Recently, our Woodland youth received a chance to serve. When a prominent community member was diagnosed with cancer, our kids (with adult supervision) turned up to cut, split and stack a pulp load of firewood. (That’s 12 face cords, also called “ricks” here in the Midwest). The turnout so impressed our neighbor that he called the local paper which ran a story. “A Great Place to Live,” the caption read.
I like that. But I hope there’s a little more going on here. Far from a place where people just serve each other randomly, there is sacrificial love taking place up here in the woods. And, it turns out, sacrificial love is one of Apostle John’s tests of assurance we read about in 1 John 3.11-24.
According to the old apostle, sacrificial love issuing from our relationship with God is critical for our assurance that we belong to God.
Sacrificial love assures (:11-18). This is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. John is certainly thinking about Jesus’ teaching on love in John 13.34. In that passage, Jesus is teaching His disciples at the end of His ministry and just before His death. He’s speaking as one who has kept the Old Testament law perfectly and will now credit His perfect law-keeping to those who depend on Him. And more, Jesus will enable His followers to love with the same kind of love with which He loved them. That’s us today! When we love like Jesus we demonstrate that the content of the Gospel has moved from our minds to our inner persons.
John wants us to know more about this heart-change and what sacrificial love looks like, so he lists five things about sacrificial love in this section:
- Sacrificial love will be opposed by the world (:12-13). Cain, in the true account from Genesis 4, proves to be the original example. He murdered his brother because he was angry with God for rejecting his sacrifice. Abel, his brother, had brought his own sacrifice “in faith” (Hebrews 11). So goes the world. We’ll be opposed, if we love like Jesus, because Jesus is opposed (Jn 15.18).
- Sacrificial love evidences life (:14-15). We evidence life when we sacrifice, because this is the oppose of hate, which Jesus compares to murder (Matt 5.21-22). Love embraces our brother; hatred involves wishing our brother weren’t present.
- Sacrificial love originates with Jesus (:16). By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. This is the heroic sacrifice of Jesus, the most important event ever, and it is a kind of sacrifice that reoccurs through His people through the ordinary business of Christian service.
- Sacrificial love looks like practical kindness (:17). But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? These verses don’t say that we give in the same way to everybody. They don’t say we do only one kind of ministry. They do say we don’t “close our hearts” toward anybody.
- Sacrificial love is revealed not through talk but action (:18).
Easy, right? Let’s all go out and sacrifice for each other! But, it doesn’t work that way, does it? It so happens that my heart, yet in process as it is, sometimes doesn’t want to give up my time, money, hobbies and energy. Sometimes, I think people should do more for themselves. I might be right about that, but I’m not to “close” my heart.
Sacrificial love overcomes my reluctant heart and gives me confidence before God (:19-24). The rest of the passage tells me how God helps me when my heart is weak.
God helps me when I don’t want to love (:19-20). By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
These verses make more sense when we understand that “reassure” (ESV) or “set to rest” (NIV) might better be translated “persuade or convince”. This is the reading of both the New English Translation and Holman Standard. Basically, this is describing what it looks like when I’m trying to serve but I don’t really want to. The language is probably from Deuteronomy 15.7-12 where the Israelites were told not to be stingy with their brothers. There’s going to be times when I need God to overcome my heart that, sometimes, opposes His work. God proves greater than my doubts and knows my struggles.
God blesses me when I do love (:21-22). When our hearts come clean with God, we have confidence before God. We receive what we ask of Him, because we ask according to His will, because we’re living in it by obedience.
God grows my confidence when I obey (:23-24). The benefits of of obedience are abiding in God and being assured that we belong to God by the Spirit He has given us. In other words, growing in assurance.
Loving sacrificially like Jesus grows our assurance that we belong to God.
How about you? Is there somebody in your life God is asking you to love in a sacrificial way? When you do, you’ll participate in the life of God and see your assurance grow as your love increases.
Take a minute to answer a few questions:
How is the sacrifice of the world different from the sacrifice of God’s people?
What are some excuses that we sometimes use not to love each other sacrificially? How many of these excuses are particularly American?
Was there ever a time when you hesitated to sacrifice for another believer but then finally did? What happened? How did you change?
How has God used your own works of sacrificial love to increase your assurance of your own salvation?