A godly character that reflects the likeness of Christ, is one that loves others as Christ loved us. The love about which the Bible speaks, is different from every other type of human love, and is uniquely imparted to the child of God from the indwelling Spirit of truth and love. It is comparatively easy to love in word and tongue. It is reasonably simple to say, ‘I love you’ to other people, but the test of genuine love is expressed in-deed and in truth. It is much harder to actually do!
1 John 3:18-20 The Message
When We Practice Real Love
18-20 My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
True or False?
“Actions speak louder than words.”
“True or False?” “Actions speak louder than words!” These are very familiar questions and phrases and words you can and do hear from people who are in a relationship or are spoken from the hearts, mouths of people who expect other people’s affection and love. These are also the very words we will hear in our surroundings and the very thought preached in movies, books and fairytales.
Good news is, it is not only preached in the movies we see or the books we read, but God also wants us to do this in actual practice. In our verses today, He is telling us to love not just in thoughts and words but with actions and in truth.
The Bible is talking about so many types of love and this time God is referring to the love He gave to us— His agape love. Jesus Christ laid His own life for His friends and enemies. He sacrificed His life for us all, so we don’t have to receive God’s wrath. Therefore, it is just right and righteous for us all to do the same.
We are directed to lay down our lives to our brothers and sisters and sacrifice for them. However, though sometimes true, God does not want us to literally die for them, but He wants us to serve one another to the highest level.
It is just very easy to say “I love you” to many people and to the people we hold most dear. It is easy to love in thoughts and in words, but the truest test of genuine love is expressed through our actions and in truth. Loving does not mean only expressing it through our feelings or words but through giving up ourselves in complete service for others, no matter what the cost is, may it be money, time, reputation, and everything we can offer. (John 19:30, Acts 3:1-10)
An act of true love should be like the love of Jesus. It is all about “dying to self” and “living in Christ”. The love of Jesus is the complete and perfect example of loving in deeds and in truth and as we receive this love, this will manifest in our lives, and we will be able to actually reveal it, genuinely show it to others too.
To love in words and in thoughts means expressing how much we love that specific person, but it should be accompanied with actions and truth. It can never be true if it is without action. For our true love can only be found in our Savior Jesus, now, we can also give this love to others through Him. As the Bible said, this saving faith we have can produce good deeds. By Grace, we are saved through faith and with this it can produce good works. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Through this good work that is produced by our faith in Jesus Christ, it will mirror His love and we will be able to shine it onto others too. For in the book of Romans said that we are living sacrifices, and this is our true act of worship.
Therefore, as we worship the Lord, let us also become like Lady Wisdom people who have mirrored God’s love unto the people who have not known, nor have they seen yet what God has in store for their whole lives. (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)
However, let us always remember we can never do this no matter how hard we try. We can never give what we do not have, and we can never give this through our own finite stores of strength. So first, we must be able to recognize where this unconditional love came from and submit everything to Jesus and through this, we will, with continuous, continual practice, will soon be able to love the grand diversity of people around us not just in words but in actions and truth.
Living in spirit, loving and moving in spirit, in truth, in-deed is a manifestation of someone who died from self-preservation nature has become made new in Christ. It is true evidence of someone who lives in Christ and abides with Him.
Are Deeds a Better Sign of Love Than Words?
The same apostle who said, “Let us not love in word or talk but in-deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18), also recorded Jesus saying, “These things I speak . . . that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13), and “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).
If the “speaking” of Jesus imparts joy, and the “words” of Jesus give spiritual life, then surely such speaking is love.
It has always troubled me that 1 John 3:18 could also easily be taken to imply that what we do with our mouths is a less real or less frequent form of love than what we do with our hands. “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in-deed and in truth.” It seems to me that we each have practical and biblical reasons for saying that the muscle of the tongue is much more frequently the instrument of true love than any other muscle throughout the entire body.
So, let’s step back and see what John is saying in 1 John 3:18 and to take some quality time to examine and discover what the wider witness of Scripture is.
Notice the context, the structure of his words, and what other witnesses say.
1. The Context
The preceding verses give us a clue what John means:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:16–17)
Sometimes, as on an actual battlefield, in an actual combat situation, if it comes down to choosing your life over my life, and I take the bullet meant for someone else, and I am actually wounded or even killed, no demonstration of friendship, or exercise of truest love, could ever possibly be greater. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Then John draws out a principle of love which is more pervasive and less dramatic: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” In other words, true love not only gives its life for the loved ones, but also its goods.
This is what James was saying: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15–16). This is what John is criticizing: Saying, “Be warmed and be filled,” but giving no food and clothing when you have them to give?!? NO!
