1 John 3:16-20 – “This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a brother in need but withholds compassion from him – how does God’s love reside in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and truth. This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows all things.”
The apostle John has much to say when it comes to the love of God and the love of brethren for one another. Many believe this was due to John being within the “inner circle” of Yeshua’s disciples (Peter, James, and John). Others believe it is due to John’s insights into the Greek culture and being relatable to a wider audience than just the Jews of his day. While there could be many indications of John’s perspective on love, this famous portion of his first epistle carries a weighty and convicting central theme: “let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth.”
It is easy to love in word or speech, to say that we love someone and yet not meet their basic needs or provide any evidence to them that we do honestly care. James has a similar thought in mind when he writes the following:
James 2:15-16 – If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it?
Peter also encourages his hearers to be actively using their gifts to serve others in love.
1 Peter 4:8-10 – Above all, maintain constant love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God.
Those who put their love into action by serving others in sincerity are the ones who are really demonstrating their compassion to others. However, John also mentions that these compassionate actions must be based on the truth. On this aspect of John’s teaching, the Cambridge Bible Commentary says:
“[Let us not love in word or speech, but] in deed and in truth: Omit the second ‘in’: the preposition is not repeated in the Greek. Tyndale and the Rhemish Version have no second ‘in’.”
This original language construction then ties the word “truth” directly to “action.” The very action itself shows the truth of the intent of the heart. The Pulpit Commentary broadens this principle a little further.
“…to love with the tongue only … is to say kind things which one does not mean, and which one knows to be unreal. Deeds are needed to complete the kind word; truth is needed to correct the insincere tongue.”
Truth is always based on something concrete, some action or real evidence, not just something someone has said. It must be proven, not just stated. Until the action is completed, the intent behind it is not demonstrated to be sincere.
Paul also reinforces this idea when he encouraged the Roman congregation to exhibit ideals that are worthy of all believers.
Romans 12:9-10 – “Love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another with mutual love, showing eagerness in honoring one another.”
True love is not hypocritical or stated only; it is lived out and demonstrated to be true in the life of every believer. John concludes by saying, “This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows all things.” We can know we belong to the truth when our actions line up with what we believe in our hearts. This is true compassion.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.
Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.
Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at email@example.com.