“By This We Know Love” (1 John 3:16-18)
1 John 3:16-18, “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” (NKJV).
1 John 3:16 is reminiscent of John 3:16 in that it reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus for our behalf. Yet, the 1 John passage is far more practical in its teaching as it uses the voluntary death of Jesus as a springboard for our own acts of love and service to one another. John argues, if Jesus could give His life for your sake, then should we not also be willing to give of ourselves for the sake of our brethren? John makes several points within this text worthy of our reflection in the realm of generosity.
First, not everyone is blessed with this “world’s goods.” However, “if anyone has this world’s goods” then there is a clear expectation of how they should be willing to disperse those physical blessings to those in need (1 John 3:17). Our houses, cars, farms, gardens, clothing, pantries, and material assets ought to be shared voluntarily with “the brothers” who are “in need” (3:16, 17). We should be careful of the hoarder’s or the miser’s mindset.
Second, this is not just the willingness to give the excess. Jesus did not just give away something useless. He gave His own life. Likewise, “we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). This carries with it the idea of sacrifice. Is there self-denial in your giving to others? What sacrifices are you making in your giving for the good of others?
Third, the willingness to sacrifice for the good of others is a picture of a God-like heart. The refusal to help others indicates one “closes his heart” (1 John 3:17). However, the willingness to give means “God’s love” is being diffused in us and through us and we have opened our hearts. Jesus once taught, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away” (Matthew 5:44). Next time someone “asks you” for help, ask yourself, “Is my heart closed or open?” Next time you give to the church ask yourself the same question.
Finally, our willingness to give sacrificially indicates our love is real. Talk is cheap. Love is more than just a claim. Verse 18 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Our God is a God of action. If God had merely claimed He loved His creation while refusing to rescue us from our spiritual despair, He could be labeled as a cruel God. But, God acted. Likewise, legitimate love is moved to action. James once asked, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16). Love without action is not love at all. Love, when able, looks to generously fill the needs of others. Love, Jesus taught, is a mark of discipleship (John 13:35). “By this we know love.”