By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. – 1 John 3:16 (ESV)
We can know what love is because God is love (1 John 4:8 16) and Jesus has shown us what it means to love by laying down His life for us. At the first glance, this truth can easily hit us only superficially. But, when we ponder and feel the magnitude of the truth that God in the flesh (Jesus Christ), laid down His life for us (unrighteous sinners), the force of such a statement simply exceeds all measures on the Richter scale of love.
Think about it for a minute. God the Son (Jesus), left all the glories of heaven. He gave up His reputation as a member of the Godhead (yet He never ceased being God). He exchanged His throne for a manger. He left heaven, where all attention was placed on Him, to live in relative obscurity for 30 years. Jesus Christ (God in the flesh), experienced hunger, pain, disappointment, hardship. He became dependent on food, shelter, clothing, which He Himself created. In the Old Testament, Isaiah saw the train of the robe of the Lord fill the temple, and he was so scared because of the holiness of God that he thought he would die on the spot (Isaiah 6). But, when Jesus came, He walked by people everyday who never gave Him the time of day, nor knew who He was or where He came from. As He began His ministry at age 30, performing miracles, preaching about the kingdom of God, and showing compassion for people, some believed, but most did not. Some called His teaching and miracles demonic. Amazing! The Son of God being called demonic by the people He created to love Him and worship Him. The God of heaven was rejected, mocked, ridiculed, overlooked, and cast aside, yet His patience overlooked their faults for a time (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
Why would He endure being treated like this? 1 John 3:16, as well as many other passages of Scripture (John 3:16, Romans 5:8-10, Philippians 2:6-8), give a clear answer: love. God loves sinners. He loves you and I. Jesus “laid down His life for us.” He allowed Himself to be treated like that because He desired to go to the cross. Why the cross? What is so special about it? Well, the cross by itself is not special at all. It was a common means of execution by the Romans. It was just simply a cruel way to die. It is not the wood from the crossbeams that is special, but the Person who was put on it 2000 years ago. The just wrath from God that each person deserves because of their sinful condition was satisfied when Jesus died on that cross. God directed His just wrath at Jesus. Without Him willingly allowing Himself to be crucified in our place, there would be no place in heaven for unrighteous sinners. He could have saved Himself the pain, anguish, humiliation, and alienation by simply walking away. But, He did not. He laid down His life for us and showed us what love is.
Sounds good doesn’t it? Sure it does, but the verse doesn’t stop there. It goes on to say, “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” There is an application to this message. Because the believer in Jesus has experienced God’s love, they know what it is. And because they know what it is, they ought to love their fellow bothers and sisters in Christ the same way. The apostle John (who wrote 1 John) is not implying we all should be crucified on a literal cross. He is saying that those who know what love is by what Jesus demonstrated to them should show the same kind of love to others. Real love, the kind that reflects the love of Jesus, is sacrificial. Loving this way can be painful, inconvenient, exhausting, and costly. Loving this way might mean emptying oneself of reputation and being humiliated, and maybe even dieing for another person. It also may mean that the person you show love to may never say thank you, or acknowledge what you have done on their behalf.
Now I need to make a very important connection here. Jesus loved us like this for our good, not for our bad. He laid down His life for us so that we could live eternally and experience His joy, hope and peace. So, when we love others in the same way, we do so for their good, not their bad. This is why we risk ridicule and our reputation being harmed for not allowing abusive people to take advantage of us. It is not for their good that we give lazy people free food, but it is for their good that we say no. It is for their good that abusive husbands are told no by a loving wife who refuses to keep being abused. It is for their good that parents do not give their kids all they want, but what they need. Love is not a blank check, but a specific sacrificial action that leads others to Jesus. This is why love cannot be separated from truth, righteousness, and purity. But, in that context, believers are called to lay down their lives for the brothers (the family of God). It is willingly and freely risking reputation, security, persecution, mockery, and even life so that others can see and experience God’s love. It is sacrificial to the core, to the “nth degree”. To lessen the verse lower than that is to mock God’s love He showed you and I. Jesus clearly said:
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. – Luke 9:23-24 (ESV)
Now that sounds a bit different than the Valentine’s or Hollywood love we see and hear about today. Actually, it sounds difficult and burdensome. But, there is are some very important keys in being able to love others like 1 John 3:16 says.
1. The believer in Jesus can love others like this because they have already received and been filled with the joy that comes with believing in Jesus. They do not have to love others to get love, they are already living in the love of Christ though the Holy Spirit who lives in them. No love they give can diminish the love of Christ that they have received. No love they give comes from them, for all they give, they have received from God.
2. There is an overwhelming joy that resides in the believer of Jesus that bubbles up from the opportunity to serve their Lord in loving others. When we see God use us to impact another person’s life, the cost that we often want to count becomes miniscule and vanishes. I personally believe that many believers in Jesus never experience this joy because they are unwilling to give away to others what they have received from God. It is a lack of understanding that all we have we received from God, and a lack of trust that all we give away God can replenish. The devil has tricked many believers to be skeptical of God, like He is not as good and powerful as He said He is. This skepticism causes God’s command to love one another to be a burden rather than a joy.
3. A third key to being able to love others like 1 John 3:16 says is realizing our lives and this world are very temporary. Nothing in this world and from this world is guaranteed. At any minute tragedy could strike. So, living for our selves and for things of this world is extremely foolish. God has given eternal life to every person that has trusted their life to Jesus. Only that is secure. In heaven, nothing we try to keep now will go with us, and nothing we give away now will be missed. Too many believers have their minds on the temporal. This reality drastically restricts us from loving our fellow believers in Christ. How? Because we get so caught up in keeping our temporal stuff, and living for things that simply do not matter, we cannot see past ourselves in order to love and serve others so they can built up in their faith. God has given us eternal life! One of the great benefits of this is that we have been rescued from trying to save ourselves by running after what the world runs after. Those chains have been broken and we are now free to give our lives for the sake of the gospel and the building up of God’s church. This is real. This really important. This is really important for you and I.
1 John 3:16. This one verse has caused me to re-examine how I love others. Is how I love others based on Christ’s love for me? If it is not sacrificial, then it is not love. Leftover love is not biblical love. I do not have all the answers, nor are the 3 keys above an exhaustive list. It is my prayer that we (believers in Christ) will submit to God’s will in how we love others and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit as we lay down our lives for the brothers. Any attempt to live in a downgraded version of the love of Christ is nothing more than hypocrisy and a mockery of His love for us. May God’s grace change us and lead us to live out 1 John 3:16.