Updated: May 8
When was the last time you were rebuked for being unloving? Was the rebuke valid? How do you know? It’s possible for a believer to have the wrong definition of love. It’s also possible for a lost person to recognize when love is missing. But we shouldn’t trust our own hearts or accept or reject the rebuke simply by evaluating the messenger (thank you for that lesson, Balaam’s donkey). The right question to ask is, “What does God say love is?”
The first parameter for love is God’s law. Here is an explanation of that parameter. Beyond that, the second boundary marker for love is the Gospel. Amen. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). To understand love, we ought to take a long look at God’s love for sinners. Sinners like us.
There are at least three lessons God’s children can learn about love from the gospel. All three lessons are found in 1 John 3:14-18.
"We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth."
The first lesson is in verse 18: Love is An Action. We easily recognize that God loves, because His behavior gave us a concrete demonstration. He laid down His life for us at Calvary. John 3:16: “God so love the world that He gave.” 1 John 4:9: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world.” God’s love in action is the justification for believers to love “in deed.” Since God’s love was demonstrated in action, His people ought to love the same way. In fact, 1 John 3:17 above says that, if what is called love has the means to act yet refuses to do so, it is not the love of God. Love that cannot be justified with specific works is not love at all. Christian love ought to be recognizable enough that the watching world, who is often very wrong about love, can identify it (John 13:35). Remember too that, when we stand before Christ after our life ends, “every man’s work shall be made manifest” (1 Corinthians 3:13). God won’t judge lilac-scented intentions, but the things done in our bodies (2 Corinthians 5:10). God’s love is clear in the Cross; our love should be clear in our behavior.
The second lesson is in who 1 John 3:14-18 says are the recipients of love: Love is Directed Toward Believers. This does not mean love is exclusively for believers; Jesus Christ’s death is sufficient not just for believers, but also for the whole world (1 John 2:2). Rather, God’s love is most identifiable between Christians. In fact, it is proof that “we have passed from death unto life.” It is also proof to the unbelieving world that we are disciples (John 13:35).
The greatest difference between any two people is between a saved person and a lost person. One is the child of God, a joint-heir with the Son, dead, buried, and raised with Christ, accepted in the Beloved, and born again from above. The other is at enmity with God, a child of wrath, dead in trespasses and sins, and a subject of the kingdom of darkness. What stands between them is the Gospel. God cautions the Romans not to weaken, cause to stumble, or destroy one of their brothers in the faith, those “for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15, 21). Believers love other believers not because we are all such lovable people, but because God sees us in Christ. Christians do good works for unbelievers (Acts 9:36; Titus 3:8) and evangelize them (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). But as we do good to all men, we are to give special priority “unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Since Christians have a favored position before God in Christ, we ought to follow His example and “be kindly affectioned one to another” (Romans 12:10).
The third lesson is in a word used in 1 John 3:17: “need.” Love is Defined by Need. Love meets needs. This word, like “harm,” is often badly defined. Like as with love itself, however, God defines what qualifies as a need. In 1 John 3:14-18, as well as in James 2:15-16, needs include basic necessities. If a fellow believer has that kind of need, we should meet it. But God has done more for us than provide our basic necessities. He has made salvation possible by properly addressing our sin through the Gospel. God did not overlook our desperate sinful condition, accepting us as we are, beautiful because we are all God’s children and a miracle of life. Neither did He adjust the Cross for factors like race, social privilege, or economic disadvantage. He did not postpone Christ’s sacrifice until the guilty people realized they needed it. He died for us because we needed our sins forgiven. In the process He both revealed the wickedness of our rebellion against Him and demonstrated grace that we could never repay.
God’s love, which gives a person what he or she needs, is the pattern for our love. We, however, fail to love in one of two ways.
1) We give people what they do not need. Apologizing to your spouse just so they will stop being angry, when you have not actually sinned, is an example. Confession and restitution are reserved for sin as God defines it. Affirming a person’s sinful choice when a rebuke is necessary is another example, as is covering over a sin with nice words, gifts, and favors instead of confession.
2) We fail to give something that God says is a need. For example, confrontation and forgiveness are the only two ways to respond when we are sinned against; grudges fail the test of love. Another example is the Biblical behavior of rejoicing and weeping with people at the appropriate times (Romans 12:15), or being quick to ask for forgiveness if you have sinned. Allowing a family member or friend to experience the consequences of their sinful choices instead of unwisely bailing them out is another.
Since the gospel deals primarily with sin, reconciliation, restitution, and fellowship, much of our love will do the same. However, God is a Father to His people, and Christ is a faithful High Priest. If you have a Biblically-defined role, it is loving to fulfill that role. The Gospel faithfully reveals God’s love for us. What remains is for all of us is to go out and live it. “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
The above article was written by Jonathan Kyser. He is a pastoral assistant at NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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