First John was most likely written a decade after the Gospel of John was written. It lacks the standard characteristics of an ancient letter, such as an opening greeting, naming of sender and recipient, or closing greeting. Despite missing these features, First John is written in a way that suggests the sender has authority and influence over those who will receive and read it. The style and vocabulary is similar to the Gospel of John, including the phrase “from the beginning” in the first verse of the book. In the Gospel of John this referred to Jesus as the Word made flesh, but here, it signifies the beginning of the Christian faith.
First John was written to early Christians who followed the tradition and teachings of John. There had been division among this group of believers, and this book was written to emphasize the importance that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God the Father. It highlights the unity we have through Jesus and the Spirit’s presence in the community.
First John 3:17-18 provides important teaching for followers of Christ about what it means to love one another.
Recently I was playing a game with my family and halfway through a young family member said he was bored and then stopped paying attention and made moves at random when it was his turn. Someone told him that he was letting his teammates down by acting this way. He said that he did not care about the game but then said that he does care about the people who were playing the game.
I explained to him that sometimes we have to put our own comfort and desires to the side in order to care for others and show them we love them. I said there are other times that we play games he prefers that may not be our favorite, and we do this because we love him. This may seem like a trivial example, but it was helpful in pointing me back to the teachings in First John.
This passage calls us to action, and sometimes it takes a grumpy pre-teen to remind us to love others with our actions. When we look at the verse right before our passage, 1 John 3:16, we see that Jesus is the ultimate example for us: “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.”
Some people may read 1 John 3:17-18 and feel at a loss because they do not have the financial means to help others. Other people may read it and think they can simply write a check and they are good to go! I encourage you to consider the many ways we can put our love into action by helping others.
Sometimes this is with our finances. It is very important for us to be good stewards of the money we have and to share with those in need when possible. Sometimes this is in the form of donations, but other times it is more about making conscious choices about the way we spend our money. Perhaps you know of a local business that is struggling, and instead of going to the store you normally would you could do your shopping there instead. By doing this, you are caring for those in need, not by spending more money but by spending your money differently.
There are also countless other ways we can care for a brother or sister in need. As a hospital chaplain, I am often times told by patients that they have a neighbor who is mowing their lawn or caring for their pet while they are in the hospital. The neighbor may think this is a small act, but it certainly lifts a burden from my patients and makes them feel loved and cared for.
Remember, by loving others in truth and action we point back to our greatest example, Jesus, showing that God’s love abides in us.
First John reminds us that our words must be backed by our actions. We cannot simply tell others we love them; we must also show them.
What are some ways you can set aside your own comforts and desires to care for others? How can you love in truth and action? How do you show others that God’s love abides in you?
Haley Seanor serves as a hospital chaplain in Birmingham, Alabama. She feels blessed and humbled for the opportunity to walk alongside others in this role. Haley was a contributor for the book Reading the Bible Outdoors: The Practice of Lectio Sub Divo, A Devotional Guide.