When I was young, I thought I had the concept of love fully mastered. I was sure that at 18 years old I knew all I needed to know about love. Looking back on those years of my life, I recognize that I never fully grasped what it meant to love someone. For me, the concept of love was all about emotion. This person makes me feel a certain way, and therefore it must be love. My relationship with my wife has taught me so much about love. Almost 18 years into marriage I have realized that love is not an emotion, it is an action. I can say to my wife that I love her every morning, but if my actions do not match, it is meaningless. Do I do the dishes? Do I help with the kids? Do I seek to spend meaningful time with her? These are some of the ways that I tell her that I love her. As I think about our relationship and what I have learned, I recognize how closely it parallels the teachings of the Bible about love.
John is very clear about 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” (1 John 3:16). In a sense what Jesus is saying is love is not about emotion, love is about an action – an action that so moves us that we would be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
John goes on to say, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” The word for sees is the Greek word Theoreo, and it means literally to look at attentively or to discern what is going on. John intentionally uses this word so that we know that he is talking about more than a casual glance. This is looking into the depths of someone’s heart. John says here if anyone looks deeply into someone’s life and sees a need and does nothing about it then they can’t really love God because love is not an emotion it is an action.
John says here if anyone looks deeply into someone’s life and sees a need and does nothing about it then they can’t really love God because love is not an emotion it is an action.
I remember when I was in high school helping a lady out in our church with her yard work. When I was done she would give a $5 bill to me, say “don’t spend it all in one place”, and she would give me a terrible pudding to take home. I did not help her for the $5, and I certainly did not do it for the pudding. I did it because her husband of 40 years recently passed away, and she had no one to help her. I saw her need and a way that I could meet that. I was sure that if Jesus were here he would do the same.
In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus is speaking of his future return, and He says,
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire… For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
There is going to come a moment where we stand before God and He says “what did you do for the least of my people”, and if we answer that we were in church every Sunday, that we gave our ten percent tithe, or that we sang songs with all of our heart, and we realize that the answer is really “nothing”, he is going to look at us and say “depart from me for I never knew you”. God is about love, and we need to be as well. It is great every Sunday to raise our hands in emotion to the sky as we sing “I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned in awe of the One who gave it all”, but when does that love stop being an emotion toward God and become an action in our lives.
The gospel is not just a message of salvation spoken by one person and heard by another; it is a way of life, experienced together. Words without love for others creates hypocrisy and distances the church and its believers from the world. Imagine what the world would look like if every believer lived love in deed and action and not just as an emotion!