Real Love (part 3)

The Bible has a lot to say about love. Jesus said that the greatest commands ever given were to love the Lord with all you heart and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29). Paul wrote, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT). Peter said, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 NIV).

In fact, the word love appears over 600 times in the Bible and no one in the Bible has more to say about it than the apostle John. He’s even called the apostle of love and his first letter is often referred to as the epistle of love. 

Two weeks ago we read a portion of the second chapter, where John describes the Lord of Love—Jesus—as the source of real love in our lives. In other words, our love for God and for our neighbor is empowered by our intimacy with Jesus. On the other hand, our lack of love is a sign that we are growing further from Jesus and that the love of God is being eclipsed in our hearts.

Later in that same chapter, as we saw last week, John describes the wrong kind of love—a worldly love which is diametrically opposed to God’s love. This worldly love manifests primarily through three love-killers: carnality (which is really lust not love), covetousness (which is a love of stuff), and conceit (which is the love of self). This worldly type of love can corrupt, corrode and eventually crush the love of God in our hearts.

Today, I’d like to look at the third chapter of 1st John and discover what else John can teach us about real love. So let’s look at 1 John 3:16-22:

This is how we know what real love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. (1 John 3:16-22 NIV)

In this passage, John describes three characteristics of real love. First, John says that real love involves sacrifice.




John starts this section of Scripture by telling us that we know what real love is because Jesus sacrificed his own life for us. We’ll talk more about that sacrifice next Sunday, but notice immediately after that John turns this around on us and says, “We too, then, ought to give our lives for others!” (vs. 16 GWT).

Real love means being willing to sacrifice your life to save someone else’s. Jesus said essentially the same thing during the Last Supper. He said, “The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them” (John 15:13 GWT).

I am reminded of the guy who shows up at heaven’s gates. Peter asks him, “Before you can come in, I’m supposed to ask did you do anything self-sacrificing or noteworthy to show that you loved God and loved others?” “Well,” he replied, “There was one thing. I saw an old lady that was being harassed by a motorcycle gang—real Hell’s Angels type. So, without thinking, I went right up to the biggest meanest looking one with arms the size of trees and tattoos decorating his entire body and told him that they had better leave her alone or else. And while I distracted them, the old lady was able to get away.” Peter said, “Wow sounds pretty courageous. When did this happen?” And the guy answered, “About 3 minutes ago.”

While they probably didn’t have to worry about motorcycle gangs in John’s day, the need to lay down their lives for their fellow believers was very real. When John wrote this letter, the megalomaniacal emperor, Nero Caesar, had risen to power.  Because Christians refused to worship Nero as “Almighty God” and “Savior”, he blamed them for the burning of Rome in AD 64 and instigated three-and-a-half years of persecution that claimed the lives of thousands of Christians including the every single one of the apostles except for John himself. According to Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian working for Roman, Christians were thrown to the lions, beheaded, and even burned alive to give lit to Roman revelries. These Christians died because of their love for God, but also because of their love for each other. They refused to give each other up.

While you and I are not under the threat of imperial persecution, we never know when we might be called on to sacrifice our lives for the ones we love.

I’m sure that all of you have been praying for the tornado victims in Moore, Oklahoma. When tragedies like this occur, there are always stories of heroism and self-sacrifice.  Like the story of kindergarten teacher Anna Canaday. When tornado sirens blared, Anna rushed her students, including her own daughter, into the hallway of Plaza Towers Elementary School and had them huddle against the wall with their hands on their heads. She kept reassuring them that God would protect them, but as the tornado ripped through the school, she began to pray that God would take her instead of the children. When rescue workers finally found Anna, she was underneath a car that had been blown into the school and underneath Anna were her students—all safe and sound. She shielded them with her own body. Anna survived with minor injuries, but she was willing to lay down her life for the kids that she loved.

That’s real love. And we never know when our love might be tested like that. But if we’re willing to die for the ones we love, we ought to be willing to live for them too, which brings us to John next point—real love involves service.




