Becoming more like Jesus is the goal of all spiritual formation. John says it this way, “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 Jn. 2:5–6).
While there are many Christ-like traits to focus on, sacrificial, generous giving is one of the most important. As his letter progresses, the Apostle John goes on to link Jesus’ selfless love to our own generosity:
“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? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:16–18)
Here are a couple important points we need to pull out of these three sentences:
1. We don’t have to define love for ourselves
If you ask ten people what love is, you’ll get many different responses. Like anything else, we all have opinions we’ve culled from our cultural influences. But love is too important a concept to leave to us to figure out on our own, so God has demonstrated what love is through Jesus Christ.
Love is defined by sacrifice. Even the qualifiers in 1 Corinthians 13 are proofs that, in order to love, we need to be willing to give things up. For example:
- Love is patient: the lover sacrifices their timetable
- Love is kind: the lover lays aside their own feelings
- Love doesn’t envy: the lover gives up their greedy desires
- Love doesn’t boast: the lover passes on opportunities to elevate their own accomplishments
Even the Bible’s most well-known verse is a testimony to love being defined by generosity and sacrifice. John 3:16 explicitly tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave . . .” And what did he give?
He sacrificed his only begotten son.
2. There’s no limit on generosity
How much should we be expected to give? That very question reveals a misunderstanding of love, but it’s indicative of our nature that just wants to be given the entry-level requirement in any expectation. We just want to be told what we need to do to get by.
John says that Jesus was willing to make the greatest sacrifice. He was willing to give his very life. Love doesn’t withhold. Love doesn’t say, “the price tag is too high.”
It’s not enough that John defines love by pointing at Jesus’ death; he goes on to place an expectation on Christ’s followers to be willing to make the same level of sacrifice for each other.
3. To love is to give
Thankfully, very few of us will ever find ourselves in a position to give up our lives for another. The problem is that we can tell ourselves we would, knowing that we’d never have to, and then convince ourselves that we love like Christ.
John knows better, so he goes on to lay out more pedestrian examples of love. He tells us that if we know of a need but don’t respond, it’s time to seriously reconsider our understanding of God’s love.
It’s also interesting to consider that—no matter what reasons we have for justifying our lack of response to need—John lumps it all together as “closing our ears to the poor.”
4. Love isn’t simply a philosophy
In the end, loving others is infinitely more valuable than defining love. We might articulate the value of love in our books, sermons, conferences, and platforms, but the only thing that truly matters is that we’re doing it.
God’s not calling us to write a three hundred word essay describing love. He’s calling us to practice sacrificial, generous love. We need to be careful that we’re not convincing ourselves that talking about loving is fulfilling Christ’s call to give. James reminds us, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
In the end, true, Christ-like generosity is an act of faith. As we give generously of our time, our talents, and our resources, we’re trusting that it’s having a real impact. It can be hard to believe our little gifts can stem the tide in the world’s tsunami of need.
Generosity requires the faith that God can multiply what we give him and is truly blessing the world with our sacrifices—and I believe that he is.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).