Thursday, 30 April 2020
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18
John has been speaking of accomplishing deeds for others – laying down one’s life, sharing the world’s goods, etc. He now shares a simple instruction which goes to the heart of this type of attitude. To do so, he begins with his familiar address, “My little children.” Again, John is speaking to those who believe, as a father would speak to his young ones. This is to impress upon his reader that this is an obvious thing, but it is one which still must be taught. It is so obvious that one might trip right over it by neglecting the more important part of the matter, which begins with, “let us not love in word or in tongue.”
The Greek has no article before “word,” but there is one before “tongue.” A more precise reading would be, “let us not love in word, neither with the tongue.”
He is not saying to not do these things, but not to only do these things. To love in word is acceptable, and we do it all the time. But it is no good to love in word, even if we mean it, and to not act upon that love when it is necessary to do so. This would demonstrate a love which is unwilling to move to action because it is weak: either in the source, or toward the object of the love. In other words, the act of laying one’s life down for another may be greater than the source can muster, or the act of giving of one’s worldly goods towards another may be evaluated as too great in relation to the object of the love.
To love in tongue is to “say” there is a love, but which is hypocritical from the outset. The source of the statement bears no love for the object in the first place.
Such a feckless love is wrong. John says we are not to merely have genuine love, but we are to act upon what issues forth from the mouth by loving “in deed and in truth.” The “deed” is the laying down of one’s life. The “deed” is giving, even when what is possessed appears to be of a greater value to the person than the object of the action. It is a sacrificial giving which may actually hurt, but which is right to do. The “truth” is that if the word of love is spoken, it is to be an honest word; one without hypocrisy. If it is not an honest word, it is not to be conveyed in the first place.
Life application: In the previous verse, the words of James were cited. Again here, they are appropriate to be cited again –
“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” James 2:15, 16
In both instances, the tongue is used to “love” the brother, but nothing is done to demonstrate the love indicated. In John’s verse, he says we should not merely “love in word or tongue.” James indicates that such an attitude is completely unprofitable.
It is as if these two men were singing the same song, and echoing one another, as their voices rise above the false living around them. Further, deeds need to be backed up by real love or they are without any true value – “You look hungry, can I get you anything to eat? And is there anything else I can do to help? I’m sorry for your troubles and I’d like to pray with you if you’d like.” As Solomon noted long ago –
“Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor
Will also cry himself and not be heard.” Proverbs 21:13
Let us then love in deed and also in truth. May our tongues not just wag at the plight of those around us. This can be applied to both the physically and the spiritually needy. Have you taken the time to tell the poor in spirit about Jesus? Eternity is waiting for them too. Where they will spend it may be up to you opening your mouth and speaking.
Lord Jesus, in relation to the time we have been given, what little time we have actually devoted to the needy around us – both those who are physically needy and those who are spiritually needy as they live without a saving knowledge of You. Turn our hearts to be those whose hearts break for the poor in body and in spirit. And, Lord, direct our steps to tend to their needs. Amen.