1 John 3:16-20

Jesus gave a perfect example of love by laying down His life and suffering crucifixion at the hands of the Romans - a cruel and violent way to die. What made it worse was the fact that He took on Himself the burden of all our sin: sickness, disease and mental torment. (Isaiah 53:3-6) God is not expecting every believer to die for other people as Jesus did (although in some countries this does happen to Christians). In the western world, it is hard to live for people in selfless sacrifice, but choosing others’ desires before our own shows where we are in relationship to Jesus.

Love in action

In the verses that we're considering in this study, John gives a very practical example of love in action: a willingness to share material possessions. What he says applies equally to us today. Are our own material possessions available for God to use at any time? Do we give regularly to our church and other charities - perhaps a tenth of our overall income - but then feel that the rest is for us? If we hear of someone in need, do we consider straight away what we can do to help? If we ourselves have very little, or live from pay packet to pay packet, do we still look for ways to give of our time, energy, or even sharing what little we do have? God’s character is that of a giver, so it is essential that we allow His love to pour out through us to the world around us. (John 3:16)

Do we do these things to make sure that we get kudos in the eyes of others, or do we try to do as much as possible in secret? Being a Christian is not just about what we believe and think: our morals, values and attitudes. Jesus invades our whole life in order to re-shape our entire way of living, so that we no longer regard the whole world as being centred around us as number one. Instead, our focus is on God’s heart for all those He values. We start to think in terms of using all the possessions and gifts that He has given us in order to reach others in His world.

We need to start looking to those who Jesus Himself would love, those who are on the fringes of society. It is so easy to give time to those who have similar lifestyles and interests as ourselves, but to ignore those on the edge, to whom we give only a passing thought. Jesus’ attitude is always to allow God’s love (shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit - Romans 5:5) to pour out through us to all in need in His body. "If any have material possessions and see their [African / Indian / Burmese] brothers or sisters in need but have no pity on him, how can the love of God be in them?" (1 John 3:17) This is exactly what God wants us to do: to apply His word to our everyday world. This is not just a passive acceptance of people but an active love: being Jesus to all people. Nothing should be excluded in our love for others. All we have should be made available to Him to be used in the service of His kingdom, even if it costs us a lot. After all it was our loving Father who gave it to us in the first place. As we lay down our own plans or ideas to benefit others, it clearly demonstrates our love for Him.

Some examples to encourage us

Let's be like Jesus: showing love by giving His all. (John 3:16) "Laying down our lives" is also a way of having victory over the enemy. "They [the saints] overcame him [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." (Revelation 12:11) God is passionate about the poor. "Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Encourage the oppressed! Defend the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow." (Isaiah 1:16-17)

To see a beautiful picture of God's love (agape) for the widows and the poor, look at the book of Ruth. In chapters one and two, we see that, although she was a widowed Moabitess, she chose to go with her mother-in-law and worship the one, true, living God. He did not turn His back on her or make her a second-class follower, even though she did not have a Jewish heritage. Ruth was determined to put Naomi’s well-being before her own. She chose Naomi’s people, their culture and religion and she did it all without any guarantee of income or security, showing great bravery. She worked day and night to provide for Naomi at risk to herself. (Ruth 1:16-18; Ruth 2:11-12)

Ruth’s confession of love to Naomi can also be our prayer to the Father, declaring our love to Him. "Ruth replied, 'Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me'." (Ruth 1:16)When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her to return to her previous family. Ruth, even in her widowhood, didn’t take on a victim mentality but gave her life for the support and comfort of Naomi and God used her mightily for the furtherance of His kingdom. Her name is even included in the ancestry of Jesus. (Matthew 1:5)

Passion for the poor

Let’s consider God’s passion for the lost, poor, naked, needy, fatherless, destitute and widows. When we are "born again", we are made righteous in our spirits, but we have to co-operate with the Holy Spirit to "work out our salvation". (Philippians 2:12) This gives us a passion for the poor and needy as an echo of our Father’s heart. There are nearly two thousand verses in the Bible telling us of our duty to the poor and needy. For example: "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." (Psalm 82:3-4) That is a clear directive from the heart of the Father to us regarding His children.

Here are some statistics concerning poverty in our modern world. (They are taken from "Begin a Love Revolution" by Joyce Meyer.) As of 2008, there were approximately 6.76 billion people in the world. If we consider them in terms of percentages, we can think in terms of a representative group of one hundred people. Amongst this group:

  • 64 have no mobile phone;
  • 11 are Asian;
  • 12 are African;
  • 11 are European;
  • 7 are Hispanic;
  • 4 are American;
  • 19 are Muslim;
  • 16 are Catholic;
  • 13 are Hindu;
  • 8 are Protestant;
  • 6 are Buddhist;
  • 16 don’t believe that God exists;
  • 18 cannot read or sign their name;
  • 50 live under the international poverty line;
  • 32 don’t have access to essential medicine;
  • 19 lack basic sanitation;
  • 16 cannot get clean drinking water;
  • 12 are starving.

