The Believer in Action
Scripture - 1 John 3:16-24
I have been a fan of Christian music since at least the 1990s. If you are like me & let us be honest who is not when it comes to musical taste, then you are probably familiar with DC Talk’s classic song, “Luv is a Verb.” I have no doubt that if Toby McKeehan, Michael Tait, & Kevin Smith would have been around, the author of 1 John would have had them perform this song. At the very least, John would have included a copy of their liner notes with the lyrics included because the words of the song are spot on.
The author of 1 John is primarily concerned with helping his readers understand what it means to live as children of God. For John, we have been & are in the process of being changed into the likeness of
Jesus. While Jesus is for us the fullest revelation of who God is, we still do not yet know Jesus in his fullness. Yet, until Jesus returns, we are continually growing into the likeness of Christ. Sometimes, we know what that means, & sometimes we need a little help understanding it. For this week’s passage, the concept John’s readers need a little help understanding is love. Lucky for us, we have 1 John & DC Talk to help us on the way…
“Hey, tell me haven’t ya heard? Luv is a serious word. Hey, I think it’s time ya learned, I don’t care what they say; I don’t care, care what ya heard. The word luv, luv is a verb.”
Instead of love being a passive feeling, love is an action we perform on behalf of others. It is a movement toward the good of the other.
Now, John’s custom is to present his argument in both negative & positive terms. Verses 11-15 of chapter 3 are the negative example. Those who have hate in their heart, regardless of how it works its way out, do not have love. John goes a bit further, if you do not have love, then you abide in death, & you are no child of God.
Verse 16 begins the positive example. Again, DC Talk is helpful here:
“Back in the day there was a man who stepped out of Heaven & he walked the land. He delivered to the people an eternal choice, with a heart full of luv & the truth in His voice. Gave up His life so that we may live. How much more luv could the Son of God give? Here is the example that we oughtta be matchin’, cause luv is a word that requires some action.”
We know what love is because it has been displayed for us in the person, life, ministry, death, & resurrection of Jesus. Love means laying one’s life down in a sacrificial manner for others. It is easy at this point, because Jesus actually did die for us, to focus mainly on death as a means of sacrifice, but most people will never be called upon to give their actual lives for another. Focusing on whether or not you would be willing to actually lay down your life for the faith distracts us from what the author of 1 John is really saying.
Unpacking that verse, especially the last phrase, might be helpful. The CEB’s phrase doesn’t care fails to communicate the true nature of what John is expressing. The NIV reads but has no pity is a little better, but still misses the mark. What these two translations render as doesn’t care & no pity comes from the Greek phrase that means, “to close the bowels.”
The intestines were regarded as the seat of emotion & compassion. To close off one’s intestines means to shield one’s inner self from the suffering & want that takes place around you. The language is active in nature. (No pun intended.) This is an intentional shielding of oneself from the very real physical reaction that takes place upon seeing someone in need & refusing to help. It is a conscious choice. It is what you do when those ASPCA commercials come on with those sad-eyed animals scrolling by while Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” plays in the background.
The image is vivid & describes something we almost all certainly have felt. We have seen great & small human need & felt the knot in our stomach that is compassion for their plight. Yet, at some time or another, every last one of us has shut off our minds to those feelings & have gone on our way.
John’s point is, according to I Howard Marshall in his commentary, The Epistles of John, “Christian love is love which gives to those in need, & so long as we have, while our brothers [& sisters] have little or nothing, & we do nothing to help them, we are lacking in the love which is essential evidence that we are truly children of God.”
Or as DC Talk put it:
“Words come easy but don’t mean much when the words they’re sayin’ we can’t put trust in. We’re talkin’ ’bout love in a different light. And if we all learn to love it would be just right.”
John concludes the section with the admonition, based on his argument to this point, to love not just in speech & word but also in the truth of love expressed through action.
The question that John poses in verse 17 should stop to give us pause. How can the love of God truly remain in someone if they choose to turn from the needs of their brothers & sisters in Christ? While it is true that John is speaking about the love that members of the community of faith have for one another, this community is the place that we practice our love for the world at large. If we cannot seriously take care of one another, we will not be able to exercise our love for the world, & if we cannot exercise our love for the world, then we fail at being the body of Christ, the physical hands & feet of God in our world.
What is at stake here is more than just the nature of our own community of faith, & how we might love & live together; it is the very nature of our witness to the larger world. If we are to take seriously our status as children of God, then we must intentionally & tangibly express our love for our Christian brothers & sisters so that we can better express our love for those in need in our community & the world.
If we commit to loving in truth & action, how might our lives look differently in the week ahead?  When we love in truth & action, we show Christ’s love to the world. Christ the Good Shepherd can love through us when we love with our deeds & with our lives.