I love 1st John, it’s one of my favorite books in the New Testament. As I was reading this morning I stopped on chapter 3 verses 16 – 18. I spent some time thinking about what this passage means and thought I would share what the Lord showed me. It is a hard teaching, but one I believe the church desperately needs to apply.
As John discusses love, he says that we are to love one another (vs 11). This has been taught from the beginning, it’s Christianity 101 so to speak. As such, John says that we have assurance of our salvation because we love the brothers (vs 14). In fact, those who don’t love are said to remain in death. So, if one of the basic results of our faith is love for the brethren and we find assurance in this, it seems important to know what this love looks like practically.
Fortunately, John very clearly describes this love. It is demonstrated perfectly by Christ in that He willingly and sacrificially laid down His life for us (vs 16). That, is the incarnation of Christian love that Christ gave us, and it is the model that His followers will emulate. As if John knew that the readers, like the Apostles with Jesus, would be quick to say I will die for the brothers; He quickly shows the true status of their hearts. Just like Jesus many times before, he does this by going after their wallets!
He says that if we see our brother in physical need and could help but don’t then the love of God does not abide in us (vs 17). In other words, we have no assurance of our salvation. John says if we don’t care enough about others to help them then we do not love God. Why does he tie these two things together? Isn’t it possible to love God, but not help the hurting?
When we understand that Jesus laid down his life for us and we respond in repentance and faith God gives us a new heart. God’s love abides in that heart. God then tests the genuineness of our love by placing the poor and needy in our paths. If we have a new heart that loves God we will display that love by sacrificially giving of all that He has given us to help the hurting around us. However, if we do not have a new heart we will exhibit that by hoarding God’s blessings for ourselves. This practice of hoarding demonstrates either a lack of love for the brothers, a lack of trust in God, or both. In either case John says it illustrates the true condition of our hearts.
Certainly, we are called to care for our families and to wisely plan for the future. However, when we are so consumed with these that we ignore the needs of others we must ask ourselves, does the love of God abide in me? When we allow our earthly desires to consume the resources God graciously provides, with no thought of sacrificing for the care of others, we must ask ourselves, does the love of God abide in me? This is a teaching that I daily struggle to apply in my own life, but it is none the less the word of God and the true follower of Christ must be conformed to it.