By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16)
There is a kind of love that indicates that we are Christians. It is a love that is the opposite of the world’s hate. Hate is a taker. Hate is a murderer. Hate takes a life. Hate wants the worst for the other person. Hate wishes the other person wasn’t here. Hate is darkness. Hate is evil.
But love…love doesn’t take; it gives. Love doesn’t do the worst for the other; it wants the best for them. Love will sacrifice its own good for the joy of the other. This kind of love is preeminently displayed in what Jesus did on the cross. O what love that is! Calvary love. God bleeding for us. God suffering for us. God dying for us. He laid down his life for us. He died for our sin and died for our shame and died for our eternal salvation. Don’t talk about sentimental love that only loves in words and feelings. Go to the cross and see what real love is. Bloody. Selfless. Exhausting. Total.
Then John adds, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16)
The mark of a true Christian is someone who has embraced, by faith, love’s ultimate expression in Christ’s death for us. By God’s design, this love in us becomes God’s love through us. That’s just the way he’s made it. Is it so hard to believe God would engineer it that way? The God who made water turn into ice and larvae turn into butterflies and winter turn into spring, can’t he engineer his love to turn haters into lovers? Turn takers into givers? Murderers into martyrs? God’s love in us changes us fundamentally. The Spirit does this through regeneration. His love will produce that same kind of self-giving love as a character quality of the genuine Christian.
The unbeliever lives with self at the center:
But salvation is the experience of God’s love which turns the taker into a giver:
The hater becomes a lover.
“So, Pastor Steve, what do I have to do to know I’m a Christian? What’s the bare minimum?”
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? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)
It would be easy to affirm the central message here and think, “OK, don’t hate or murder. Love. Sounds good. Let’s go.” John doesn’t let us love in general. He takes us down to the street level. If anyone has the world’s goods. If we have material means. And sees his brother in need. It doesn’t say what kind of need and it doesn’t say how he has come to need it. Circumstances. Tragedies. Personal choices. All it says is, brother in need. “Brother” I take to mean primarily a fellow Christian, but Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan draws a wide circle.
If a Christian sees a fellow Christian in need and closes his heart to him; turns his back; feels no compassion for him in his distress; wishes him well without arrowing out to him; how does God’s love abide in him?
God’s kind of love doesn’t move away from need; God’s love doesn’t arrow inward, it arrows outward. Jesus saw the widow burying her son and felt compassion. He saw Martha and Mary weeping and he wept with them. He saw the masses of people and felt compassion for them. Even sinners caught in their sin, like the woman caught in adultery, Jesus’ heart never “closed” to them. It did the opposite. It wanted to meet the need. It arrowed out to them. That’s agape love. That’s divine love. When God’s love is in us, it does the same thing. It arrows out to the need. Compassion leads to action. Maybe we call that “compaction.” Compassion in action. Compaction. How is your compaction? Outward arrows.
This is what John calls “love in word or talk.” Lots of people talk about loving and you’ve probably heard sermons about loving one another. So we are courteous to others as we leave church and that’s about it. How do you know who actually loves? Words? Words are cheap. Words are easy. Lots of people talk about love and compassion and mercy ministry. But then your neighbor has a need or someone in your world is hurting. That is the moment. What do you feel? Does your heart close or open? Do you arrow outwardly or inwardly? These moments, more than a thousand sermons on loving, say more about where we are spiritually. Do we talk or do we do? Which way do our arrows orient?
The Downward Arrow of God’s Love is the Key
The Christian message is not to go out and try harder. The point of this message isn’t to go out and try to love more. This is and must be rooted in the gospel of God’s love to us. The outward arrows from my life show that I actually get the gospel. I get this amazing love of God in Christ. I get how I don’t deserve it. I get God’s unmerited love to me. When the downward arrow is believed and treasured, when it humbles me, when God’s grace amazes me, it changes the direction of the arrows of my life off of me and toward others. This frees me from bitterness and anger and victimization. I am free to love others in the way God has loved me. It is this kind of love that Jesus refers to in John 13:35, By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. This creates powerful and visible expressions of the gospel. This may mean forgiving a betrayal; sacrificing some purchase to meet a material need; a willingness to step into people’s messy lives; the hospitality of home or car or whatever. These are examples of practical love; street level love; in truth and deed kind of love.
Take a moment and do a little self-inventory. When was the last time you sacrificed time, money, or personal energy to involve yourself in the messy, practical needs of another Christian or anybody? Would we all agree there are many needs around us? Has the vertical love of God created a kind of love for others that moves past just words to actual involvement? If not, why not? I’ll bet you know of some need. You maybe have even prayed for it as a half-measure to appease your conscience about actually getting involved.
Take the step. Walk across the room. Make the call. Write the check. Extend the hand. Offer your help. Get involved. Arrow down means arrows out.
 See Gal. 6:10
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ©2013 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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