Love is more than affection and kind feelings. That was the emphasis of a song that came out many years ago by Don Francisco titled, “Love is not a Feeling.” The song speaks of love being a verb, something that was acted out towards others. His example? Jesus Christ!
Love is the heart of life revealed to us by God through Jesus Christ. From His life and teaching, we learn to love. So what does this look like? In 1 John 3:16-24, we read: “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. 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? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
When John writes in verse 23, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us,” what does this look like?
How is love lived out? If we are unsure, it is difficult to model it and easy to pervert it. When we believe and live it out so clearly others see Christ. But if we allow the world to redeﬁne God’s Word and change the intent, it can lead to the destruction of its inﬂuence in our lives. The question before us is this: How is love lived out?
Let me suggest a few ways, each important in developing community and being an example of an unbelieving and lost world.
Love begins with listening. In 1 John 3:11, John says, “This is the message you have heard.” We should not assume people actually listen or hear each other. What is sometimes said and what is received can be different. Our hearing can be selective, that is, we hear what we choose to hear and tune out that which we choose to ignore. We have all experienced in our relationships how listening fails. I would say this is especially true in our relationship with God.
To allow God’s love to be lived out in and through us, we must cultivate the discipline of listening. Like our relationship with God, our human relationships require quiet time. It requires us to close our mouths and give our attention to the other person. Living and loving, in relation to God and to others, requires a listening ear.
It also suggests an ethic that is higher than cultural expectations. 1 John 3:13 says, “Don’t be surprised if the world hates you.” Think of how we are called to live. Deuteronomy 6:5 combined with Leviticus 19:18 created the ultimate purpose statement, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. We know this in the New Testament as the “Golden Rule.”
In John 13:34-35, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. This is something way beyond what we can do on our own.
Jesus went above and beyond in His Sermon on Mount. His teaching brought an ethical dimension of faith. We are to live as light and salt, to practice piety in secret, to love our enemies, and to pray for those who abuse us. If we love only those who love us, we have done nothing, for even the unbelievers do that. This makes our faith an extraordinary faith.
And so the world hates us because it can’t understand us. Love calls for faith not just talked about but lived out. This kind of love is lived out in every aspect of life. In family life, parents sacriﬁcially give of themselves for their children; in friendships as we offer the best of ourselves for the good of others, and in prayer groups and service groups, we become thousands of points of light in a dark world.
We are also called to avoid the error of human pride. Again, John writes, “Do not be like Cain . . . his actions were evil.” This takes us back to Genesis 4 where division already existed. The first two brothers could not even worship together. The end result was tragic. Cain murdered his brother. The Hebrew word used in Genesis 4 for murdered means, “He cut his throat.”
Sadly, cut-throat Christianity happens all around us. John’s early community knew something of this as well. Notice, however, that John does not ignore the heresy within the group as a means of smoothing over the controversy. Instead, he asked that they “test the spirits.” Simply put, the test was this: Do these people profess Jesus Christ as God’s revelation to the world? If so, they could be family. If not, they were never a part of the community, and they “went out from us.” This is where we need to exercise caution here. We need to keep in mind the words of our Jesus when He said, “Be careful about removing the splinter from the eye of another when there is a log in your own.”
Lastly, we need to then follow Christ’s example. Jesus’ lived a sacrificial life. “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” As Christians, we know what not to do and we then should know what we should do. We must do what Jesus did. We are to “lay down our lives . . . and to love not only in word and tongue but in deed and in truth.”
There is a great deal at stake here. Eternity is in the balance, so we need to get it right. With Jesus Christ, there is love and forgiveness. His very identity as God’s unique Son, our personal Savior, places Him as the centrepiece of our faith.
He is our model, the example of living faith, whom we seek to follow. But even more, He is the eternal Lord of heaven and earth before whom we bow, adore, and obey. Genesis 4 says that Cain went out east of Eden to a lonely place, a place apart from God and apart from others. It was a loveless and lifeless place. It is where some choose to live even today. If that is where you are at, the move back to reconciliation is not far. It begins with repentance and moves to restoration. And Jesus Christ is the One who leads us there. “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”