“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3 v 18
This verse has been on my mind a lot recently for I think it does a good job of summing up one of the failures of my own walk with God and, if I can be so bold as to generalise, the church as a whole. We know that the essence of Christianity is love: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13v13) and we know the summary of all of God’s commandments: “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22 v 37 – 39). And yet when push comes to shove then we are not very good at loving others.
Oh, we are very good with loving with words and speech! It is easy to say “I’ll pray for you”, it is also pretty easy to actually pray, but if that’s all we ever do for our friends then we’ve missed the glaring point of Christian love. Don’t get me wrong, there is always room for encouraging words, promises to pray, a cheerful word, a reminder of a bible verse, these are good and we should overflow with them. But if that’s the extent of our love then we have a problem. And that problem is that we are not truly loving.
Take the Lord Jesus Christ, he doesn’t just say he loves us, he doesn’t just pray for us, he doesn’t just give many encouraging promises to us (though he does all these things), Jesus also died for us. You can’t get more nitty gritty practical than that. As John writes a few verses earlier: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3v16). In fact, if you follow John’s argument the reason why he calls us to love with actions is this is exactly what Jesus did!
Imagine a situation where Jesus came into the world, told us he loved us all very dearly, prayed for us, encouraged us, even gave us promises, then left without dying for us leaving us with no way of salvation. Well, we would have to doubt the truth of his words. The same is true with our friendships, if we say we love our friends, love our neighbours, love our family but do not practically manifest such love then we cast doubt on our true feelings.
We all instinctively understand this but regularly fail to apply it to our own lives. What follows then is a few suggestions for practical love, the list is neither exhaustive nor extensive but should hopefully point us in the right direction. Jesus came and died for us, likewise we should be ready to lay our own lives down, but in the normal day to day events of life such opportunities are understandably rare. Therefore, if we aim to be able to love as much as to lay down our lives let us also aim to love as much to do the little things.
“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?” 1 John 3 v 17
John is very blunt here, if we see a fellow Christian in need and we don’t have pity on them then we call into doubt our own saving faith. And given what verse 18 says then we need to apply to this to practical pity as well, how can we see a brother or sister in need and not practically help them?
Giving is inherently practical. It is also a great destroyer of the money idol. So let us do it with great abandon! If a brother or sister has a need and we have the means then let the two cancel each other out. And if you do not know any poor people to give to then go away and pray about it, asking to meet people whose needs you can provide for. I know that I have very rarely prayed so yet it seems such a healthy prayer to pray.
One of the qualities that an Elder should have is that he (yes, he!) is hospitable. It may seem rather innocuous but hospitality is another practical demonstration of love. If we read the NT, especially the Gospels and Acts, then we find numerous examples of people opening up their houses to fellow Christians. Likewise, our homes should be open to all.
When was the last time you had someone round to your flat for a meal? When was the last time you explicitly had someone who you knew to be lonely round for a meal? (As a self-serving sidenote: remember when inviting men around that the portion size should exponentially increase. Thank you.)
Washing up/cleaning/chair stacking
Two examples here, the first is just this morning when I spilt a cup of tea and a friend immediately went to the kitchen to get a cloth to wipe it up. That is practical based Christian love right there and I very much appreciated it. Or to take another example, I had a grub crawl at my flat and out of the twenty or so Christians there then only one offered to help with the washing up. To avoid hypocrisy here let me state that I don’t follow my own advice but washing up isn’t a very nice task so it beholds us as Christians to do it for others.
Consideration of others
I find this particularly challenging, I usually only consider my actions in retrospect after its been brought to my attention that it perhaps wasn’t very considerate of me. But we should try and think of others first especially people we do not know. For example, it is very easy, or I find it very easy, when mingling with the masses to be very inconsiderate and selfish, rushing to get stuff down, ignoring the implications of actions that benefit me but others might find annoying (cycling on pavements for example). We queue jump and think little of it, brush past people not remembering how annoying we find it, view other people as obstacles rather than fellow human beings.
Have you left a computer logged on and unattended in the library for a prolonged length of time? Have you let yourself walk away with the wrong change? If you’re driving or cycling do you do so putting others first (and take careful note of the speed limit?) Have you given a shop assistant a bit of lip because you were feeling tired? Have you grumpily brushed past pedestrians bent on getting to your destination? I’d have to hold my hand up and say guilt for all of them.
And with our friends, we take them for granted, take liberties we would not dream of taking with strangers, relying too much on their grace, putting ourselves first in the friendship, all so easily done. Punctuality, for example, is an expression of love. Or the other extreme of having little patience for lateness. A friend once brought me a cup of tea at CU, made my day! This is the kind of love we are rubbish at showing.
Love is in the little things
Practical love is often, mostly, in the little things. And the little things are important because that’s where life is lived. Maybe a lot of what I have talked about seems tiny, insignificant, unimportant, but as always we need to look to Jesus Christ who came and died for us, yes, but who also washed his disciples feet and made them breakfast. The Lord of Lords and King of Kings, the Alpha and Omega, the Morning Star, the Prince of Peace cooked his friends breakfast, love and humility mingled sweet!
It’s hard because it seems like no one will ever really notice when we do such small acts of love. And most people probably won’t. But we have a God in heaven who sees what we do in secret and is well pleased with us. Let our prayer be for more love, practical love, love so great is does so little.