John’s negative example of Christian love was Cain and Abel. He argued that when Christians treat each other with deep contempt, the end result is that our Christian witness is damaged and our Christian witness and our mission is compromised. His positive example is none other than Jesus himself. If we want to learn to love others, we need to study the life of Christ.
“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God” (1 John 3:16-19, NLT).
John characterizes Jesus’ love in three ways: sacrifice, compassion and action. If we are to follow Jesus’ example of loving one another we must understand these three things. First, true love is sacrificial. It’s going to cost you something. It may be time, effort, emotional energy, financial resources, or something else. But love always comes with a price tag. Think about Jesus. From the incarnation where he limited his glory all the way to the cross, Jesus loved us sacrificially.
Second, true love is compassionate. You’re going to feel something. It’s not possible to walk in community with your Christian brothers and sisters and remain emotionally untouched. God did not create us to be benign or void of emotion. He made us to feel compassion toward those who are in need.
Third, true love is not just expressed in words. It is expressed in action. You’re going to do something. Jesus always stood in contrast to the religious leadership of the day. The Pharisee’s religion was a religion of “talk,” while Jesus’ religion was a religion of “walk.” You probably have noticed that many of Jesus’ miracles were performed as the introduction to his teaching, not the other way around.
The positive example of Jesus was followed by a second negative consequence. When we fail to love our Christian family members we diminish our fellowship with the Father.
“Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him. And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us” (1 John 3:20-24, NLT).
It is important that we love God first and foremost. But the second commandment is not down graded to insignificance. Jesus said the second greatest commandment of loving neighbor as self was equally important. In fact, perhaps the best way to demonstrate our love for God is to love our neighbors. When we don’t love our neighbors our fellowship with God suffers. Perhaps this is why Jesus included this important teaching in his Sermon on the Mount.
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24, NLT).
When we love one another, our witness is compelling and our fellowship with God is deepened. Even though Christian love is the hardest part of our faith, it is important to remember that it’s the most important part of our faith.