Chapter 3:16-24 (ESV) - By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 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? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Question to consider: What does it mean to love someone “in deed and in truth?”
Throughout this writing, John has emphasized Christ’s command for the New Covenant church to sacrificially love our brothers and sisters in the faith as He has done by laying down His life for us. As someone who was an apostle to the church formed at Pentecost, John witnessed first hand what kind of love they had for one another in sharing all that they had so that no one was in need. When the Jerusalem church faced extreme poverty and famine, John also witnessed first hand the generosity of the church at Antioch who lovingly and generously helped them survive.
So John questioned how someone could love with words but not in their actions. People struggle with the idea of large denominations since many in the early church met secretly in houses, but a benefit of large denominations is the ability to meet needs of churches all over the world. I don’t put my faith and trust in secular governments or charitable organizations, but I am overjoyed at the idea of giving through the church which meets both spiritual and physical needs.
One of the criticisms of the church is that it is an inward organization when it should be outward. The idea is that instead of preaching to those in the church, we should be extending the kingdom of God by eradicating poverty and social injustice in the world. I don’t think this is an “either/or” situation, but the primary focus of the church should be inward! The Lord has given us His word, and His body and blood through communion to unite us in Christ and sustain us in the faith. The Holy Spirit also has equipped us with gifts and talents to love and serve one another to build each other up in the faith. As we are built up within the church so we go out into the world and make disciples as Christ has commanded us to do.
In the process of making disciples, we can feed the poor and stand up for the oppressed, but if our focus is to take away physical needs without the gospel, we are acting in deed but not truth, and true faith requires both. Just as we stumble in sin, so we will stumble in our ability to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. But God is greater than that which condemns us, and as John said back in the first chapter, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) So let us believe in Christ, love our brothers and sisters in the faith, and confess our sins to God when we fall short of our calling!
Dear heavenly father, we have sinned against You not only by what we have done, but by what we have failed to do in regard to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank You for giving us Your Holy Spirit who shows us how to love one another and daily conforms us to the image of Christ. Amen.