May 7, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 John 3:16-18
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
As Christ followers, we need to have hearts open to others. We should be people of genuine compassion. If God’s love truly dwells in us, then we will be drawn to love others. This love will be ignited by our open hearts. But, as John makes abundantly clear, our feelings of love must also be expressed in tangible action. Immediately after implying that our hearts should be open, not closed, John adds, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18).
The is the second devotion in a series I’m calling “Walking with God in Uncertain Times.” In yesterday’s devotion, I shared my discomfort with the phrase I’m using in my title: “uncertain times.” Though we are certainly in uncertain times, millions of people in our world are experiencing much worse than uncertainty. According to Colossians 3:12, our calling as Christians is to feel compassion for others and to act on it. Merely feeling our own uncertainty isn’t wrong, of course, but it surely isn’t enough. Perhaps our uncertainty can even help us to be more compassionate with others who live with uncertain realities and feelings all the time.
A passage from the first letter of John calls us to active compassion in way similar to what we observed in Colossians 3:12. Unfortunately, our translation of 1 John 3:17 makes this hard to see. It reads in the NRSV: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” A more accurate translation would be, “How does God’s love abide in someone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and closes their heart against them?” The Greek word I’m translating as “heart” is splanchna, which literally means “inward parts” in Greek. This is the same word that appeared in yesterday’s passage from Colossians: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion [splanchna oiktirmou, a heart of compassion], kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
So, John underscores in a new but related way what we learned yesterday. As Christ followers, we need to have hearts open to others. We should be people of genuine compassion. If God’s love truly dwells in us, then we will be drawn to love others. This love will be ignited by our open hearts. But, as John makes abundantly clear, our feelings of love must also be expressed in tangible action. Immediately after implying that our hearts should be open, not closed, John adds, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18).
Enacted compassion will mean, in some cases, that we listen empathically to those who are feeling anxious uncertainty. But it will also invite us to care for people in other ways as we attend sensitively to their circumstances and feelings.
What might this look like? I’d like to share three examples of people who are expressing compassion to others during the time of the coronavirus pandemic. First, I think of a friend who regularly remembers those she knows who live alone. She prepares meals as a gesture of concern, being sure to sanitize everything she delivers, and then spends time talking with those she is serving from a very safe distance as she drops off their food.
I think of woman who owns a thriving business, but one that is struggling mightily in these difficult days. Nevertheless, she is doing all she can to keep her staff employed for as long as possible, even if this means personally receiving no salary and, in fact, losing quite a bit of money.
Finally, I think of someone in my neighborhood who, a few weeks ago, was concerned over the inaccessibility of face masks. They were required where I live, yet were very hard to find. So this woman started sewing face masks, dozen and dozens of them, and giving them away. I wouldn’t mind if she had chosen to sell them for a fair price. But she decided instead to serve people through her talent and generosity.
In the months to come, we will all struggle with the implications of the coronavirus. Truly, we can’t be certain about the challenges coming our way. But we can be certain of this: As God’s beloved people, we are to love others, both by opening our hearts to them and by acting in love as our hearts move us.
What helps your heart to be open to people in need?
What helps you to actively care for those in need?
Consider how you might express tangible love to the people in your sphere of influence during these difficult days. Then, do act in love for someone.
Gracious God, indeed, we do know love because of how Christ laid down his life for us. And we hear the call to love each other in that way.
Help us, Lord, to have open hearts to people in need. We ask for this help, not just for today, but for the many days, months, and years ahead. As our world responds to the impact of the coronavirus, may we be attentive to the feelings and needs of those around us. Individually, and together as your people, may we show tangible love as an expression of what is in our hearts. Help us to love, not just in word or speech, but in truth and action. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: 1 John: Walking in the Light
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.