By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us,
John consistently grounds the gospel in God’s love. His most famous statement to this effect is “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16,ESV).” We both know what love is and know love in the sense being loved because Jesus laid down his life for us. John recorded Jesus’ words reminding us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, ESV).
An important point is made about the death of Jesus in this clause. John writes that Jesus “laid down his life.” Jesus’ life was not forcibly taken from him. A life that is forcibly taken is hardly an example of the love of that person for another. However, if someone gives their life that another may live, that is indeed a remarkable display of love. Jesus was in control even of his death. Jesus knew why he came to earth. He knew he was going to die. Jesus willing gave his life.
A second point can be made from this verse. Jesus gave his life “for us.” We were in such a state that our only hope was that someone die for us. Because of our sin, we were deserving death. Jesus died for us. Jesus’ death was not a symbolic act, it was actually in the place of his people.
and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
Jesus’ death gains salvation for his people. Salvation is given by grace through faith, not by our works. However, the gospel is also the fulfillment of the law which teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. For this reason, John draws the moral imperative for Christians to love one another by laying down our lives for one another from the work of Jesus Christ. John is talking specifically to Christians in his call for such sacrificial love because it is Christians who have benefited from and been transformed by the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. On what grounds could one whose eternal life, hope, identity, security, and forgiveness of sins has been established by the death of Jesus not willingly give up the things of this world, which are mere shadows of the realities secured for us by Christ?
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart to him, how does God’s love abide in him?
The world’s goods are exactly what we they sound like, the resources of this world – money, food, clothing, cars, time, energy, talents, etc. If we possess these things, the Bible sees no way around sharing them with our brothers in need. This in fact was precisely the pattern of the early church. Luke writes,
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:32-37, ESV).
But I worked hard for what I have, don’t I deserve it? Shouldn’t they get a job and not just live off of other people? Isn’t giving people stuff freely enabling them? Are you saying I am supposed to sell all my stuff and be destitute? Doesn’t this put all of the call to sacrifice on the rich? Don’t the poor get off scot-free? All of these questions, and every other question we ask along the same lines, flows from an unloving heart that is more committed to securing the stuff of this world for itself than it is convinced that Jesus has secured all that it needs for eternity. I get it, this is a hard reality for us to swallow. It is shockingly un-American. It sounds like a bunch of hippies living in a free love commune. We can throw whatever stones we want, but we cannot escape the call to actually love our brothers and sisters in Christ in this sacrificial way.
And it is our brothers and sisters in Christ that John has in mind, not the world at large. John uses the family language for the household God, for Christians. As we said yesterday, John is making the point that we cannot claim to love Jesus and hate those whom Jesus claimed as his own. Does this mean that we are not to care for the poor of the world? No that is not what this means, but, frankly, you cannot demand the church or Christians into being the welfare agents of the world based on this passage. To do so is to un-biblically bind the conscience of man with your opinion. It is simply not what John is talking about in this verse. John is specifically dealing with dividing between those who have the devil as their father and those who have God as their Father. The latter he calls brothers. If we do not love those whom God has loved by sending his Son to die for them, John says we do not know God’s love.
Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
John recognizes that it is very easy for us to talk a big talk and never take a single step in the direction of our words. We need to recognize this about ourselves and repent of our selfishness that allows for such inconsistent gospel living and love in deed and truth.