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Remember, John points to the sacrifice of Christ, on behalf of God’s children, as the measure by which love for “brothers and sisters” should be shown. As fellow believers—as God’s children—we Christians today are called to the same sacrificial love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. The contrast between those who “know” Christ and those who “claim” to know Christ directs us to share in this sort of sacrificial love among our brothers and sisters, specifically, loving our family of believers in the same way as we would act on behalf of members of our own household in an ideal state.
That is what John tells us is the differentiating factor between us Christians and the rest of the world. We give of ourselves to “a brother or sister in need” just as Christ gave of Himself for us, caring for one another as fellow believers in Christ just as we would care for our own blood relatives if we loved them the way God wants us to love. Throughout this entire epistle, John’s use of those familial references in terms of loving one another drives home the kind of love he pictures within the church. Verse 3:17 puts that love into tangible perspective, tying the emotional connection among believers with an active outcome of love for Christ: if we love God, then we love each other, and if we love each other, we take care of each other. As members of God’s family, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we sacrifice for one another.
What does that mean? John tells us plain as day in 3:17: if there are those among us who are in need, and we are not taking care of them, then we are not doing what is right, and we are not living in the love of Christ. And if we are not loving each other, if we are not caring for our brothers and sisters, then how can we call ourselves children of God?
Why is doing “what is right” so intrinsically linked with the concept of “loving one another”? Simply put, it does not come naturally for us. Our instinct is not to sacrifice ourselves for the wellbeing of other people. We have to make conscious decisions to go out of our way for others. Remember, that’s a key difference between “real love” and “romantic love.” Let’s look back at The 5 Love Languages and reconsider those three distinguishing factors that make “falling in love” different from “real love,” and let’s redefine that “real love” in terms of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember...
- Falling in love is not an act of the will or a conscious choice. Loving our brothers and sisters in Christ is a conscious choice to be willing to act.
- Falling in love does not require discipline or conscious effort on our part. Loving our brothers and sisters in Christ requires discipline and conscious effort on our part.
- Falling in love is not concerned with fostering the personal growth of the other person. Loving our brothers and sisters in Christ is about fostering the personal growth of the people around us.
Now let’s look just a little further into the usage of this word love as John uses it. Strong’s Concordance tells us the word love in 1 John 3:18 is a verb that means, when it deals with other people, “to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of.” The original Greek word here, when John is talking about the way we are to love one another, is agapaō, and if you use Strong’s Concordance, then the entry you’ll want to look at is G25. In 1 John 3:16, when John is talking about the kind of love Jesus Christ has for us, he uses a different word for love, agape—which is Strong’s G26, if you’re into that—and it means “affection, good will, benevolence, brotherly love.”
Here’s something else to think about: in the King James Version of the Bible, the word agape is translated as love 86 times, and it is translated as charity 27 times. Now, remember what John was just talking about in 1 John 3:17? “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?” Does it sound like John might be talking a bit about charity there?
Let’s put the pieces together. When John talks about the love between us as brothers and sisters in Christ, he uses love as a verb, as something we do and as an action we take. When John talks about the love Jesus Christ has for us, he uses love as a noun, as something given to us, and that secondary translation of love as charity gives us a pretty big clue about what Jesus Christ is giving us in His love for us, doesn’t it?
When we look at 1 John 3:16, how did Jesus love us? “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” How are we to love each other? “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” What does it mean to lay down our lives for each other? From verse 3:16 to verse 3:17, John goes straight from Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to the kind of sacrifice we are to make: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need…” Hint, hint.
Let’s go back to The 5 Love Languages one more time. Remember how the author was saying one of the reasons “in love” isn’t “real love” is that “falling in love” is effortless? Remember the kinds of things we do for each other in a relationship when we’re in that tingly, starry-eyed, electrostatic love phase? Indeed, the author writes, “the instinctual nature of the in-love experience pushes us to do outlandish and unnatural things for each other.”
Get those words: outlandish and unnatural things. Women, how many of you have waited up all night long for someone to get off work just so he could call you and say good night? Men, how many of you have spent an entire vacation searching one gift shop after another after another to find a little souvenir key chain with her name on it? Women, how many of you have spent hours and days and months creating a photo collage of all your happiest memories together to give to him on his birthday? Men, how many of you have surprised her with a Jacuzzi suite for Valentine’s Day when you couldn't even afford to buy gas for your truck? Women, how many of you have spent all week planning the perfect meal to prepare for him to celebrate his new job? Men, how many of you have spent a whole weekend helping her move into her new apartment? Women, how many of you have sat through every one of his baseball games even though he’s sitting on the bench with his arm in a sling all season? Men, how many of you have followed her endlessly around the mall while she searches for just the right shoes to go with a purse she hasn’t even picked out yet?
Love That Takes Effort
The things we do for each other when we are in love are “outlandish and unnatural,” and we don’t even think twice about doing them, do we? Why do we do them? “Because I love him,” or “because I love her.”
