Having spent years walking through Israel with Jesus, having listened to him teach, and having seen him heal the sick and even raise the dead, the Apostle John distilled Christ’s love into this intriguing statement: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16a). Without reference to any warm feelings or emotions, John elevates the painful sacrifice of Christ’s execution as his defining act of love.
While the connection of biblical love with Christ’s tortuous death may sound familiar to experienced churchgoers, I would argue the paradox is often missed in the minds of modern Christians. Maybe we can more readily see it when we read the rest of John’s sentence: “…and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16b). As we imagine the biblical call to love our fellow Christians, I suspect we envision the joy and camaraderie of spiritual brothers and sisters happily encouraging each other over a meal or after a prayer meeting.
I don’t think we visualize the pain of death. Yet, our call to “love” each other is a call to sacrifice our comfort, our freedoms, or our advantages for the good and benefit of others. This “dying” to ourselves and our own agendas comes incrementally when we love in the manner of Christ. But don’t miss the fact that those painful sacrifices are the essence of Christlike love. So don’t hold back today. Go the extra mile, stay the extra hour, or spend the extra dollar for the edification of a brother or sister in Christ.