Summary: A devotion for growing believers
“WE KNOW LOVE BY THIS, THAT HE LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR US, AND WE OUGHT TO LAY DOWN OUR LIVES FOR THE BRETHREN.”
It is an interesting coincidence, that in John’s gospel, chapter three, verse 16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life”.
And here in his first letter to the churches the same author writes this truth, and not only does it become the 16th verse of the third chapter, but it expounds the same great theme. (These were written as letters to the churches existing at the time; chapter and verse divisions came only in recent history)
The theme: “We know love by this...” Mankind has made so many attempts to define love, that volumes upon volumes of books have been written about it. Over the centuries romantic love has been the theme of the larger part of all music written and sung.
How many of the classic plays, novels and movies have in some way been based on the theme of love; yet, if you ask ten people to define love, you’re likely to get ten different definitions.
But John gives us the briefest and best definition of love right here in this verse. We could not know love apart from God. God is love. And if we do not know love; His kind of love, then we don’t know love at all. (I Jn 4:8,20) All other affections, no matter what we call them, fall short and incomplete of what they could be, if not based in this kind of love.
The Greeks had three words for love. One “Phileo”, specifically referred to the love between two friends. It’s where the name “Philadelphia” comes from, which means “City of brotherly love”. Another, “Eros”, refers to romantic love. It is from this word that we get “Erotic”. But then there is “Agape” or “Agapao”. It is a totally self sacrificing kind of love; asking nothing in return. It is a love that spends itself completely and unwaveringly on its object. This is the kind of love John was talking about in John 3:16, and here in I John 3:16.
We can only know love if we understand that Jesus laid down His life for us. The eternal Creator of all; the giver of life Himself; the only One who need never lay down His life at all, laid His life down for us.
The One from whom no one could take life; (Gospel of John, 10:17,18) Who was in absolute control over death and the grave, deliberately laid down His life in payment for our sins, so that through Him we might have life.
Jesus said that no man could have a greater love than that he would lay down his life for his friends; and then He laid down His life for His enemies (see Romans 5) so that they might become His friends. Our puny minds cannot begin to fathom the depths of this love. We can only fall to our knees and worship Him, praise Him, adore Him, for His excellent gift.
And what does He ask in return? Nothing, pertaining to our salvation. it is done. But John is right again, when he says that even our shallow understanding of the love of God, demonstrated on Calvary’s cross, should inspire us to give of ourselves completely to our fellow believers.