But when we begin to grow together and mature in our relationship, when we move beyond that in-love phase, then it starts to take some work, doesn’t it? After a while, we look back at all those crazy things we did for each other when it was all fresh and new and exciting, and we just laugh and shake our heads. After a while, it just doesn’t come so naturally to keep doing those crazy things for each other.
Sure, we spend the evening preparing dinner for him and cleaning up after him. Yeah, we spend Saturday morning working on her car so she can get to work on Monday. When we were dating and we were high as a kite on the in-love feeling, we never would’ve given a second thought to all the things we did for each other. But now that we’ve been married for a few years, it seems like we spend an awful lot of time doing things we’d really rather not be doing. Sometimes, we stop thinking of those actions as expressions of love for each other. We start thinking of them as things we have to do for each other. We start thinking of our actions in terms of obligations and consequences.
For example, men: if you don’t get her car fixed this weekend, then you’re going to have to get up early on Monday morning to drive her to work, and then you’re going to have to leave your job early to go pick her up and take her to go pick up the kids, and then you’re going to have to hear her complain the whole time about her piece-of-junk car and how she needs a new one you can’t afford, since you keep leaving work early to drive her and the kids around, and so on and so forth.
And for example, women: if you don’t have dinner ready for him before he gets home, then you’re going to have to try to cook around him and pay attention to him while he’s stomping around in the kitchen getting cleaned up and telling you about his day, and then it'll be late and you’ll have to clean up the dishes by yourself because he’ll already be getting ready for bed and you haven’t even had a chance to sit down yet because you’re still getting caught up from the day, and on and on.
Why do we do these things? “Because I have to, or else…”
How many of us do Christianity like that? How many of us view our actions in terms of obligations and consequences? How many of us go to church and read the Bible “because I have to, or else”? And the thing is, we don’t have to. God isn’t going to make you love Him. We have to choose to love Him.
When it comes to any of our relationships, after the honeymoon is over, we can move on to the next relationship, or we can choose to keep loving. We can put in the work it takes to get down to real love. We develop the discipline and the conscious effort to think of our loved ones instead of ourselves, and we give them our time and our material possessions because we love them.
Men, your wife would really rather just come home and take a long, hot bath and curl up with the book she bought a year ago and hasn't had a chance to read yet, but she lays down her life for her husband and she takes care of you because she loves you. Women, your husband would really rather get up early on Saturday morning and go pack up the cooler and disappear down by the creek with a fishing pole and some peace and quiet for the day, but he lays down his life for his wife and he takes care of you because he loves you.
Brothers and sisters, when we have kids, we’d really rather do just about anything else in the entire world besides sit through the movie Frozen ever again, but we lay down our life for our children and we take care of them because we love them. If we have a brother or a sister or a cousin or a niece or a nephew who hasn’t found Christ yet, we’d really rather not get out of bed in the middle of the night when they call to say they got kicked out of the bar again and they’re too drunk to drive home, but we lay down our life for them and we take care of them because we love them.
And when a brother or a sister in the church is going through a hard time with a job or a marriage or a relative or a tragedy, we’d really rather just go home and pray that someone else will be there for them because we have enough hard times with our own jobs and marriages and relatives and tragedies, but we lay down our life for our brothers and sisters in the church and we take care of them because we love them.
Do you see the kinds of sacrifices we make for each other when we love each other? That’s the kind of love John is talking about when he’s drawing on these terms like brothers and sisters. We are God’s children, and if we love Him, then we love each other. And like John says, it’s not about words or speech. The word love that we have for one another in Christ is a verb, not a noun. Our love is an action, not a feeling. It takes discipline. It takes conscious effort. It is a choice to be willing to act. It means taking the time to know a love that grows out of reason and choice—to “begin the hard work of learning to love each other without the euphoria.”
The real miracle of the matter is when we realize—after we've been making a point to give of ourselves, to sacrifice our ego bit by bit, to ask the Lord to change our hearts and help us to love—that we do want to do these things. We do feel like preparing a meal for our family even when we're tired. We do want to help wash dishes and vacuum the floor so someone else doesn't have to do it all. We're glad to help our spouse shovel snow, and you know what? We'll shovel the neighbor's walkway while we're at it. Take the action, and the feeling will follow. The adoration, the comfort and companionship, the oneness of a shared life, of purpose as a couple... they can only grow deeper and more meaningful when a relationship is based on Christ's self-sacrificing love.
It just takes work. It means keeping the love alive after the honeymoon is over. It is a commitment to do the “outlandish and unnatural” things for our families and for our brothers and sisters—to keep doing those things because that is the “real love” we can show for our Father in Heaven. It is the true grit to keep loving our spouses well, long after the initial pleasures have worn off. It is the effort it takes to move from "in love" to "real love" and to stay there... for better or worse.
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