11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life,because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
16 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. 17 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? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
(1 John 3:11-18 NIV)
In today’s passage, John continues his reminder of practicing what we say we believe. John has given us the doctrine of living in fellowship with one another (chapter 2, verses 18-27). Now John focuses on practicing that doctrine in our everyday walk (chapter 2 verse 28 through chapter 3 verse 24). Our faith practice is our test!
In our last passage, John laid out the test of righteousness – do we demonstrate that we love God by obeying His commands?
In today’s passage, John reminds us of the love test – do we love other Christ followers in word and in deed, or do we just say we do?
Notice that the previous passage and today’s passage follow a familiar passage and order that Jesus taught:
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
(Matthew 22:34-40 NIV)
John reminds us that we have heard this command to love one another “from the beginning”. For us, that refers to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew. For the Jewish believers in John’s early churches, the meaning ran deeper, all the way back to God’s teaching to the Israelites found in Leviticus 19:18.
John reminds us that love is reflected in both our actions and our attitudes. Cain killing his brother was an action of jealousy, not of love. And hatred, John says, is an attitude of murder, not of love.
These are hard tests! But John offers hope and encouragement in verse 16, where he reminds us that Jesus laid down His life for us. And in the same breath, John says we should do the same thing for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
John uses Jesus’ example to test our love for God by the way we love other Christ followers. If we see a brother or sister in Christ in need, and we have the ability to help them out, we demonstrate our love toward them by meeting that need.
John admonishes us to love as Christ loved. In verse 18, John summarizes true love so clearly and succinctly:
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
May we demonstrate love as a verb, with action and kindness toward others. May there be tangible evidence beyond our words that love is sacrificial, genuine, and true, just as Christ demonstrated His love for us. We perform these acts of kindness not to earn God’s favor, but out of gratitude for the example He set for us.