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What do you know about love? we say it a lot: “I love you.” Husbands say it to wives, wives to husbands; children say it to parents, parents say it to children. People say it to their boyfriends and girlfriends. What does it mean? Do we mean the feelings that we have one toward another?

Perhaps love is best illustrated by the things we like to do. One of my daughter’s teachers told us: “Leah loves to write. She’d rather do that than anything else.” When we say that we love some activity, that’s what we mean.

Isn’t that also what we mean when we say that we love someone else? We don’t mean simply a feeling in the pit of the stomach. We mean–or we should mean–that we feel so strongly for that person that we would be willing to do anything for them.

Love has led people to kill or commit other crimes. Love has broken up marriages and families–all because a misguided person was willing to do anything for another person or thing. You see that unless love is motivated and guided by the love of Christ, it is not necessarily a good thing.

So how do we know real, genuine love? “By this we know love, because [Christ] laid does His life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16). Christ Jesus has provided both the motivation and the example for real, Christian, God-pleasing love. Because of Christ we know love.

Jesus’ Perfect Example

Jesus tells us: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Jesus demonstrated this not only in His death but in His life. His love led Him to do. He did not love “in word or tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18). Throughout His earthly life we are told that Jesus had compassion on the sick, the lepers, the demon-possessed, the blind, the five-thousand hungry people whom He fed, and even on the survivors of those who had died.

But His was not some social gospel geared alone toward helping people in this world. Christ’s compassion went deeper. It went to the point that He took on Himself human flesh, becoming true Man, specifically so that He could lay down His life to pay for the sins of all, thus winning for them the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.

When someone is learning a new language, one of the most effective ways of teaching new vocabulary is to illustrate the meaning of the word with a picture. So it is with the love of God. What is love? Look at Jesus: “By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16).

The extent of Jesus’ love is demonstrated in how far this love led Him. To redeem us from sin, death, and everlasting punishment He laid down His own holy life as the ransom, paying the ultimate price, suffering even the punishment of hell. That is our salvation, our motivation, and our perfect example of love. Therefore the apostle John can say: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:14).

Without Jesus we would not know true love. It is written: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). Having this love poured by God into our hearts through the Gospel, it follows that “We also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” True love exhibits itself through action, for good works are the fruit of the Spirit’s work in the heart: “We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

More Than Talk

Anyone can say, “I’ll help you.” But talk is cheap. James says: “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (Jms. 2:15f) Talk doesn’t feed anyone. Talk doesn’t clothe anyone. Talk doesn’t get out on the highways and by-ways to spread the gospel. Talk doesn’t clean the church or fill your seat at Bible Class. “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

We don’t always love as we ought. Does that mean we do not have eternal life abiding in us? No, it means that we are sinners. So is all lost? No, because we are not only sinners. We have also been justified by Christ, and by faith grasp the forgiveness which God provides.

We are sinners who know the love of Christ and who know that He laid down His life to pay for our sins. We have eternal life abiding in us, not by our strength or because our good works are so good. We have eternal life abiding in us by the grace of God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

–Pastor Joel Fleischer