1 John 3:16 (ESV) … “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
Just as the presence of jealousy and hatred in a life indicates that the person involved is of the world and not of the family of God, so also do love and self-sacrifice indicate that such a one has now passed out of the world and into God’s family. John turns now to an analysis of Christian love, elaborating his statements over against the background of the world’s hatred and murderous designs. In this section he restates and elaborates upon the social test itself, digs deeper into love’s essential nature, and finally suggests two ways in which the Christian may show love practically.
As John has been writing of Christian “love,” he has been using the greatest of all Greek words for love, agapē. This now brings him inevitably to that supreme example of agapē love, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as he gave himself for our salvation. The love about which John is speaking cannot be analyzed apart from this event. Indeed, it cannot be known apart from it, for it is at the cross and only at the cross that this greatest of all loves is fully demonstrated.
But what does this supreme example of self-sacrifice have to do with Christians? It has everything to do with them, for John does not hesitate to point out that it is precisely in this self-sacrifice of himself that Christ is to be their example. Did he give of himself? Then “we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
It is not often the case, at least today, that a Christian literally has opportunity to die in place of a Christian brother or sister. So John (who knew this even for his own more perilous times) will move on to more common matters in the next verse. Nevertheless, we should not pass over the idea of self-sacrifice too quickly. True, we do not often have opportunities literally to die for others. But we do have opportunities to “die to self” or, as we might also say, “sacrifice our own interests” constantly.
This is true of all forms of Christian work, involving both time and money. To make the gospel of Christ known worldwide involves sacrifice on behalf of God’s people. They must live less lavishly than they otherwise might in order that money might be available to send Christian workers to tell others about Christ. They must be willing to sacrifice their sons and daughters to go if God should so lead them. They must go themselves if God directs it.
Another area in which self-sacrifice must be practiced is in the Christian home, particularly in love between a husband and wife. Today’s culture glorifies self-satisfaction. It teaches that if one is not personally and fully gratified in marriage, one has a right to break it off, whatever the cost to the other spouse or to the children. But this is not God’s teaching. God teaches that we must die to self in order that the other person might be fulfilled, for it is only as that happens that we will find the fullness of God’s blessing and personal satisfaction.