Love in Action
Open Your Bible
1 John 3:11-24, Deuteronomy 15:7-11, John 16:7-14, Romans 12:9
The weather had just changed from Southern hot to cool in Tennessee. Ordinarily this would have filled my little country heart with the brisk optimism that comes from a change in season: the autumnal joys of dark blues skies, scarlet leaves, and bright fires. But last year, the cold weather had me thinking crazy thoughts about swimming squirrels. Just a year before, we had three squirrels go for a swim in our pool over a stretch of three days. Now fall weather unexpectedly conjures up images of bushy tails, all wet and wilted, and tiny paws carefully paddling in cold turquoise water.
We’re not sure what exactly possessed the squirrels to swim, but I think they did it for love. I hypothesize that each successive swimmer was trying to rescue its predecessor. I think it’s a love story about a family of squirrels who were willing to stand up (or, in this case, dive in) and look death in the face as a way of looking after each other: Fear not, Mother Squirrel! I’m coming in after you! I don’t know a lot about the internal motivation of the squirrel, but I know the drive to protect loved ones is strong, no matter who you are.
John learned about love from the Master. He got to spend years watching how Jesus loved people, and here is his conclusion: “Let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth” (1John 3:18). The love of Jesus is love in action. And this active love was not just limited to foot washing and lake fishing. “This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (v.16).
I don’t know about you, but the kind of love I’m willing to offer is this: I’ll help you move into your apartment, I’ll let you choose the restaurant, and I’ll include you, even though you’re not that funny—and that’s for my friends! But when Jesus died for us, we were still His enemies; “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). How much more then, should we lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters?
Love is hard. Real love means real sacrifice and compromise, and unpleasantness. Jesus is our example of love in action. He literally laid down His life for us.
This kind of love feels big. Most of us have experienced some great big feeling of love, so it seems like a natural step that we can grit our teeth and turn those feelings of love into huge, selfless actions of love. It’s sometimes possible for us to swing glorious acts and promises of love when we are at our very best, dressed in our finest, with our loved ones standing around sporting giant smiles. But we are also called upon to make good on those promises at three in the morning, when no one is watching and grand gestures are the last thing on our minds. No amount of effort is enough for me to love with the consistency, action, and sacrifice that I see in the life of Christ.
How can I follow Christ’s example? And how can I teach my children to love if I can’t even love them enough to make sure all six of them have clean teeth, let alone lay down my life for them day in and day out?
Here’s the element that changes everything: I am God’s child; He calls us His children. This means that when we love, no matter what time of day it is, we aren’t loving out of our own strength—we love in His strength. Christ’s example isn’t just an example; His love is also what enables us to love with action, because “he remains in us” (1John 3:24).
We were certainly created for love. And in our effort to show love, we will find ourselves laying down our lives for each other in some scary places, like jumping into a cold swimming pool or giving care to someone with no hope of reward. We can’t cut it in our own strength, but Christ’s call to love in action comes with a promise that He is with us, even to the very end.