This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. — 1 John 3:16 – 28
I am going to start off this series about the followers of Jesus responsibilities to the poor with one of my favorite quotes outside the red letters. The author of 1 John is thought to be the same person who wrote the Gospel by that name. It is similar in style but no author is identified in the letter itself. An early church leader named Irenaeus is thought to be the first to put John’s name to the letter more than one-hundred years after it was written. For purposes of this post I am going to assume that he was correct. The Apostle John was one of those who learned at the feet of Jesus so I believe he more than most knew after three years of daily exposure the heart of Jesus. So, even though these words probably did not come from Jesus himself they are authoritative in my mind.
This quote contains some brutal words. If you see a brother or sister, and Jesus said everyone is your brother or sister, in need and have no pity on them how can God’s love be in you? In other words God gives us the responsibility to help the poor. Can you really call yourself a child of God if you don’t have God’s love in you? That is a foundational question that John is asking.
It almost seems like John is looking forward more than twenty centuries with the last part of his message. “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions”. I sadly see in today’s world many who call themselves Christians railing against the safety net our government provides in this country. They say it is not government’s job to take care of the poor! It is unconstitutional! If the need is not being met elsewhere, and it is certainly not, then what are those in need supposed to do? Since our churches don’t begin to meet the need who can if not the “people’s representatives” in our government? When Thomas Jefferson wrote about the separation of church and state he was not trying to put Christian compassion out of government. When we can’t meet the needs individually or our churches won’t do it collectively then we followers of Jesus must encourage our government to do it in our place. I am proud of the U.S. taking our place in having pity on those in need.