Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. – 1 John 3:18 ESV
Life change. That’s really a big part of what John seems to be stressing in his letter. What we believe should impact how we behave. Who we are (children of God) should significantly alter what we do. And John focuses on one specific outcome of our relationship with Christ: our love for one another. After all, the world goes out of its way to hate us, just as it hated Jesus. But we are to love one another. We have passed from life to death, from being dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) to new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:5). If we fail to love, it is as if we are still dead, exhibiting the characteristics of our former spiritual lifelessness. The dead don’t love. The dead can’t love. But we are alive in Christ because “he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16 ESV). And as a result of that life-giving, new-creation kind of love, we have the capacity to love others – even to the point of laying down our lives for them just as Jesus laid down His life for us. Christ’s love for us was tangible and visible. He gave His life. He laid it all on the line. So for us to claim to love one another, we will have to give proof of that love in tangible, visible ways. John says, “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?” (1 John 3:17 ESV). In other words, how can you claim to have the love of God abiding in you if you can’t seem to express love to someone else whose need could be met by your surplus? James points out the absurdity of that kind of lifestyle when he writes, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16 ESV). The old saying, “talk is cheap” is so true. Words that aren’t backed up by action are meaningless. John gives us two pairs of words. He says, we are not to love in word or talk. The word for “talk” can actually be translated “tongue”, as in the muscle inside our mouth. It is out tongue that produces words. In the same way, it is truth that produces deeds. The truth concerning Jesus and His transforming power in our lives shows up as actions that reflect our new nature. We are able to love others because we have been loved by Him.
John reminds us that our belief in the name of Jesus, as the Son of God and our Savior from sin, coupled with our love for one another provide evidence of our relationship with God. We abide in Him and He abides in us. It is His Spirit within us that enables us to walk the talk. He helps us turn truth into action, and we get to see the love of God perfected or completed (1 John 2:5). As the Spirit enables us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, it reflects God’s love flowing to us and through us to others. It doesn’t dead end with us, but continues on to others as we act as conduits through whom His love flows.
But the love we are to share is far more than some kind of emotional or sentimental feeling. It is not to be self-seeking or reciprocal in nature, demanding payback or expecting love in return. The kind of love we are called to show others is radical and not like anything this world has ever seen. Paul describes it this way: “
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
– 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT
We are to love in the same way that He loved us. And when we do, others will see it and know that we are His disciples. Why? Because that kind of love can’t be faked. It isn’t natural or normal. It’s not of this world. It comes from a different source. It’s full of life, not death. It builds up, instead of tearing down. It it other-focused rather than me-centered. It’s measurable, meaningful, tangible, helpful, and incredibly hopeful. When we walk the talk and love as He loved, we can know that He lives within us and He is in the process of transforming us, through His power and in His timing.