Commentary by Walter Albritton


March 11, 2007


The Church at its Best is a Community that Practices Love


1 John 3


Key Verse:  Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. – 1 John 3:2


Our children learned verses from the First Letter of John at any early age. More than once my wife broke up a fight and, holding one boy in each hand, she declared with the fervor of a backwoods preacher, “Love one another! If you don’t, your Daddy is going to give you a whipping.”

That gave our sons a good reason for loving each other. Love does not come easy in the rough and tumble of life. When we are hurt by other people, we want to return the favor. Without thinking we retaliate against people who lash out at us.

Like happiness, love is a choice, and sometimes a tough one. It is relatively easy to love the people who love us. But before we can love some people, we must decide not to hate them. That is often a tall order. But when we see it done, it is beautiful to behold

I think of a car wreck in which a teenage boy was killed. He was a passenger and the boy driving the car was drunk. When he was charged with vehicular manslaughter, the grieving parents of the dead boy asked the judge not to send the other boy to prison. Though they had lost their son, they did not want the other parents to lose their son to prison. Such love is rare but it is the kind of love that distinguishes genuine disciples of Jesus from vindictive pagans.

Hate is not an option for Christians. We may hate sin and its cruel consequences but we cannot hate the sinner. Moreover, it is not enough simply not to hate. God requires that we love not in “word or speech” only but in deeds of love and mercy. So for love to be real it must be expressed in “truth and action.” We must do more than say it; we must show it.

John’s teaching is strong medicine. If we hate a brother or sister we are murderers, and our hatred demonstrates that we do not belong to Jesus. The nature of real love has been shown to us by Jesus’ willingness to lay down his life for us. And that is the example we are to follow; we must find ways to “lay down our lives for one another.” To do anything less is to prove ourselves fraudulent Christians.

John makes it so plain we cannot miss his point. It is as simple as this, John says: God’s love is not in you if you have the means to help a brother or sister in need and you refuse to help. That stings, does it not? Many of us have been guilty of doing just that on many occasions. We had the means to help someone in need but we walked away without offering so much as a slice of bread.

Keith Fender is the key man for disaster relief in his church. When the tornados created havoc in Alabama last week, many people felt compassion for the victims. These compassionate people wondered if FEMA would respond quickly with aid. They remembered how long it took state and federal agencies to respond after a vicious hurricane ruined New Orleans.

While others were “pondering” the situation, Keith Fender was loading a relief trailer, gassing up the truck, and organizing a team that would be ready to travel to Enterprise the minute they were called. The point is that “pondering” is not love; love is taking bottled water and chainsaws to help people in need. Relief work is laying down your life for someone else.

Masterfully John ties together belief in Jesus and loving others. They fit together like a hand in a glove. Believing in the name of Jesus is to love one another. John ties creed and deed together and it is this bond that reveals the secret of Christian love.

We cannot refrain from hatred and choose to love in our own strength. We cannot try hard and with great will power love one another. Remember how Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing at all.” The power to love like Jesus loves comes to us from Jesus himself. When we believe in him, trust him, and receive him into our hearts, he gives us the power to love those who hurt us and even our enemies.

This is where grace comes in. His grace is so abundant that when we truly seek it, and want it with all our hearts, he gives us even the grace to “obey his commandments and do what pleases him.” So ultimately it is grace, and grace alone, that enables us to please God by loving one another. John knows this grace is ours only when we abide in Jesus and he abides in us. When Jesus makes his home in our hearts, we become the church at its best – a community where Christlike love is practiced.

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