If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? I John 3:17
I John 3:17 asks a pointed question: How can you claim you have love if you have the world’s goods and see a brother or sister in need and you refuse to help?
It would take an entire book, perhaps an entire library, to pull that verse apart and examine all its angles. And in light of 21st century culture, where global economic inequality has reached unprecedented levels, the verse hits even more squarely between the eyes.
I John 3:18 then digs a little deeper into this thought. “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and in action.”
“Loving in action” is something we understand; for example, actually taking the initiative to feed the hungry (in your own home or at a soup kitchen) is “love in action,” whereas saying “I love the poor” is inactive (and ineffective) love. But do we also understand “love in truth”? I think the Church is often guilty of loving in untruthful ways. For example, if we learned that our church’s popular short-term mission trips were not welcomed by the people we intended to help, would we be willing to humble ourselves and cancel a program that was liked by so many of our congregants? This is an issue that many churches are wrestling with as they seek to be global-minded yet also culturally sensitive.
“Loving in truth” asks us to be honest, and that’s not easy. If the statistics tell us that government food aid programs are the most efficient and fair mechanism for feeding hungry children, are we willing to admit it, or do we stubbornly cling to clichés like “the church is better able to assist the poor” even if we have no way to support that statement? And if we truly believe that statement, shouldn’t we be proposing a genuinely wide-scale, church-based feeding program that could relieve local authorities of the responsibility to feed the poor?
Although I have heard many people insist the church can feed people better, I’ve never seen a church do that on a large scale, and I suspect it’s because the price tag is just too high; hunger remains a massive problem, far too big for even the swankiest church to tackle. Perhaps we should stop trying to tear down government aid programs when we honestly do not have a viable alternative in place.
Pray: That our love would be pure — that it would be truthful, and active, rather than just mere words, and thus reflect the love that Christ gives all of us.
Read: I John 3:12-18