This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18, NIV)
There are passages of Scripture that I read, and they leave me completely unable to understand Christians who never lift a finger in service to their brothers and sisters. People tell me that they love Jesus, but they never do anything for the good of others. I can’t find any place in the Bible that reflects that kind of passivity.
We have probably all heard those sermons where the preacher has talked to us about the meaning of love. We know the various Greek words. We can call to mind various metaphors and word images that festoon the pulpit talk that we preachers use when trying to get a point across.
Here, in the lectionary this week, we get it straight and simple.
Do you want to know the meaning of the word “love” for Christians? Jesus Christ died for you. Go and do the same for others. That is love.
Do you want to know the meaning of the word “love”? Let me show you the cross. That is love. It is self-surrendering action.
It is more than most of us can hear or bear, so the the epistle writer gives us an easier problem. You are not ready to die for your brother or sister? Okay. Put your money where your mouth is. You say you love your neighbor. Show me the money.
If love is laying down our life for another, then how can we possibly say we have love — that we even know what love is — when we have the means to help a brother or sister in need and close up our heart against our fellow Christian?
The point here cuts right to our hearts if we have any ability at self-examination, but it also points to something of crucial importance about Christianity.
Our faith is not about merely believing the right things. It is about action. We cannot claim to love Jesus and sit on our hands. It simply is not possible.
Jesus said he was giving us a new commandment: Love each other. Let all of us who call him Lord strive to obey and pray for faith to do so.