Love in the heart isn’t sufficient. It’s meant to flow through us from loving God, a visible, active laying down of our lives for others as God did for us.
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)
If I had to pick one word to describe life in our modern age, it would be ‘busy.’ It seems that all the things we now have to make things easier have simply conspired to escalate the frenetic pace. Life ‘out there’ is often simply a blur we barely take in. We’re constantly distracted by all kinds of demands and never seem to have the time for the one thing that is all important – love.
A commandment we cannot ignore.
Jesus defined the two ‘greatest commandments.’ The first is loving God, and the second is loving our neighbour. What’ He’s saying, in essence, is that if we get these two right, we automatically cover the original commandments because real love cannot break them. We know, of course, that Jesus never said anything unless it was important. When it comes to commandments, however, we’re looking at something we cannot ignore. A commandment is not negotiable. It isn’t a ‘when I have time’ or ‘when I feel like it’ thing. Commandments are absolute, and disobedience incurs consequences.
When it comes to love, John is perhaps the one disciple who had singular insight. He is known as ‘John the beloved’ and had no hesitation in openly and humbly showing that he loved Christ. At the cross, he was the only disciple who stood with the woman through the crucifixion, and it was to him that Jesus entrusted His mother Mary. We would do well to listen to one who was given a unique revelation of love from Christ Himself. John loved without hesitation, and so should we. It’s something that should be top of the list – before we do anything else – because it’s a direct command. When we obey the two greatest commandments in the right order, everything else will naturally fall into place. Obedience brings blessing.
Loving God enables loving others.
We need, however, to get the order right. There is no substitute for loving God. It’s absolute and complete. In the Old Testament, we’re told to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is the verse Jesus echoes in the greatest commandment. Unless this is in its rightful place, no amount of other loving has any value at all. The reality is that human beings are incapable of pure, or Agape, love – the kind God desires us to manifest. That can only come from God. Unless we truly love God with everything we have and are, we cannot even hope to love others. It’s incredibly simple, really. Love God, then love others. The second flows out of the first.
A wonderful example of this is the principle of faith and works. Works without faith are useless, and faith without works is dead faith. At face value, this may seem like an entirely separate issue, but it’s integral to our understanding of loving. We cannot truly have faith in God if we don’t love Him. In the same way, we cannot love God without having faith in Him. Works done in faith are works done in love. We cannot love God and have faith and not do works. The works flow naturally. They’re virtually ‘automatic’ because the love and faith is there. If we do works without faith, it means we’re substituting action for genuine love and faith. Works are the manifestation of our godly love for others.
Love requires action.
John raises a vital truth in today’s verse. He draws a distinction between true love and the semblance of love. The first is active – it does something – and the second is simply verbal. Truth is something we know and see. We recognise it. When we love in truth, it’s visible because it’s action. This applies to both loving God and loving others. Unless we actually participate – do rather than say – we’re not really loving. Once again, it has to start with God and then flow from there to others.
No amount of telling God we love Him will suffice unless we back it up with action. Real loving means spending ‘quality’ time with someone. When we spend time in the Word and meditating on the Word, we’re expressing real love. It’s the evidence that we want to be there. The same is true about listening and obeying. Taking time to hear His voice is an act of love. Responding in obedience is too – Jesus said, if we love Him we will obey Him. Simply saying the words without an active, committed demonstration is simply words. The same is true when it comes to loving others.
Loving in deed and action.
The first thing is to slow down. It means absolutely nothing if we whizz through life, declaring our love for God and our fellow man as we race past. The Bible defines the greatest love as laying down our lives for others. This means setting aside time for loving, and it starts with loving God. If works are the outward manifestation loving, we need to get the right loving relationship with Him first. It requires commitment, consistency, and discipline. Spending time with God, uninterrupted, first thing in the morning is optimal. It prepares us for the day, reinforces our relationship, and opens our hearts to what He wants to accomplish. But loving someone doesn’t rely on ‘date time’ to cement a relationship. It requires moments during the day to build on the morning’s foundation. Encounters and sharing, even in the least important moments, make intimacy a dynamic, vital, and deep reality that overflows.
The nature of God’s love is that it must overflow. When we are actively engaged in building relationship with Him, there will always be a surfeit of His love – so much more than we can hold. The ‘excess’ is what flows over and empowers us in loving others. There is no complicated ‘how to’ or 12 step ‘recipe’ to loving in deed and truth. To borrow from Nike, we must ‘just do it.’ It might seem onerous at first. We may feel pressured, and we may struggle to commit or to discipline ourselves to follow through on our decision to love God with our all. But that’s entirely temporary. The moment we move towards God, He comes to meet us and takes care of the rest. That first hurdle is the worst hurdle.
Verbal loving is the devil’s deception.
We forget that Satan will always do all he can to divert us from engaging with and obeying God’s Word. He hates even the mention of true Agape love, because it’s what empowered his defeat. If he can prevent us from following through on the greatest commandment, he can manage the damage our salvation wreaked on his kingdom. Not loving God as we should means we aren’t loving others, either. But he’s the master of deception, and will twist the things of God any which way to manipulate us. He’s helped along by self, of course, and by the busyness of our lives.
The simplest trick is to fill us with the warm, fuzzy feelings that masquerade as real loving. What does it matter that we don’t have the time to actually go out and love someone in a practical, real way? It’s all about the heart, after all. God knows we love them in our hearts, and that’s enough. But John challenges this. He tells us straight out that we cannot claim to be truly loving if we don’t enact it. A phone call or visit to the lonely, or someone in crisis. Giving a meal to ease the pressure of a family. Babysitting for a stressed single mother, or taking the elderly shopping. These are really loving others. They’re also a right royal pain – unless we’re also loving God the way we should. Then, they’re a joy and a treasure.
No greater love.
God Himself has provided the pattern for loving in deed and truth. We’d rather avoid it, because it means laying down our lives. Being busy is no justification for ignoring the commandments. While we all have priorities that must be met, loving God as we should will order our lives as they should be. The priorities will be met because we met with Him. More than this, God’s ‘no greater love’ will flow through us so that loving others is something we simply do without thought or planning. It happens naturally, because God’s love simply must flow through us. The opportunities find us, and the loving is a natural response. The simple, beautiful truth is that I cannot love as I should. But God in me can. And when I simply commit to loving Him with my all, He does.
Gracious Father, thank You for the simplicity of Your Word and for the awesome truth that You will always do what we cannot. Help us to choose to obey Your greatest commandments so that we can be vessels of Your greater love. Draw us close to Your heart and direct the busyness of our lives. Strengthen us to surrender all so that we can receive all and be vessels for Your loving heart to bless others.