We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16 NASB)

Conceptually, love can mean so many things to so many people, which is understandable. The God who is love is also Creator of all, so some imprint of his love is written into us. Even non-Christians are touched by selfless, sacrificial love. But apart from Christ, we are fallen, and thus love can become distorted to reflect that which appeases human sinfulness.

And consequently, people can be abused in the name of “love.” At a talk given at the Asbury University student chapel on the morning of February 8, 2023, Rev. Zach Meerkreebs gave a sermon about love. He acknowledged to the students that many of them have experienced a distortion of God’s love. He taught from Romans 12:9–21 and assured the students in chapel that day they could not do any of the commands Paul wrote in those verses apart from receiving the empowerment of God that comes from his love. He invited the Spirit of God to revive the students by his love. He implored the seniors not to graduate from Asbury thinking they can serve God in their own strength but to know they need to experience the love of God in order to truly love others. And somehow his pleading about the love of God touched several students; something different happened in chapel that day. Students continued to praise God in the chapel, and people came from all over the world to participate in what so many experienced as an outpouring of God’s love.

But what is love? How is love defined?

It is always easier to define a word not just by depending on a conceptual understanding but by showing an action. You get a better grasp of a concept by seeing it rather than just having it described.

So it is with love.

We read in 1 John 3:16 that we know love because of what God has done for us in Jesus, by laying down his life for us. God is love. Jesus is his exact representation. In Jesus, we see the love of God in action.

As we look at Jesus, we see love because we see commitment. We see sacrifice. We see selfless giving on behalf of the other, for the benefit and blessing of the other.

We are the other.

As we know from 1 Corinthians 13, love is patient and kind, not jealous. Love does not brag, nor is love arrogant. As Eugene Peterson puts it: “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always ‘me first.’”

This is what we see in Jesus, the perfect Son of God, who took on flesh to become the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He never gave up. He cared more for others than his own life. He was not “me first.” As Fred Hammond puts it, “[Jesus] did not die just for his health.”

God shows us love – through Christ leaving paradise, taking on a body, serving the Lord faithfully with that body, and submitting that body to a cross.

Dying for us.

John beckons followers of Jesus to really follow Jesus, to lay down our lives for one another as he did for us.

What does this look like for us today?

—Written by Wayne Stapleton, VP of Cross-Cultural Engagement and Emerging Leader Engagement