Summary: What is love? Laying ourselves down for others (some good stories)

More Than Chicken Soup

What is love?

I’m married to a scientist; some of her colleagues would describe love simply as a biochemical reaction in the brain that produces a variety of emotional stimuli and motivation for behavior. Is that love?

I’m part of the culture of the late 20th century Canada; my culture says that love and sex are the same thing. Is that love?

I’ve read some of the poets; for them love is an overwhelming feeling that consumes us – it is romance that sweeps me off my feet and causes me to behave irrationally. Is that love?

I don’t want the love described clinically by the scientists. I certainly don’t want the love that is inseparable from a physical act. And I don’t want a love that is intertwined with a fading feeling.

“This is how we know what love is:” – those are the first words of the passage of Scripture found in 1 John 3:16-20. Would you look that passage up in your Bible – 1 John 3:16-20, and would you follow along with me as I read it out loud. Keep your finger in this spot, as we work through this passage seeking to understand from it what love is, and how we are to love.


I began with the question, “What is Love.” In response to this, John gives us as clear and simple an explanation as is possible. 8 words: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”

There you have it. What is love? “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” If you want to truly know what love is you need look no further than the cross. If you want to truly know what love is you need look no further than the Son of God. If you want to truly know what love is you need look no further than the nail scars in the wrists of Jesus Christ God’s only Son WHO, for YOU, endured the pain and the shame and took upon Himself your sin and my sin so that you and I could be restored to right relationship with God. That is the Gospel – Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. He gave up his life so that we could have new life. He took the punishment for everything we have done that is wrong and opened the way for us to live in proper and holy relationship with the God of the Universe.

Have you accepted that love?

Have you received that gift?

We all ache to be loved. We all have an emptiness inside of us that longs to be known and accepted for just exactly who we are. It is in Jesus that the love we need and the love we crave so desperately is available, completely free, for us simply to receive.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”

Before going on, I need to ask you again – have you accepted that love? Have you said “Jesus I believe that you gave your life for me, I want to give my life back to you. Please forgive me for all of my sins; take control of my life, and make me your precious child.” If the Holy Spirit is nudging your heart right now to accept the love that Jesus offers than I encourage you to respond to Him, and begin the journey.

The starting point is always Jesus’ love for us. That is always the beginning. And the way it works is this: God’s love impacts us and changes us and recreates us, and then we respond to Him.

Sometimes we miss this starting point – we jump right ahead into what we should be doing and we get all legalistic and full of rules and regiments and end up focused on the things that we think we should be doing and leave Jesus out of it all together. That is wrong – our actions need to flow out of our knowledge and experience of Jesus’ love for us. Our behavior is our response, it is the outworking of the inward change.

How then should we respond? Look at the last half of verse 16 – “we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Jesus laid down his life, we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. Pretty simple. We should be like Jesus.

Could you do that – lay down your life? That is the Biblical standard.

I don’t know if any of you have ever thought about what you would do if someone put a gun to your head and told you to deny your faith in Christ or die. On April 20, 1999, Cassie Bernall was in the library of Columbine High School studying the Bible. Two students started opening fire on students in the library. The killers asked, "Does anyone here have a faith in Christ?" Cassie stood up. When one of them got to her he said, "Do you believe in God?’’ Cassie did not deny the Lord, but rather boldly said, "Yes, I believe in Jesus." He then asked her, "Why?" and did not give her a chance to answer before he shot her. Would you face the gunman, affirm Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and pay the price of your life. Maybe you have decided that you would. Maybe you are prepared to give your life completely if faced with that choice.

But do you notice that is not what the text says? It doesn’t say “Jesus laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for him.” It says we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. How important is the family of God!! How important are our brothers and sisters in Christ! We are called to lay down our lives for each other!! Would you take your brother or sister’s place, and die for him or her?

(tell story…)


The Scottish soldiers, forced by their Japanese captors to labor on a jungle railroad, had degenerated to barbarous behavior, but one afternoon something happened.

"A shovel was missing. The officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. When nobody in the squadron budged, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot . . . It was obvious the officer meant what he had said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. When it was over, the survivors picked up the bloody corpse and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing. Indeed, there had been a miscount at the first check point.

"The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others! . . . The incident had a profound effect. . . The men began to treat each other like brothers. "When the victorious Allies swept in, the survivors, human skeletons, lined up in front of their captors . . (and instead of attacking their captors) insisted: ’No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness.’" One man laid down his life for his brothers.

I’ve been talking about the phrase “laying down our lives” in terms of dying for each other. And if that is asked of you, 1 John says we ought to be willing. But for the vast majority of us, we will never be called upon to die for anything. And in fact, this phrase means far more than simply dying for something we believe in.

It means laying aside our desires and needs for each other. (repeat)

I am really tired of the message that our culture screams as loudly as it possibly can – the message is “me me me me me”. It is “my needs must come first”. It is “take care of yourself.” It is “You deserve a break today”, and following that “Have you had your break today?” It is “Treat yourself.” “Pamper yourself.” “Indulge yourself.” It is me me me me me me me.

And that message is wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

Yes people are busy. Yes we are all working hard. We are tired. But by and large we are busy pursuing our own goals. We are working hard to make money for ourselves, to make a good career for ourselves, to further ourselves. We are tired not because we have spent ourselves in pursuing good in and for others but because we have been pursuing the things we want so viciously and endlessly that we have exhausted ourselves. And we have nothing left for those around us. It is almost never about others.

And so we get to a text that says “we ought to give our lives for our brothers” and think “well it’s a good thing I live in Canada where people don’t actually have to die for each other… I guess I can ignore this part (thank goodness!)” And we get lulled back into the cultural lie that says my life must be focussed on me.

