“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:16-18).
How do we define the character of a Christian? What is it that sets us apart from the world of non-believers? The mark of a Christian, the defining mark of the Christian walk, is that people should be able to see Christ’s character and love in us. The love of Jesus has been revealed to us in God’s Word. The love of Christ is the measure of the love that each of us should aspire to in our lives. His perfect love is demonstrated by His amazing statement that “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). That is the highest standard of love. In Romans 8:29 we are told “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” The love Christ has for His people is the standard we should strive to attain to. It is an unreachable standard, yet we have been asked to conform to that standard, to strive toward that standard, to live with the love Christ showed us so that we can conform to His image.
We need to consider not only the life that Jesus sacrificed for us but, consider also what the sacrifice involved. To get to the point where he could die, Jesus had to plan for it. He left the glory of heaven and took on human nature so that he could hunger and get weary and, in the end, suffer and die a humiliating and painful death. Even as a child lying in the manager He knew before all-time what was to become of Him. He knew of Satan’s temptations and the hardships of His ministry. He knew of the opposition of the Jewish leaders. He knew that a once adoring people who would welcome Him shouting “Hosanna! Hossana!” would turn on Him and yell “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” just a few days later. He knew of Judas’ betrayal. He knew of the scourging, He knew of the crown of thorns. He knew the humiliation of being spit upon and ridiculed. He knew of the nails being driven into His hands and driven into His feet and the sword being thrust through His side. He knew that as He suffered on that cross those that He had walked with as His disciples, with one exception, were nowhere to be seen. He knew abandonment. He knew He would experience this excruciating and humiliating death. He had foreknowledge of this all and yet He knew why He had to endure it. Greater love has no one than this, that Christ laid down his life for his people that they may have eternal life.
Jesus would show His love in so many, many ways. As Jesus prepared to lay down His Life He displayed His love for His disciples until the very end. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1). He knew of His fate. He knew that Judas would betray Him. And yet, “he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:5). He revealed to them of His betrayal to come. He told them that as their Lord and Teacher He was to be an example to them. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14). They were to serve one another as their Lord and Teacher served them. “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:15-17). We should put emphasis on “do them”.
The Lord was troubled in Spirit and yet He was still their Lord and Teacher. He would still instruct them and prepare them for when He was to no longer be with them. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).
These passages describe the Christian character because they describe the character of Christ. These passages tell us that we need to reflect that character in our daily lives if we are to conform to the image of Christ. As Christ loved so are we to love, to reflect His love to our brothers and sisters in the faith. We need to serve others in our community as Christ attended to the needs of those He came into contact with. In our Christian walk we are to display “the fruit of the Spirit which indwells us [which] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23).
So how do we even start to reflect the love of Christ in our lives. In 1 John 3:17-18 we are told that “whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” In other words, we need to not only talk the talk we need to walk the walk. We need to not only know God’s commands but also to act on them.
We are not only to merely talk about love we are to demonstrate that love though our actions. If we have the capability to meet a brother’s needs, and do nothing to meet that need, then how can we say that we love that brother? How does the love of God abide in us? Think about this – if we cannot divide our bread with a hungry brother or sister, we certainly would not lay down our life for them. Whatever love we may pretend to have is meaningless if we are not charitable and benevolent when there is a need present. We cannot substitute talk for love because talking about meeting people’s needs instead of actually meeting them is meaningless. The individual who has the world’s possessions and yet fails to show any compassion for a fellow Christian in need demonstrates that he or she does not have God’s love abiding within.
We are called to love others as God and Jesus has loved us. To have compassion on others as God and Jesus has compassion on us. God’s grace and compassion are attributes of God and therefore Christ that we as believers can point to as examples of Their love for us. In Psalm 103 David portrays the Lord as one who grants forgiveness, brings healing, and executes justice and righteousness for all. He then cites the capstone of God’s eternal goodness by declaring, “The LORD is compassionate and merciful; he is patient and demonstrates great loyal love.” The Father’s compassion and mercy, His loyal love, were shown to us when he sent His only begotten Son to the cross to die for us.
