By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
1 John 3:16
As pastors, we decided a few weeks back to do a sermon series together on the subject of “Why Did Jesus Come?” a fitting series for this time of year as we give thanks to God for the incarnation! Some may think such a series rather presumptuous as it is often impossible to get to the “why” of things; impossible to understand and rightly judge the motives behind an action. But God has made these things plain to us in His Word. And as we examine the Gospel record, Jesus Himself makes it clear why He came down from heaven to earth. We’ll be looking at some of those texts throughout this season, even as we have already begun last week with Pastor Englestad’s exposition of John 12:46 where Jesus reminds us that He came as the light of the world so that all who believe in Him should not abide in darkness. The text above is also from the pen of John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit written to remind us that He came to lay down His life for us.
We know that the versification of the Bible (dividing books into chapters and verses) is not inspired by God. However, I have always been amazed in God’s providence that John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 both speak so clearly of the love of God. John’s point in this section of his first letter (and really one of his main points throughout the entire letter!) is to show the connection between being loved by God and loving one another. This connection also comes out most clearly in John’s Gospel as Jesus reminds His disciples in John 15:9, 17: “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love… These things I command you, that you love one another.” The ground and motivation of our loving one another is found in the fact that we have been so loved by God.
Charles Spurgeon, in writing on this passage in 1 John 3:16, speaks powerfully of this motivation when he writes:
Just think of that for a moment. He had a crown in Heaven, but He laid that aside, that you and I might wear one forever. He had a belt of brightness—brighter than the stars, about His loins, but He took it off and laid it by—that you and I might eternally wear a belt of righteousness. He had listened to the holy songs of the cherubim and seraphim, but He left them all that we might forever dwell where angels sing. And then He came to earth and He had many things, even in His poverty, which might have tended to His comfort, but He laid down first one glory, and then another, at love’s demand. At last it came to this—He had nothing left but one poor garment, woven from the top, throughout, and that was clinging to His back with blood—and He laid down that, also. Then there was nothing left. He had not kept back one single thing. ‘There,’ He might have said, ‘take an inventory of all I have, to the last farthing. I have given it all up for My people’s ransom.’ And there was nothing left now but His own life. O insatiable Love, could you not stay there? He had given up one hand to cancel sin and the other hand to reconcile us unto God. He had given up one foot that we might have our sinful feet forever transfixed, and nailed, and fastened—never to wander—and the other foot to be fastened to the Cross that we might have our feet at liberty to run the heavenly race! And there was nothing left but His poor heart—and He gave His heart up, too—they ripped it apart with the spear and forthwith there came out blood and water.
Jesus, as the fullest expression of the Father’s love for us, gave His own life for us and in that giving we have come to know love. If that is the case, dear friends, how is it that we so often fail to love one another even as God loved us? John gives us no room here to escape: “and we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Love one another in the same way you have been loved.
The world has so distorted the true nature of love that it has come to mean something we feel rather than something we do. And when it is something that we do, it is only in response to whether others love us or not. But the essence of biblical love, as modeled on God’s love for us, is seen most clearly in what John writes—Jesus laid own His life for the unlovely and unlovable! We, sinners that we are, were no great catch for God. The modern author Paul Miller in his book, A Loving Life: In A World Of Broken Relationships, writes the following concerning the kind of covenant faithfulness demonstrated by God in loving us. He is speaking of the great word hesed in the Old Testament, which is that powerful Hebrew word which is variously translated as lovingkindness, mercy, and love, but refers to God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises which find their fulfillment in Christ:
Hesed is one-way love. When we love with hesed love, we bind ourselves to the object of your love, no matter what the response is. It is love without an exit strategy. As we follow this path of hesed love we soon realize it’s impossible outside of relationship with our heavenly Father. We endure the weight of love by being rooted in God. Our life energy needs to come from God, not the person we are loving, The more difficult the situation, the more we are forced into utter dependence on God. … We know without a shadow of a doubt that we can’t love. That is the beginning of faith — knowing that we can’t love.
And so by faith believing in the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us (that is why He came!), we ought to love one another. How can it be otherwise?
As you prepare to come to the Lord’s Table this week, consider these things carefully. John writes so as to give us a test of our being in Christ. Earlier in the chapter he notes that this is the great thing which divides the children of God from the children of the devil—that we love one another (3:10-12). Jesus said the same thing in John’s Gospel—that the world will know that we are His disciples if we love one another. Let us confess before God that we so often fail at this and rejoice that God is one Who forgives and then enables us to do what we cannot do in our own strength. Finally, rejoice that God has bound Himself to you, believer, in love, and that in such love there is no exit strategy, for His lovingkindness (hesed) endures forever.
To the glory of the One Who laid down His life for us,
Pastor Ted Trefsgar