What love is – 1 John 3:11-24

We all kind of know what love is. Every Christian knows that God loves them. (He’d have to, to have given his Son to die so that you could be a Christian.) If you’ve read your Bible, you’ll know that Jesus commands his people to love one another.

Here in 1 John, John takes the command to love one another and stretches it in two directions.

  1. First, he wants you to realise how profoundly the command to love other Christians is rooted in God himself, and in your relationship to God (stretching “high”)
  2. Second, he wants you to realise how that love is to be expressed not so much in grand gestures, but in the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday (stretching “out”).

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

The world will hate Christians (v11-13)

We need to remember with John’s letter that he builds his thoughts up in layers – you need to keep going back and forth and seeing everything joined up. So 1 John 1:5 says “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.”

Now he adds to that, something of what walking in the light looks like for you and me: Read 1 John 3:11.

And last time we looked at the amazing truth that, if you’re a Christian, you’re a child of God:

  • Adopted by him, obviously; only Jesus is “begotten”.
  • But his seed is in every Christian: You are a child of God.
  • Your spiritual DNA has been altered; you’re alive in union with God himself. He lives in you; you live in him.

Romans 8:29 says “those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”

And, says John, when you see Jesus you will be like him – in particular, perfectly righteous and pure. His brother; his sister. But now that likeness is extended to love for other Christians.

Love and hate

Read 1 John 3:12.

  • Cain was evil; Abel was righteous. They were actual blood brothers, but spiritually not the same at all.
  • Cain killed Abel in rebellion against God.
  • Unbelieving people hate God – they hate his laws, and reject his rule. And they are then rejected by him.
  • But their hatred of God is expressed like Cain against Abel, they hate God indirectly through his people.

That might be the persecution of the church across the world (see the Barnabas Fund website for details). Or more simply the way you’re treated in work, by your family, or by your friends.

  • Jesus was hated and rejected on the earth too.
  • He was the representation and communication of God to humanity, and they rejected him.
  • Now that you’re the representation and communication of Christ to the people around you, you can expect the same rejection: Read 1 John 3:13.
  • This, says John, is how you spot a non-Christian.

Christians will Love Christians (v14-15)

If someone who hates a Christian is an unbeliever, it’s surely impossible for a Christian to hate another Christian? That’s the logic John is giving you. Read 1 John 3:14-15.

Why does love for Christians prove that you’ve passed from death to life? In 1 John 2:24-25 we saw that in fellowship with the Father and the Son we enjoy the eternal life he promised us. In other words, if you’re a Christian, with fellowship with the Father and the Son, your eternal life is both promised and begun!

So your union with him changes your very nature; you are a child of God. And as he loves his children, so will you. Not perfect love because we’re not perfect; but at least some.

You might think of Christians who you don’t really love or hate – you’re kind of indifferent or ambivalent. Why this absolute choice between love and hate? Because we’re family. We matter to one another. Blood flows thicker than water; spirit flows (so to speak) thicker than blood.

Active or passive?

But more than that, if you’re indifferent or ambivalent, you’ll be quite passive about someone. When you hear of someone you know falling ill, it seems a shame. When it’s someone you love, your response is totally different. You’re certainly not passive.

The reason for that is that love is always, always active. Love is an action. There is a subject and an object. Love is a force; there is always a result. Which means that where there is no action there is no love. And where there is no love, God himself is not being expressed.

And that, says John, is a test that someone isn’t a Christian. Think about your relationship with the people in this church. If there is no action, there is no love. Because love is an action. You might be a Christian, or you might not. Either way, you are working against the active love of God towards his people.

Love is more than “thoughts and prayers”

The phrase “thoughts and prayers” is often said by politicians when something bad happens – an accident, a natural disaster. But it’s equally often rejected by people who are suffering as empty sentimentality – people need actual help, real action.

At the very least, if you say you’ll pray for someone you’d better do it – else you’ve lied in a way that makes you look holy (and that just ugly hypocrisy).

But we’re being called here to love other Christians, and love is an action. What does love look like? Read 1 John 3:16. Jesus, the eternal Son of God.

  • Through whom and for whom everything was created.
  • Eternally loved and loving; appropriately worshipped in infinite holiness by creatures that could barely look on his magnificence.
  • He left the gaze and worship of angels to become human.
  • He humbled himself in his incarnation, and yet further in succumbing to death on a horrible cross.
  • And he did all that because he loved you before the foundation of the earth. He has always, always loved you.
  • And that love was expressed in action – not passive.

