How does the Bible define love? Certainly, the manner of love that John wrote about which transforms our lives into the very image of Christ is unique in the world.
Galatians 5 tells us what love is: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (v. 22-23). Scripture also tells us what love is not: "Love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity" (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). In our text, John told us what love does.
How Love Behaves
When John wrote about love, he primarily used the word agape, meaning God's divine love or unconditional love. It is the love that sees beyond the surface and accepts the recipient for who they are, regardless of flaws, faults, and shortcomings.
John said, "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16). Agape is translated as a verb. Love is a verb. And what makes it actionable is an outward demonstration toward another person. Paul said something similar in Romans 5:8: "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God's love for us is expressed through actions, not mere platitudes. This kind of love is self-sacrificing, not self-centered.
John continued, "Whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:17-18). Love in deed; make it actionable. Author and pastor Warren Wiersbe said, "'Self-preservation' is the first law of physical life, but 'self-sacrifice' is the first law of spiritual life."
What Love Believes
As a follower of Jesus Christ, your behavior is an extension of God's demonstrated agape love for you. It is also a reflection of what you believe in your heart. John mentioned the heart four times in the next three verses: "By this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God" (1 John 3:19-21).
It's a complicated passage. In our hearts, are we assured or condemned? Convicted or confident? What is going on in our hearts? John was expressing God's sympathy toward our human frailty, physical weakness, and moral wickedness. God knows that the heart is unreliable. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 17:9-10). In other words, if you are behaving—if your ways are fruitful—don't worry about believing. God knows your heart. He searches the heart and He tests the mind. He understands.
Nelson's Bible Dictionary defines the heart as "the inner self that thinks, feels, and decides." The thinking processes of man are said to be carried out in the heart. The heart in Scripture is what we call the mind in English. Hebrews 4:12 explains this: "The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
In Scripture, the battle is for your mind. We tend make emotions the engine and our minds the caboose. But the Bible teaches that feelings follow faith and behavior follows belief.
How Love Rebuilds
Is it possible to transform your mind so that what you know drives what you do, instead of how you feel? It is. But it can only happen if you allow the light of God's love to rebuild your mind. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). When you allow God to renew your mind, you will be transformed.
Your behavior should be based on truth—on what you believe—not on your feelings. You can even choose to behave contrary to your feelings. Even if you don't feel like it, obey God. Remember your heart is unreliable, but a mind renewed by choosing to walk in the light is a mighty force of love. Walk by faith and your feelings will follow. Corrie ten Boom said, "The will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart." That's just what John was saying, too.
Lord, I want to love in deed and in truth as it says in Your Word. Show me how I can demonstrate love to my family, my friends, and even to strangers. Let my acts of love come from my growing faith in You. And keep my heart from deceiving me, Lord. Only You can transform and renew my mind. In Jesus' name, amen.