First, second, and third John all have much to say about love. He keeps the theme throughout all three of these letters, telling us what love is and how we can love. In 1 John 4:16, the infamous three words that are the most abused (besides Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge”) are found; “God is love.” So vehemently Christians, and unbelievers alike, will quote this portion of that verse to expound how we are to love quietly without boundaries, most often in cases where accountability for sinful behavior is required. John quashes this misuse by explaining the idea of love quite clearly. Within 1 John, he writes repeatedly what love is; “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (3:16), “This is what love is: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (4:10), “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (5:3), and lastly, 2 John 6, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” These verses give us the deepest definition of love, and explain why God can be defined as love, in our receiving of it from Him first (1 John 4:19), and how it looks to take in His love and pour it outward to others.
John’s letters, naturally, fall right in line with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where love is hailed as the greatest, even above faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13). This could explain the meaning of 1 John 5:4 where he says, “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith“ (emphasis mine). When we hear that love is above faith, it can cause us confusion since the Scriptures tell of faith in such a foundational way (Hebrews 11). However, when we read John’s letter, it reveals that even our faith is a gift from the God who chose us and that only through His love, can we even have it. Same goes for hope, only through His love can we have it. If we’re searching for additional ways to act in love, Paul helps us to further understand how to do so in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. And John supports this notion that we are called to love with actions and in truth, not with words or tongue (1 John 3:18). For the Christian who speaks words with their tongues confessing their love for God or one another, but perpetually harbors hate in their heart is a liar (1 John 4:20). He goes so far as to say that having hate towards a brother makes us murderers that will not have eternal life (1 John 3:15), which echoes what Jesus said in Matthew 5:21-22 during His Sermon on the Mount. This can remind us, albeit sternly, to consistently check ourselves in our thoughts towards fellow believers. Whether or not we actually speak hateful words or let them ruminate in our minds, both entertain the idea that holding grudges or resentment in our hearts do not fall under the commandment to love one another. It is at this point we can also bring up more wisdom from Jesus, where He included the words “Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12) and just in case we are too dull to fully comprehend how serious He is about this, He restates “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” in Matthew 6:14-15.
For some, keeping the commandment to love God comes easily. It’s that second commandment, to love one another, that presents the greatest challenge. However, if we’re to read His Word and do our best to strive towards abiding in Him, we can see that to do the first, without aiming for the last, isn’t even doing the first. In all actuality, we are failing both commands by believing that only one is where it counts. Is loving others a simple task? Absolutely not. Each day we encounter others in life and each person has their own prideful issues to deal with, so many relationships that we have will, undoubtedly, bring this command into play. What direction will we allow our minds to go, which usually steers our tongues and action? Scripture also mentions, many times, that caring for and loving others involves sharing whatever wealth we have available to help those with physical needs. It is not only physical demands that require our willingness to share, but a person’s spiritual well being ought to be a concern for us as well. As the saying goes, “time is money,” and giving someone in need our time is highly worthy. As Christians, we should not have to pay a counselor to give us undivided attention and seek godly advisement from even Christian counselors. That is what we, as the church, are called to do.
Which leads us into the third letter of John’s to the church, perhaps the shortest book in the Bible complete with only 14 verses. Although brief, there lies a lesson we all need to learn about how to love one another. In verse 9-10, John records, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those that want to do so and puts them out of the church.” Did you catch that? I will call attention to what he is doing. This, my friends, is another aspect of what love looks like. John sees wrongdoing and is unhesitatingly prepared to confront this man, Diotrephes, who loves to be first and, by his selfishness, is causing injustice amongst the church and is making a mockery of God’s people. This is called accountability and, as Christ’s church, we are called to give and receive of it. It’s in the context of this action of being held accountable and offering the same to our fellow believers that we can also pour out love to one another. For some reason, Christ followers have let this portion of love fall under the category of hate. As much as God is love, He is also much more. He is our Judge, our Convicter, our greatest accountability partner through His revealed Word. So when we, or those we know and love as brothers and sisters in Christ, witness evil arising in action or word, to apathetically stand aside is not love. I understand that some have a bent towards confrontation and some avoid it at all costs, but just as we’re commanded to love others by giving freely of our time and resources to those in need and forgiving others as we are forgiven by God, love is also calling attention to sin; in doing this, be careful to examine your motivations to ensure that they’re led, not by self-righteousness but, by His righteousness.
Lastly, John tells us that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Jesus Christ exemplified that perfect love for us and, in Him, we can let go of any fears we may have in carrying out the commands to love God and love one another. If there is fear of man holding us back from lovingly confronting sin, or fear of failure in financial difficulties when you’re hesitating to give monetary assistance, or fear of rejection or lack of appreciation from those you may approach to give your time to; have the assurance of His promises in that however you proceed to love others, no deed goes unseen by Him and it is His discipline, not punishment, that we ought to fear.