“So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (v16).

I like to think I’d do that, in some heroic situation. Maybe you’d like to think you’d lay down your life for another. The truth is, all too often, Christians won’t even give up their seat. Or their time. Or their money.

John won’t let you get away with thinking in hypothetical terms of some kind of imagined heroics! You’re to love others in the mundane, daily stuff. Read 1 John 3:17-18.

Help, not heroics

A number of people have put out cries for help on our church app over time. That’s a really good thing to do and I’d encourage you always to do that – we are family, and it’s good to share.

  • Replying to say someone is in your prayers is actually fine too – so long as you are actually praying.
  • But why not pick up the phone and talk to them?
  • Maybe you could offer to go round with a meal, or even just a slice of cake?! Offer to do a bit of shopping, or babysit, cut the lawn, …

Why are we so slow to love one another (I include myself)? Why is our rota of church things so hard to fill? And why do so many choose not to encourage you by limited attendance at services? Why do so many choose not even to stay for tea / coffee after the service (when this is possibly the only time we have to meet in person for some people)?

If your reason for not loving others in these little practical ways begins with “It’s because I…” then you really need to ask who it is you’re loving.

  • [Actually we know some people are being Covid-safe which is actually an expression of wisdom and love – rather, we’re challenging those who have no particular reason not to love and engage with other Christians.]

As God loves his people (demonstrated in action), and is in us all, so we must love one another in actions.

God’s love is bigger than you (19-22)

You might still sit there thinking, “Some Christians are hard to love!” or “I’m already exhausted / ill, I can’t do any more” or maybe just “I’m too busy.” So you don’t do the good things for others that your conscience tells you you should.

The next couple of verses are tricky to translate so you’ll see differences across the Bible translations. But we can still get the sense of it just fine. Read 1 John 3:19-20.

  • Don’t sinfully misread this. He’s not saying “if you feel guilty about not loving others it’s ok because God loves you and loves them.”
  • This is for you when you don’t feel like loving other Christians, or just don’t want to – though you know you should because of what God is like (you know his truth).
  • You’re to preach to your own heart; persuade your own heart of the truth of God.
  • His love towards you is enormous! His love to all his children is the same! He will love us all forever – and he will love us through his people.

Do the right things

If you’re too busy for God to express his love for his people through you, you might find you’re doing the wrong things. Persuade your heart in truth to do God’s love. Is that too hard? Do you think he won’t help? Read 1 John 3:21-22.

  • Move with the flow of God’s love to his people, not against it. Love this church – these people – for starters.
  • Love other Christians. On 12th November, Christians from many local churches will gather to pray for one another. 
  • They will be praying for you (us, Bromborough Evangelical, by name, specifically). Won’t you join them – and hear them pray for you, and give them the joy of hearing you pray for them? No? Why not?

Love is action. You’re not called to heroics. But you are called to act, to do stuff. Love isn’t passive. If you’re not put out in some way for other Christians, you’re not loving them.

You are commanded to love (23-24)

Don’t lose sight of this: You’re commanded to love.

Your God came down to earth to save you in love. You are of him, in him. He is in you. Your spiritual DNA is changed; you are a child of God. That came when you trusted Jesus Christ to have taken the punishment your sins deserved; you cried out him, and he forgave you.

There is no salvation with God apart from faith in Christ. And there’s no faith in Christ without union with him – his Spirit in you, you in him. And that union is expressed in love and obedience to him – inseparably so.

Read 1 John 3:23-24.

  • He mentions the Spirit partly to explain how it is that God is in you, partly to introduce his next topic (Ch 4 next time).
  • But you can see the commandment given to you: It’s twofold: You’re to believe in the name of Jesus Christ and you’re to love one another, as commanded.

Obedience to God’s commands is an expression of your love towards him, and his love towards others (precisely because he commands you to love others). He is God. He’s your Father. Jesus is your Saviour. The Spirit of God is in you, giving you life even now.

Love the Lord your God; love his people. Expect hate and rejection from those who hate and reject God.

But you will grow in your own assurance of faith as you grow in expressing God’s love to his people. 

Start now. What will you do? Because love is action.