By This We Know Love
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers...Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:16,18
Love is a lovely word we love to throw around. But what does it actually mean? Wasn't Foreigner asking for all of us in the '80s when they sang, "I wanna know what love is?" Truly, how do we know what love is? John gives us the answer in this text: to understand love we must look to Jesus.
This line comes right off the heels of John instructing us "not to be like Cain." The contrast that John is making here couldn’t be clearer: while Cain the elder brother, in hatred, selfishly took his brother’s life, we find love in the fact that Jesus, our elder brother, selflessly gave his life for us. That’s what Hebrews 2 tells us. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil... Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Being made our brother, Jesus lovingly gave his life for us to save us from our sin.
Really, that was Jesus’ message all along, wasn’t it? Time and time again he told us that he would lay down his life for his people. Take John 10 for example, where Jesus tells us about his gift of selfless sacrifice. He tells us that he is the good shepherd and the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And he goes on to say something very interesting in verse 18, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” Or again in John 15, where he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. And you are my friends if you do what I command you.”
You see what Jesus is saying here in John 15? If you do what God commands, if you follow after him and walk in his ways, that is a sign that Jesus has made you his friend. And Jesus is such a wonderful friend. He is the greatest friend of all. Like any good friend, he does not seek to get something out of the relationship for himself, but his concern is always for the building up of the other. Toward his friends he displays the greatest act of love possible – “I’ve found a friend, O such a friend, he bled, he died to save me! And not alone the gift of life, but his own self he gave me!” That is love.
Brothers and sisters, if you want to know what love is look to the cross. See your Savior graciously giving his life for you. See him dying a death that should have been yours to die. See him bearing a punishment that should have been yours to bear. That is what John would have us do – look to Jesus: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.” This is know love that the world offers. This is know love that '80s pop groups sing about or Hollywood makes movies about. That's love in word and in talk. This is deed-truth love.