Not every act of love involves something as heroic as giving your life to save someone else’s. In fact, most acts of love are rather small and seemingly insignificant. John puts it this way: “But if someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need, and won’t help him—how can God’s love be within him? Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions” (vs. 17-18 TLB).

It’s so easy to say you love your neighbor; it’s a lot harder to show it. But John is saying that real love requires more than words; it requires action. In 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind…,” all 15 words he uses to describe the spectrum of love are verbs. What this means is that love is not simply a feeling, or an abstraction or passive; love is a verb. Love is only love when it acts.

One person who knows all about that is Anthony Cymerys. Anthony is an 82-year-old barber who twenty-five years ago started taking one day a week to set up his chair in the shade of an oak tree in Hartford’s Bushnell Park where he gives haircuts to the homeless. His fee is always the same—a haircut for a hug. His clients line up on park benches, some of them enjoying a free meal provided by a local church, and one by one they take a seat in a folding lawn chair above the car battery Anthony uses to power his clippers. When asked by a reporter why he does what he does, Anthony said, “It really is love. I love these guys.” He paused and turned to his client in the chair, “You know I love you, right?” Then looked back up and said, “That’s what it’s all about.”

That’s real love.

Whether it’s haircuts for the homeless, buying lunch for a complete stranger, donating emergency essentials for tornado ravaged towns, or helping a neighbor who can’t pay their bills—real love is involves service. Who have you served recently? How have you shown love to your neighbor? Love is kind. And nothing demonstrates real love better than intentional acts of kindness. So real love involves sacrifice, it involves service, and finally real love involves security.




These last couple of verses are specifically about our love for God. When you have a real love for God and you’re abiding in his love for you—it brings with it a sense of security in your relationship with him. Listen to what John says about this again: “Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence” (1 John 3:19-21 NLT).

What John is describing is the confidence and security that comes from living loved. It’s the ability to stand before God, even knowing that we’ve sinned and failed and made mistakes every day, and know that God loves us—that we are his and he is ours. Earlier in the chapter John described our relationship with God like this: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NIV).

If we are God’s children and he is our Father, we shouldn’t ever be worried that God will one day stop loving us. My kids never have to worry about losing my love. And, yet, many Christians—I think—fear standing before God and being condemned by him, because their hearts already condemn them. One of my favorite radio programs is called The Bible Answer Man, where listeners can call in and ask questions about the Bible and Christianity. According to Hank Hannegraaff, the host of the program, one of the most frequently asked questions is “How can I be sure that I haven’t committed the unforgiveable sin?” Countless Christians are convinced that they’ve somehow sinned too much, that God couldn’t possibly forgive them, that any day now his love will run out.

It reminds me of the young college girl who gave her boyfriend a picture of herself with an inscription on the back. It read: “My dearest Tom, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for all eternity!” It was signed “Diane.” Under that it said, “p.s. If we ever break up, I want this picture back.” That’s not real love and that’s not what God is like!

Max Lucado, in his book Just Like Jesus, describes God’s love like this: “God’s love never ceases. Never. Though we spurn him. Ignore him. Reject him. Disobey him. He will not change. Our evil cannot diminish his love. Our goodness cannot increase it. Our faith does not earn it any more than our stupidity jeopardizes it. God doesn’t love us less if we fail or more if we succeed. God’s love never ceases.”

The Apostle Paul, in his book Romans, puts it this way: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT).

When we love God and live in his love for us—we have nothing to fear. In fact, John says just that: “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19).




Could you use a little more love in your life? Remember that the often forgotten first step in loving others is first living loved. Don’t forget the words of John—we love because he first loved us. Because Jesus sacrificed his life for ours, we can sacrifice our lives for the ones we love. Because Jesus came not to be served but to serve, we can serve others. Because nothing can separate us from God’s love, we shouldn’t let anything stop us from loving the people God puts in our lives. That’s real love!




Are you low on love? Do you long to be more loving? It may be that you’re trying to give what you’ve never received. So I want invite you to experience God’s perfect love—embrace it, let it wrap around you like a warm blanket, and start living in the overflow of God’s love today. If I can help you with that, then please talk with me while we stand and sing.

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