Children are the most at risk with thirty thousand dying each day due to poverty. (That is 210,000 each week.) Eleven million, mainly under five years old, die each year. Imagine that you have a child who is hungry, but you have no money or food and there is nothing you can do about the pain in their eyes. As we read this, eight hundred and fifty-four million (854,000,000) people around the world are wondering where their next meal will come from. Imagine that you have a fever but there is no medicine available. In such circumstances, even common illnesses become killers. Think about enduring a bitterly cold winter’s night without heating or anywhere to go. 1.6 billion people around the world are tonight living with inadequate shelter or none at all. Might you be tempted to sell your child in the hope that it might be a way of assuring a better future for your whole family, including the child you sell?

The effects of poverty

If not your child, would you be willing to think of selling yourself? What do you think of when someone mentions prostitution? In many countries, this doesn't amount to a choice of profession. It is what people are reduced to by poverty. It robs people of their dignity and children of their innocence. Here are some facts from the British charity organisation: "Stop the Traffik".

What is "human trafficking"?

  • It is to be deceived or taken against your will, bought, sold and transported into slavery for sexual exploitation, sweat shops, child brides, circuses, sacrificial worship, forced begging, sale of human organs, farm labour or domestic servitude.
  • It is where family members and friends deceive parents into releasing their children or selling them for as little as $20 each, selling them on to local gang masters or serious, organised, international trafficking rings.
  • It includes two to four million men, women and children who are trafficked across borders and within their own countries every year. More than one person is trafficked across borders EVERY MINUTE. This is equivalent to five jumbo jet loads every day. It is a trade that earns twice as much worldwide revenue as Coca Cola.
  • Victims usually suffer repeated physical abuse, fear, torture and threats to their families to break their spirits and turn them into saleable commodities. A person can be sold and trafficked many times.
  • It is the biggest and most lucrative smuggling business in the world - ahead of the cocaine trade and arms dealing! Children are more saleable than guns. What has the world come to?
  • The highest number of child prostitutes are in India, Brazil and in America. This is fed by the demand of people behind closed doors, using pornography both on the web and in magazines.

A potential response

These are not just figures on a page; these numbers have faces. They are real people, just like you and me. This is real and God needs us to be part of His answer to the problem. It is time for the church of Jesus Christ to have a revolution in thinking about such problems. The best way to help is for individuals to reach out and do what they can for others. Our greatest joy can come from the smile on someone else’s face. It is time for the love of Jesus to take a stand through us, His children; to find a way to show the world that His way is the best and only way. Every person is so valuable and even if we think, "what can I do?", we only need to change things one person at a time. What did Ruth do? She committed herself to serve and bless her mother-in-law, Naomi. This amazing love, shown by a poor, hungry, young widow worked out for her like this: she became the mother of Obed, who was the grand-father of David. What a result! How many of the young girls, working in the rubbish dumps of the world today, are God’s princesses? Shall we be serving them in heaven?

Who can I help?

In the story that Jesus told about the "Good Samaritan" (Luke 10:25-37) it was the religious people - the priest and the Levite - who passed by on the other side. So, whoever is in my path and has a need, I have a responsibility before God to help in whatever way I have at my disposal. Jesus went about "doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil". (Acts 10:38) Are we really any different? We have been anointed with the same Holy Spirit who lived in Jesus Himself!

As we live in His resurrection power, we can take all God has given us and use it in the service of mankind. This is love in action - doing exactly what Jesus would do. And who is going to benefit if we live our lives in this way? Certainly, those whom we help; but we ourselves will also benefit enormously. We shall find happiness as we stop thinking exclusively about ourselves; we shall be lifted out of depression as we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. It's impossible to "out-give" God! We have been given authority, as children of the King, to put wrong things right. This is justice in action. We have been created in the image and likeness of our Maker, so that we can have His passion and zeal for other people and be passionate about those who move His heart.

What can I do?

  • Tonight, as you snuggle down into your comfortable bed, remember all those who have no bed. Think and pray for all being prepared for the sex trade.
  • Pray for God to give you a creative idea. His ideas are always the best.
  • Surf the web and find out if you can support an organisation that is already doing something. (For example, check out the A21 Campaign - Abolishing injustice in the 21st century.)
  • What does God want you to give up to simplify your life?
  • Read Isaiah 58:1-14 to see all the promises made to those who care for the poor and needy.

All of this will take prayer, thought, planning, time, effort and lots of energy. But...

We cannot just do nothing!

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