Why are there unwanted children, so unloved that they are killed in the womb? Why are there people who are so lonely that they commit suicide? Why are there teenagers so desperate for affection that they grasp at any and all physical displays from the opposite sex? Why are there elderly people sitting in their empty homes or their rooms at the nursing home with broken hearts, just waiting to die? Why are there prisoners who have been locked in their cell for years without a single visitor? Why? Because this world doesn’t know love. Not real love anyway. But the Children of God do know love. Real love. Lasting love. And that makes all the difference, not only for us but for the world around us too.
16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. John speaks here in plain words what Jesus paints for us in pastoral pictures in the Gospel. They both speak of the Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep and leading them in paths of righteousness. As the Shepherd of His flock, Jesus laid down His life for the sheep. Love’s epitome is laying down one’s life for others. For his disciples therefore there is no greater way of validating love than giving their lives away for the sake of their friends and neighbours. Those who belong to Jesus have a new lifestyle to follow, emulating the master’s life and distinguishing their lives from life of the ordinary people.
This is what the world doesn’t understand about love. It is not an emotion. It is a choice. Christ chose to love sinners who don’t deserve His love. The shepherd chose to lay down His life for the sheep. True love mirrors that choice in our own lives. And such a choice is never easy. Such a choice always comes with a cost.
17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 19By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; Christians, maybe better than anyone, know that it is very easy to fake love, real love. Words are cheap. Love costs the lover. But if we are willing to give up our lives as Jesus gave up His, why then would we be hesitant to give up lesser things, mere stuff, like time or money or possessions? We understand that they are all gifts to us by the love of God. Gifts to be used in sharing that love with the world around us. And because we are so free and joyous with them we are constantly reassured that our love is everything it should be!
Yet it is never that easy is it? And we all know we have not loved as we could have. We all know we cannot love as we should. We have held back, reserving our love for those closest to us. We have looked the other way when the cost was obviously too much to bear. We have used our love not as a free gift but as a blunt edged tool, withholding it until we get what we want, or giving it out where we know we will receive some benefit in return. No. Our hearts very rarely reassure us before God, often it can only condemn us.
But, this is how much God loves us dear children … 20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
This paragraph contains comfort of a singular kind, since it reassures us believers against our self. Even as our hearts are dissatisfied with the life we have lived, and therefore accuses us of a lack of love condemning us again and again with our lack of perfection … even then, God is greater, a more reliable Judge than our heart. Love is a decision, not an emotion. And He has given us the loving assurance in His Word that all our shortcomings as His dear children, as sheep of His holy flock, will be made up through the perfect righteousness of our Saviour, as it was imputed to us by faith.
As Martin Luther declared “Though conscience weighs us down, and tells us God is angry, yet God is greater than our heart. The conscience is but one drop; the reconciled God is an ocean of consolation.” While our heart and conscience condemn we are hardly bold enough to stand before God with our petitions. The moment your sins bother you you must flee to the promises of the Gospel. Without the forgiveness offered in the means of grace we will lack the boldness to stand daily before God. But when our heart therefore no longer condemns us, because of the love God has shown us in Jesus, we can truly have boldness before God.
This is no “quid pro quo” idea; receiving only to the extent that we give. That’s not love. First our relationship to God, in Christ, must be of the right sort – based on His unconditional love to us sinners. When it is, we have confidence before God. And when we have confidence before God we receive the things for which we ask. This does not mean that we merit or earn something before God but rather than we have confidence that all our prayers are heard inasmuch as we are living in His Word. Dear children of God would never ask for something that is bad for them, and God wouldn’t grant it anyway. Love doesn’t work that way!
23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. John is assuring us that God’s total will is given us in these two commands: “Believe in Jesus and love one another.” That says it all. It is simple and basic. Faith in Christ delivers us from the guilt and power of sin, from the condemnation and dominion of the Law. The fruit of such faith is love toward our fellow man. It is not a love of compulsion but a fruit of the Spirit for Jesus’ sake.
Children of God lead their lives in this world transformed by the reconciling love God lavished on them on account of Christ. We ought not to close our eyes to the neighbor’s needs. Love is a choice, not an emotion. From the redeemed of God a Christ-like compassion flows down for the sake of their neighbors in need. We love the unlovable, knowing that they are loved in Christ. We love no matter the cost, knowing that it has been paid by Jesus. We love with complete confidence in the love of our resurrected Lord. We are bold to love as we have been loved. 16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.