Truly, as believers we should strive to be so concerned for the needs of our fellow believers that we stand ready to help at all times. Thus the Apostle Paul admonished the Colossian Christians: “Clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…And to these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond (Col. 3:12-13, 14).
That believers should show genuine compassion for one another is readily understandable. But should our compassion be limited only to our fellow believers? The answer is, “No.” The needs of this world are many, including food, clothing, medical care, and jobs to name a few. Are we to help meet those needs? When Jesus was challenged by “an expert in religious law” (Luke 10:25) to explain what was meant in the law of God to “love your neighbor as yourself ”(v. 28), Jesus taught through the narration of the parable concerning the good Samaritan that one’s neighbor extended to anyone who has a need. When the legal expert discerned what had been taught, Jesus challenged him saying, “Go and do the same’ much to the chagrin of the lawyer. (Luke 10:37).
May we as believers follow the Lord who is a great God, full of grace and compassion. May we heed Jesus’ challenge to be “good Samaritans.” May we follow Paul’s admonition by clothing ourselves “with heartfelt compassion” and so do our best to love our “neighbor.” Let contemplate the following. In Colossians 3:12-14 we are commanded to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
This love of God is proclaimed so thoroughly throughout Scripture that in order to understand it with our finite minds we need to contemplate it more fully in terms of the love He showed to us on the cross. We are vile, worthless sinners and He suffered and died for. Selfish, self-centered egotists and He suffered and died for us. Bigoted, hateful, blasphemers and He suffered and died for us. Sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers – and He suffered and died for all of us. There is none righteous not even one! He saw our need, our need for a savior, our need for a sacrificial lamb to atone for our sins, our need for a payment we could not meet, the payment to covers our sins. And He suffered and died for us. When dead in our sins He did not close His heart against us. Can we do any less for a brother or sister in need when we have the means to help them out or will we continue to close our hearts on them. Let us not love with word or with tongue, but with deed and truth.
The Bible does not say that we who have been saved by the blood of Jesus, at the point of our salvation, all of a sudden understand this Godly love and compassion. As with all things related to the gospel, it is “not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” 2 Corinthians 3:5 As God transforms us we come to understand love and compassion more fully because we’re tethered by faith to the one who is love, because we have sought the one who defines and loves compassion, the one who calls us to compassion.
Love and compassion are at the center of the Gospel, and as we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we see Him engaged in love, compassion and social justice actions at every turn. He feeds the hungry. He defends the oppressed. He stands up for women’s rights. He loves the outcast, the despised, the rejected, and the sinner, and calls on the rich and powerful to give their money to the poor and take care of the needs of the helpless.
The mission and message of Jesus is pretty clearly summarized in Luke 4:18-19. He wants to give sight to the blind, liberty to the captives, and deliverance to the oppressed. If we look at the actions of Jesus throughout the Gospels He did these things both spiritually and physically. Sometimes Jesus met people’s physical needs before He addressed their spiritual needs, and other times He addressed their spiritual needs first. He set an example for us. He did not tell those is need they needed to turn to the government to supply their needs and He does not expect us to do that. He told us to not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” If we have the means He said take care of that brother or sister.
In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues with which the gospel has no real concern,” and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which made a strange distinction between body and soul, the sacred and the secular.” The faithful teaching of God’s Word, the whole council of God is not inconsistent with social justice. It is the council of a loving God who hate social injustice, who hates the plight of the poor, the widow, the afflicted and the needy. Does that whole council of God not contain the God’s demand for social justice?
Is a local Church complete without understanding that the Gospel message must provide both spiritual and physical sustenance? Is a Church complete when it ignores the poorest among them? Why do some churches just feed the belly without preaching the full council of God? Filling the belly without feeding the spiritual needs of a person was not what Jesus portrayed in His ministry. Why do some churches preach the full counsel of God but do not address the physical needs of those among it? Jesus did not exemplify that either. Let’s think however of a Christian community that fills the bellies of the hungry and also their spiritual need to be saved. Social justice will never be fulfilled on this earth, only in God’s Kingdom to come and in an eternity with Him made possible through the saving blood of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. That does not mean we have the right to turn away those truly in need. Take away this as a final thought. If God and Christ loved us in word and not deed we would all be lost to an eternity in Hell.