1 John 3:16-18
What “Love” Means
There is probably no more misused word in the English language (or any other) than “love.” In our day, it has been reduced to sex and sentiment. And more recently, it necessitates an unconditional acceptance of the behavior of others regardless how sinful or self-destructive. It is primarily a feeling. In other words, people today have the most reductionistic and pathetic understanding of love imaginable.
If we want to know what love is, we have no further to look than John’s definition: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” In other words, if we want to know what love looks like, we need only look to Christ. And what did Christ do? He lived for others and made a practice of serving and healing others. Ultimately, he gave his life for others. Paul defines a husband’s love for his wife in precisely the same way (Ephesians 5:25-33). And I don’t think we should press the word, “brothers,” too hard. Of course, this should be our attitude towards fellow-believers, but we should also not hesitate to give our lives for anyone else. Jesus himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
“But,” you complain, “opportunities to die for others are so few and far between that we rarely get to prove such love.” Never fear. The Apostle continues: “But if anyone has this 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.” Howard Marshall writes: “The need of the world is not for heroic acts of martyrdom, but for heroic acts of material sacrifice” (NICNT, 195-6). We are called to die daily to self so that others may live. And that may very well mean financial sacrifice—and not just tithing or giving away our worn and outdated clothes to the local pantry but doing something truly sacrificial—something that may hurt but makes life for others, like Christ did for us on the cross.
Yep. That’s how the Bible defines love, and not a word about romance, sentimental feelings, and certainly not the acceptance of sinful and destructive behaviors which lead to slavery and death. John is certain that love is an action that meets needs with the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s really not that complicated, and it is sin to deceive oneself and play dumb. God wants us to lay down our lives for others—like He did.