By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But 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? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:16-18).
This standard may seem to be beyond the reach of mere humans. Reading these verses, together with John 15:12-17 and 1 Corinthians chapter 13, will make us exclaim, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ (2 Cor. 2:16). They set before us the undeserved and unconditional love of God and the Holy Spirit’s supreme gift and lasting fruit. It is a sacrificial, practical love which Jesus proved by his sacrifice on our behalf.
Our Saviour calls us to honour him by seeking to do the same, and we want to obey even though we cannot in our own strength. We know that ‘without him we can do nothing’ (John 5:30), but with his commands, he gives promises: ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Cor. 12:9). He gives us new life so that we can put his love into practice; he supplies the grace and the resources so we can give and he gives us a family so that we can care for them. We have a debt of love to our Saviour (1 John 4:19) and as he came to serve, and not expect service from others, so also do we.
What does this mean in practical terms? Do we expect to receive or to serve?
Over the years, we have been so blessed by the love of fellow Christians and have learned much from others. Here are just a few examples.
Giving and tithing
The church is able to serve as the members give their resources. There are many needs, locally and worldwide, and some can feel that the need is too great for our small gifts to make a difference. The account of the loaves and the fishes helps us here, for in the Lord’s hands the smallest gift can perform a miracle. If one person is blessed, a great evangelist or social reformer could be born to influence more than we could ever reach. The needs of our family abroad are almost impossible to imagine, but there are fellow Christians who have given their gifts and their lives to meet these needs. We are inspired to pray for them and to contribute to their service; it is no sacrifice for us to give out of our plenty to enable them merely to survive.
Even before the deadly virus hit, there were folk in our own communities who were struggling to feed their families. We may be able to donate to food banks and charities close to home; they may not all be Christian organisations, but the Lord supplies common grace to all, and he sends his sun and his rain on all kinds of people (Matt. 5:45). Our love may bring them to know our Saviour and to join the Christian family.
Loss of any kind, but especially the loss of a loved one, is one of life’s hardest experiences. We all differ in the way we respond; some of us prefer to talk, others to grieve in silence. God’s love does not expect returns, so we need him to give sensitivity and wisdom for every situation. His love will find a way through our human limitations: a card, a meal, a hug or squeeze on the arm or however he leads – these will bring comfort at the time, but the feeling lasts far longer and the bond is deepened.
Some losses are more long term: a relative with dementia, a child who needs extra support or a host of other challenging situations. The very nature of their long term commitment can isolate people. Whether we are close to them or not, someone has to take the love initiative and offer a few hours respite: maybe give them the opportunity to attend a fellowship meeting, to look after a child, do the laundry or grab the vacuum cleaner – give them a little space to be themselves for a while and make a difference in their routine.
Some circumstances can crush us emotionally so that we begin to doubt our Father’s love; the devil can kick us when we are down and feed our doubts with his lies. What a relief it is when the Lord prompts someone to pray and respond! Maybe it can be through writing, dropping an anonymous gift or something else entirely. How precious too are those to whom we can turn for supporting prayer on some dark day! Fellowship is deepened at such times.
Scripture reminds us often to share our home life with others, however ordinary it may be. Some of us have not had the privilege of a Christian home in childhood, and it can be life-changing to see the Lord’s love in action and being able to share in it. Some families have the gift of sharing their children with others – this is especially valuable to those who love children but do not have their own, or are without a Christian family.
Prayer must be first and last and cover all things. It is our Lord’s command to love one another; his love has been poured into our hearts, not to be bottled up there but to overflow (Rom. 5:5). We need his love, believer and unbeliever alike, but to let it flow out of us comes through being with him, listening to his voice, being prompted by him, rebuked by him and reminded by him of a brother, sister or situation.
All he asks of his children is obedience. Parents know how hard obedience can be for their children, but what a blessing it is when obedience blossoms into a warm and loving relationship, and so it is for us too! Our heavenly Father blesses those who obey him much more in love, and that blessing is extended to the family as a whole. Romans 12 reminds us that any sacrifice we may be called to make or any service for our Lord is only what he fully deserves – our spiritual worship – and if we serve him fully, we are only unworthy servants.