16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister* in need and yet refuses help? 18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God;22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Summary—Just prior to this text, and leading into it, John said that we must love each other (v.11), and that anyone who does not love remains in death (v.14). But what does love look like? It looks like Christ laying down His life for us (v.16a); so, if you’re loving the brethren, it looks like you laying down your life for them (v.16b). But how will you know whether you love to that extent, if you’re never given that kind of opportunity? Well, for starters, if you wouldn’t give life’s basic necessities (“the world’s goods”) to brothers or sisters in need, you certainly wouldn’t give life itself (v.17)! John isn’t talking about anything less than loving in “truth” (sincerity) and “action” (v.18). And, speaking of “truth,” this love we’re talking about is how you’ll know whether you’re really “from it” (v.19)—in other words, your love for the brethren is how you’ll be assured of salvation. See, you’ll sometimes wonder whether you’re really “from the truth” because “our hearts condemn us” for various failings; well, during those times, be assured that “God is greater than our hearts, and knows everything,” which is to say, He knows about any real, spiritual, grace-fueled love in you, which evidences that you really are “from the truth” (v.20). Such assurance is important, because it gives you boldness in prayer (v.21), leading to answered prayer, assuming that you’re obeying the commandments (v.22) which are summed up in the single commandment to believe in Jesus and love each other (v.23). If you are obeying God’s commandments, it’s because you and Christ abide in each other: God has united you to Christ (v.24a). And how do you know whether you’re united to Christ? By the presence of the Spirit (v.24b), evidenced by your love for the brethren.
Insight—We all love. We all love ourselves; we all love others. The real question is who we love more—ourselves or others. And you’re probably prepared to admit that you struggle with loving others more than self—it’s a universal problem. But what you might not be prepared to admit is what form your problem takes. The run-of-the-mill form involves your love of your own convenience. Almost as common is your love of your own agenda. Another form—a particularly ugly one—might involve your love of your own reputation. And those are all bad forms; but, they aren’t the only forms. There’s another form which is especially insidious in the church: if you’ve been burned, or deserted, or let down, your form might involve your love of your own emotional stability. In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” And if you think those last two sentences are hyperbolic, John would beg to differ: “Whoever does not love remains in death” (1 Jn. 3:14).
Child Catechism—How do you know that you abide in Christ? By my love for other Christians.
Discussion—What forms of self-love sometimes lie behind our failure to love others sufficiently? Should we cultivate the habit of analyzing what we’re loving most, each time we catch ourselves loving others insufficiently?
Prayer—Everlasting Father, we know love by this—that your Son laid down His life for us. We must likewise be willing to lay down our lives for one another. But, O God, how can we hope to make so great a sacrifice, if we are unwilling to make the lesser sacrifices which you call us to each day? Grant, we beseech You, that we would not love in word or speech alone, but in truth and action. Grant accordingly that we might be assured of Your electing love for us by its fruit in our lives, namely, our love for those others purchased by He through whom we pray, Jesus Christ, who always lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever. Amen.
Contributed by Scott Cline