So, the first thing John has in mind is people who say they love others, but when it comes down to practical sacrifices, and actual and genuine acts of self-denial, they do not do them. That’s what John means by loving “in word or talk.” It’s not real, its only superficial lip service. Deeds of sacrifice validate words of love.
2. The Structure of His Words
But there are even more clues. You can’t see this one in the English translation, but the contrasting pairs of words (“word or talk” vs. “deed and truth”) are not exactly parallel. The first two are dative, and the second two are objects of the repeated preposition ‘en‘. Hence literally what is being said here is this: “Little children, let us not love by word or by talk but in-deed and in truth.”
The difference may be incidental. Or perhaps there is a sound theological reason for it: “Let us not think nor believe of love as only the actions of instruments like tongues and the guttural sounds, they make (words). Let us rather think and believe of love as a reality that is happening in our deeds and in truth.”
In other words, love can never be reduced to sounds (words) or muscle movements (whether the tongue or any other muscle). Rather, love is always something real within and beneath those actions. Something true.
That’s why Paul said, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned but have not love . . .” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Deeds by themselves are never love. Never. Love is “in” the deeds. So, John’s point is: Don’t identify love with words or tongue-acts. Love is deeper. It is active in muscle actions but is never identical with such instruments. The words, “in truth,” push the issue deeper.
But even more important than the grammar is the surprising contrast between “tongue” and “truth.” “Little children, let us not love by word or talk but in deed and in truth.” We expect the contrast between “word” and “deed.” But not “talk” and “truth.” We might have expected something like “not by talk but by hand.”
The simplest lesson to draw from this is: Don’t make loving promises with your tongue that don’t come true in actual “in the moment” reality. If you say you are going to come to help, come. The promise is encouraging, therefore loving. But encouragement dies when you don’t show up. Tell the truth. Love in truth.
A second lesson to draw from the contrast between tongue and truth is that truth itself is a wonderful gift. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Speaking the truth to others, whether they like it or not, is a great gift. “The words that I have spoken to you are . . . life” (John 6:63). That was true for Jesus and for the apostles: “Speak to the people all the words of this Life” (Acts 5:20).
Which means that when the tongue and its sounds (words) are “in truth,” they become acts of love. The line of lovelessness is not drawn between speaking and doing, but between speaking and doing in the truth, and speaking and doing in emptiness. Truth turns word-love into deed-love.
3. What Other Witnesses Say
The concern I raised at the beginning was that 1 John 3:18 could also be taken to imply that what we do with our mouths is a less real or less frequent form of love than what we do with our hands and feet. I don’t believe John was saying that.
Here is how real and frequent and important mouth-love is.
With the mouth everlasting joy is imparted:
“These things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13)
With the mouth faith is awakened:
Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
With the mouth courage imparts profitable things:
“I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable.” (Acts 20:20)
With the mouth blessing comes:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (Romans 12:14)
With the mouth grace is given:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up . . . that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)
We will be judged according to our mouth-deeds as much as by our hand-deeds:
“On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36–37)
Two Ways we tend to Get it Wrong
When John says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth,” he does not diminish the reality or frequency or importance of loving with our words.
In fact, even though the most dramatic and decisive expression of love may be the deep sacrifices we make for those we love, two things remain true.
One is that there are sacrifices which have ulterior motives and are not real love (again, 1 Corinthians 13:3 says, “If I deliver up my body to be burned . . .”). Love is not identical to deeds. Ever. It is always “in” the deeds, or not.
The other is, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).
Therefore, the most frequent witness to the love of our hearts is what comes out of our mouths.
In this sense, our words are deeds. And God knows when they are true.
But let us never treat the mouth-deed or the hand-deed with neglect, or preference. Many fails as lovers by thinking they can replace words with deeds. And many fail, thinking words are enough. Rather let us always think: Both! Both word and work! Mouth-work and handwork! Both!
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Colossians 3:17)
I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience — by word and deed. (Romans 15:18)
May God . . . comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16–17)
Living, Loving and actually moving forth in spirit, in word, in deed, and in truth is evidenced in, evidenced through, the life of one who has died to the self-life, abides in Christ, and is able to say with the apostle Paul, “It is not I that live my life, but Christ, whose life is in me and living through me.”
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us pray,
Heavenly Father, thank You that I am Your child and that Christ died to pay the price for my sin. Thank You that He rose again so that I could become a new creation in Christ, receiving my new life in Him. May the love of the Lord Jesus so flood and fill my being, that it not only flows out to others in thought and word, but in spirit, in truth, and in my every action and attitude. This I ask in Jesus’ name, Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! AMEN.