian husbands should sacrifice their lives and die for the sake of their Christian wives.  The text says Jesus gave Himself up for the Church and husbands should love their wives in that same way.  

Well, not exactly.  In fact, Paul commands the Christian husband to do something that in some cases is harder than dying for his wife.  He must live for his wife.  Yeah, I know how that sounds, but that is what Paul and John are talking about.  Here Paul continues by saying

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, [30] because we are members of his body. [31] “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” [32] This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. [33] However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:25-33 ESV)

Jesus Christ did more than die for our sakes.  Even now He nourishes and cherishes us as His people, the members of His body.  There is more to His love for us than His death for us.  The love of Christ for us continues even to this very moment.  He continues to live for us and intercede to the Father for us.  He continues to this day His work of sanctification in us, preparing us for the day when the Bride and the Bridegroom meet.  Jesus is working at His love for us even as I speak.  

In a sense, it is easy for us to say we would die for each other.  But are we willing to live for each other?  Do we love one another every day, even when it is difficult, even when we are not all that lovable?  That is why John finishes his thought by saying:

[18] Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18 ESV)

There is more to Christian love than saying the three words: “I love you.”  Or the more socially acceptable phrase, “I love you in the Lord”.  Genuine Christian love is more than word and talk.  It requires action and truth or sincerity.  Real love, not just duty.  Not just obligation.  But rather true concern for one anothers' needs.  The apostle James wrote these words:

[14] What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?

Is it enough for someone to simply SAY he is a believer in Jesus Christ?  Are we supposed to take such a person’s word for it when he says, “Yes, I love the Lord Jesus and I love the brethren”?  What should be another rhetorical question is answered by James with an illustration:  

[15] If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, [16] 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? [17] So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17 ESV)

Any faith that claims to be Christian that is not accompanied by love for believers, by concern for their physical well-being, is not Christian faith.  It is some kind of false religion that has been influenced by Christian teaching.  But it is not Christian.  Such a faith is not saving faith.  It is a dead faith, a wasted faith that only produces a superficial religious person, but not a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Yet again, I remind you of the words of Jesus on the day of judgment when He separates the sheep from the goats.  He tells the sheep, the true believers, to enter into their final and eternal rest with Him in the heavenly kingdom specifically because their religion was real.  It was real because it was characterized by compassionate love for other believers.  They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the imprisoned and the sick . . . They loved the brethren.  They loved one another.

John has set up a contrast for us.  He says the reason why we know what love is is because the Lord Jesus put it on display for us when He died for us.  And certainly if Christ was willing to die for the likes of us, we should also be willing to die for each other.  And we might be quick to acknowledge our willingness to do so.  Or we may think within ourselves we would die for one another.

But the fact is we struggle with loving each other in a much lesser fashion than dying for one another.  I have what you need of this world’s stuff, and I struggle to part with it for your sake!  In fact, I am so maxxed out financially, taking care of me and my wants, that I can’t possibly take care of you too.  Sorry, but you’re just going to have to look elsewhere to get your needs met, Brother/Sister.  Maybe you should check out the welfare office.  I’ll pray for you.

James calls such a person an unbeliever.  Their so-called Christian faith is dead.  John says it is impossible for true saving faith to reside in such a person.  The true believer sacrificially loves other believers.  And by sacrificially, I don’t mean that they necessarily die in the place of others.  But they sacrifice their stuff, or as John says, the world’s goods, for the sake of others who are truly in need.

We have needs within this congregation.  I believe the Lord has given us the means by which to meet those needs.  It may require selling something on eBay, or canceling a subscription, or stopping some unnecessary service.  It may mean brown-bagging it for a week or a month instead of eating at Panera Bread or buying that daily Starbucks coffee.  Or it may simply require writing a check from your retirement or savings account.  

So my question to you is, Is your Christian love for one another nothing more than talk?  Or is it marked by genuine acts of compassionate love and concern for your fellow believers in their times of need?

If not, you need to take a hard look at these texts we’ve studied today.  

[23] And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. (1 John 3:23 ESV)

"Love is more than three words mumbled before bedtime.  Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day." - Nicholas Sparks


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