The apostle John lays out some no-nonsense direction on how to walk in love in 1st John 3:16 – 18.
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.
How Not to Love
Not only does John tell us how we should love, he also tells us how not to love. He tells us that our love cannot be in word only. I think the old phrase “Talk is cheap” comes in here. Words can be an expression of mere sentiment, or they can provide a cover for what is truly in the heart. Agape love has to be so much more than that.
Love in Deed
If we have God’s agape love truly working in our lives, it will manifest itself in the way we extend ourselves to others. We won’t simply wish them well and go happily on our way. If they are hurting, we will move intentionally to ease their suffering. If they need help, ours will be the hand that is extended. If they are hungry, we have food to share. If they need to talk, we are there to listen. This is what love looks like in action.
Love in Truth
Kind words and beneficial deeds may not necessarily be evidences of love, however. Remember what Paul said in 1st Corinthians 13:3?
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
We can do kind things simply because we feel it is the right thing to do. We may not care about the person at all. Good deeds can also be done because we feel pressure from others to participate. We may participate in a good and benevolent project but our heart may not be in it.
This is what John means when he exhorts us to love in truth. God’s agape love must be the motivating factor behind our benevolence. Our charitable acts must spring from genuine concern for others regardless who they are or how they got into their situation. This is what it means to love in truth.
How Do We Know?
How do we know if we are loving in truth? I think we need to examine our focus. What is our motivation for doing what we do? Are we focused on what other people will think when they see us engaged in good deeds? Chances are we are being motivated by public affirmation rather than by love. Do we feel pushed to do something because of a nagging sense of guilt or obligation? It’s very likely we are merely trying to ease our conscience rather than love somebody. True love that comes from God does what it does because it is focused on the person and merely desires to help them at the root of their need. And that kind of love only comes by living in the Reign.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.