“Laying down our lives for our brothers” means more than being willing to give up our lives, it means being willing to lay aside our needs and put others first. John is talking about an “others-centered” lifestyle, where we put others ahead of ourselves. Which says that others’ needs take precedence over our own.

The next verse takes it one step further. Read verse 17 with me: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

“Pity” doesn’t mean feeling bad – the verse doesn’t mean I should see someone with a need and just feel bad about it. James 2:15-16 says “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

Read verse 17 again. OUCH! Scary verse!!! Do you see what it is questioning? It is questioning my internal state of salvation! If I do not respond with generosity to the need of my brother, How can the love of God be in me?

I don’t know about you, but that kind of verse makes me uncomfortable. It makes me squirm, makes me want to do some fancy theological tricks to manipulate the meaning and soften the impact. But this is about as plain as it gets – if we see a need, have material possessions but don’t share, the love of God is not in us. How many times have I walked down the street and ignored a street person who asked me for help? How many times have I flipped past the World Vision special on TV because I didn’t want to sit in my leather chair, drinking a Coke, and watch some poor children starving to death? This verse suggests that my actions reveal a heart that is not full of the love of God. And if I am not growing in compassion and generosity, if in fact I remain callous and don’t share, there is reason to doubt my salvation. That is what John says.

However, when we obey this verse the results are inspirational. I want to tell you about the teens in our church, and how they are obeying this verse – how they are seeing the needs of people and responding with their generosity.

(tell story)

I sat down with our senior high kids awhile ago to discuss our plans for youth activities for this year. I expected to get some ideas of fun things to do, lets go bowling and to laserquest and whitewater rafting yadda yadda yadda… You know what they decided? They asked me to find two Friday night events each month – half of all the things we would do – where they could go and do volunteer things for others, like preparing and serving meals at the Mustard Seed Street Church. And that is what they come to! Awhile ago I phoned to invite some kids to the Mustard Seed Street church to prepare and serve a meal to street people. Normally, if kids can’t come bowling or to something fun, they’re like “sorry, can’t make it.” But this time, I had a group of kids who couldn’t come and they were like “AWWW! Sick!! I Can’t come!!! That really makes me mad…” I had one senior high student who couldn’t come and was so mad she said “That’s it, I can’t come so I’m sending some money to pay for the meal.” She sent me an envelope, and I thought “this is probably $20 or so, that is great – it’ll really help pay for the meal.” I opened the envelope from this grade ten student – there was $60 in it. That’s a lot of money for me, let alone for a grade 10 student!! Another student came with us, and asked me how we were going to pay for these meals. I told him about this one student’s contribution, and said we’d do some fundraisers to pay for the rest. That Sunday that other student handed me an envelope, and said it was to help pay for some of the meals we were doing for these street people. I tossed it on my desk, again expecting $20-$40. I opened it the next day to deal with it – there was $250. From a grade 10 student. I talked to them later – I said “that’s an awful lot of money – are you sure?” “Yes, absolutely.” “Where did you get that much money?” Do you know what the response was? He said, “I’ve been saving up for a snowboard, but those people need to eat way more than I need a snowboard.”

What is love? It’s a fifteen year-old teen giving up his snowboard money so that street people can eat.

John continues, and as I read it his tone changes drastically. It changes from an in-your-face confrontational question, to a plea from a father: look at verses 18-20: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

Dear children. Dear children, let us. He pleads. He exhorts. He says, let’s prove it. Let’s put our love into action, not just say it but demonstrate it by our actions. And the result of this love in action, he says, is personal assurance: “This is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest whenever our hearts condemn us.”

Has that ever happened to you – you blow it somehow, and your conscience and your heart wells up and you feel condemned – not just for your sin but in regards to your salvation? Its like your heart says “Wow, if you did that then you certainly can’t be a Christian – the love of God certainly is not in you. God couldn’t love someone like you…” That is a common experience – that crippling feeling of guilt and shame that threatens to undermine our very assurance of God’s work of salvation in our lives. That is common. John offers hope. He says, in effect, are those thoughts, those doubts, are they in line with your actions over all? Does the way you live demonstrate your love for God, and for your neighbor, over all? Sometimes our hearts condemn us because we are genuinely wrong, and need to change; but sometimes the devil sneaks in and tries to undermine our confidence in God’s act of salvation in our lives, and that is when John says we can “set our hearts at rest in His presence” because we take an honest look at our actions and see ourselves growing in becoming more like Christ – we see ourselves loving in action and in truth and not merely in word or deed.

So what is love?

When you were sick as a child, did your mom bring you chicken soup? Did she wrap you up warm in your bed, give you a kiss on the head, and bring a nice warm cup of chicken soup? If you can relate to that, then probably like me that memory brings a smile – not because of the magical medicinal qualities of the soup but because of the expression of love that came from a mother’s heart. Love is more than chicken soup – its all the care and love and affection that accompanies it.

Who needs to know that you love them? Think right now – who is a part of your life that is important to you, that you love, but who might not know it? Now recall again John’s words – “Let us not love in words or with tongue but in actions and in truth”. Will you determine right now to express that love in action this week? What could you do to demonstrate your love?? I contemplated giving you a whole list of ideas of things you could do to demonstrate your love, but decided against it. Instead, let me suggest this: start by thinking about them, not about you and your love for them, or about the things you would respond to, and think about that person. What touches them? What reaches them? What are they passionate about? Then decide from that point what would be an appropriate demonstration – what would be a good way to express your love.

What is love?

Love is mom bringing you chicken soup.

Love is a prisoner getting beaten to death with a shovel so that his fellow inmates would be able to live.

Love is a grade ten student giving up his snowboard so that hungry street people can have a meal.

Love is the Son of God, hanging on the cross with his arms outstretched to welcome you and I back into relationship with God.

reread (or re-quote) Scripture to end.