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Wednesday May 20, 2020
1 John 3:16-18
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 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? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
In our passage yesterday, Christians were told that they should love one another. Remember that this was not a command as much as it was an expectation. To show what love does not look like, we read the story of Cain and Abel. No one in their right mind would argue that Cain loved his brother. Murder, by the definition that John provides us now, is the antithesis of love. Love is not taking life from another, but laying our life down for another, on their behalf. To know Jesus is to know love, because Jesus is love and He loved us. He didn’t just say, “I love you,” He didn’t send us a love letter, He declared His love by proving it with His actions.
Several years ago, we tried our hand at growing peppers and tomatoes in pots on our back patio. The packet of pepper seeds only contained a picture showing a beautifully colorful variety along with the name, “Cascabella,” which I naively assumed was the scientific name for the sweet mini-bell peppers we so enjoyed. As the peppers began to emerge, they started out yellow, then turned orange, before finally settling in to a deep, dark red. Curiously, they all stayed relatively small, not much larger than my thumb, although we kept watering and waiting for them to get big enough to slice up for our salads. After holding out another month or so, it became quite apparent that this was all they would ever be. It wasn’t until Meagan took the first big bite of a freshly picked pepper, which sent her immediately running to the kitchen for a glass of milk, that we learned that “Cascabella” peppers were not, in fact, sweet. Not only do they have a heat more akin to jalapeños, but the longer they are allowed to ripen on the vine, the hotter they become. Although it took us to the tasting stage to discover what we had actually been growing all along, had I read more carefully from the beginning, or had simply offered to take that first taste myself, I could have saved my sweet wife, for whom medium salsa is too spicy, a world of unnecessary and unwelcome pain. My words, my talk, told Meagan that the peppers were sweet, but the action of taking a bite instantly exposed that lie for what it was.
So often, when I read the chilling question “how does God’s love abide in him?” I almost defensively and reflexively recall the times and ways that other people have not loved me. Or I simply believe that these words are mostly aimed at those who are the most visibly unloving, like those “christians” of the Westboro Baptist ilk or others who berate and belittle “sinners,” whether openly in public or, most often, in hushed whispers, hiding in the shadows of the internet. Certainly this warning can’t be referring to me, could they? Sure, if I’m being completely honest, from time to time I may look down upon people who are different than me, but who doesn’t? I’m never overtly racist, or classist, or prejudiced, or discriminatory. Loving others, obviously, entails more than just not committing verbal assault, but love that never progresses beyond the point of words is no love at all. Many times I caught myself saying, “God bless you” or “I love you,” while internally thinking, “I may have to love you, but I don’t have to like you.”
Love can be spoken by words, but is only truly revealed through action. Pastor Timothy Keller wrote, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved …is what we need more than anything.” Love is not tolerance or ignorance or cheap and easy words. If I claim to love my neighbors, but I haven’t even taken the time to get to know their names, much less their needs, can I really love them? True love requires knowledge and relationship; I can’t really love someone I don’t really know.
Love is never a matter of hollow praise or a token public display, true love is costly, it comes at the price of laying down our lives. Love will cost us our pride, forcing us to acknowledge that often we are part of the problem and don’t have all the answers. To meet the needs of a brother or sister in need will cost us precious time, energy, and resources, laying aside our desires, our wants, and even our needs, on behalf of another. Jesus’ entire life was “going public” with of the love of God, and that love consists of action and truth. He showed God’s love through generous gifts to His children, gentle dealings with self-professed sinners, and firm words of rebuke to fraudulent Pharisees. Jesus knows perfectly and Jesus loves perfectly, giving us the preeminent picture of love by doing for us what we could never do for ourselves, paying the ultimate price, laying down His life on the cross for the forgiveness of sin for all who believe. May we receive, reflect, and rejoice in His love for us today.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we know love only because You love us. You are the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep, and You love us with action and with truth. Although You have given us far more than we deserve, we confess that we are often reluctant to love our brothers. Forgive our selfishness, our ignorance, and our pride. Give us Your heart of compassion and generosity towards all who are in need. Help us to take advantage of every opportunity to share the good news of Jesus in truth and in deed. We ask this in Your powerful Name, Amen.