“We should love, not in word or with the tongue, but in deed and truth.”—1 JOHN 3:18.
1. What is the highest form of love, and why is that so? (See opening image.)
LOVE based on right principles (a·gaʹpe) is a gift from Jehovah. He is its Source. (1 John 4:7) This kind of love is the highest form of love. While it can include affection and warmth, it is primarily identified by unselfish actions for the good of others. According to one reference work, a·gaʹpe “can be known only from the actions it prompts.” When we show or are shown unselfish love, our lives are enriched, being filled with joy and meaning.
2, 3. How has Jehovah shown unselfish love for humans?
2 Jehovah showed love for humans even before he created Adam and Eve. He made the earth to be man’s everlasting home, a place where man does not just survive but enjoys life to the full. Jehovah did this solely for our benefit, not for personal gain. He further showed unselfish love by blessing his children on earth with the prospect of living forever in the Paradise that he had prepared for them.
3 After Adam and Eve rebelled, Jehovah made his greatest expression of unselfish love. He arranged to ransom the future descendants of those two rebels, certain that some of them would respond favorably to His love. (Gen. 3:15; 1 John 4:10) In fact, from the moment that Jehovah promised a future Savior, He viewed this sacrifice as already made. Then, some 4,000 years later, Jehovah at great personal cost sacrificed his only-begotten Son for the world of mankind. (John 3:16) How grateful we are for Jehovah’s unselfish love!
4. What indicates that imperfect humans are able to show unselfish love?
4 We are able to show unselfish love because God created us in his image. Inherited sin has made it challenging for us to manifest love, but it has not removed our ability to do so. Abel showed love for God by unselfishly offering the best of what he had. (Gen. 4:3, 4) Noah displayed unselfish love for his fellow man by preaching God’s message for decades despite not seeing any response from the people. (2 Pet. 2:5) Abraham put his love for God ahead of his own feelings when he was commanded to offer up his son Isaac. (Jas. 2:21) Like those faithful men, we want to show love, despite the challenges we face.
GENUINE LOVE VERSUS COUNTERFEIT LOVE
5. In what ways can we show genuine love?
5 The Bible explains that genuine love is shown, “not in word or with the tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18) Does this mean that we cannot express love through our speech? Not at all! (1 Thess. 4:18) Rather, it means that our love must not be limited to words, especially when the circumstances call for action. For example, when a fellow Christian lacks the basic necessities of life, he needs more than our good wishes. (Jas. 2:15, 16) Similarly, love for Jehovah and our neighbor moves us not only to ask God ‘to send out workers into the harvest’ but also to have a full share in the preaching work.—Matt. 9:38.
6, 7. (a) What is “love free from hypocrisy”? (b) What are some examples of counterfeit love?
6 The apostle John wrote that we must love “in deed and truth.” Thus, our love must be “without hypocrisy,” or “free from hypocrisy.” (Rom. 12:9; 2 Cor. 6:6) This means that we cannot show genuine love while pretending to be something that we are not, as if we were wearing a mask. We might wonder, ‘Is there such a thing as love with hypocrisy?’ Not really. This would not be love at all but a worthless imitation.
7 Consider some examples of counterfeit love. In the garden of Eden, Satan pretended to be looking out for Eve’s best interests, but his actions were actually selfish and hypocritical. (Gen. 3:4, 5) In David’s day, Ahithophel proved that his friendship with the king was a fraud. Ahithophel turned traitor when he felt that he would gain an advantage. (2 Sam. 15:31) Likewise today, apostates and others who create divisions in the congregation use “smooth talk and flattering speech” to make themselves appear to be loving, but their true motive is selfish.—Rom. 16:17, 18.
8. What question should we ask ourselves?
8 Hypocritical love is especially shameful because it is a counterfeit of the godly quality of self-sacrificing love. Such hypocrisy might fool men, but not Jehovah. In fact, Jesus said that those who are like hypocrites would be punished “with the greatest severity.” (Matt. 24:51) Of course, Jehovah’s servants would never want to display hypocritical love. However, we do well to ask ourselves, ‘Is my love always genuine, not tainted by selfishness or deception?’ Let us consider nine ways we can strive to show love that is “free from hypocrisy.”
HOW TO SHOW “LOVE . . . IN DEED AND TRUTH”
9. What will genuine love move us to do?
9 Be happy to serve in the background. We should be willing to perform acts of love for our brothers “in secret,” or out of the limelight, when this is possible. (Read Matthew 6:1-4.) Ananias and Sapphira failed to do that. Not content to donate anonymously, they blatantly exaggerated their offering and suffered disaster for their hypocrisy. (Acts 5:1-10) In contrast, genuine love moves us to find joy in serving our brothers without fanfare or recognition. For instance, the brothers who support the Governing Body in helping to prepare spiritual food do so anonymously, not drawing attention to themselves or revealing the material they have worked on.
10. How can we take the lead in showing honor to others?
10 Take the lead in showing honor to others. (Read Romans 12:10.) Jesus set the pattern in honoring others by performing the lowliest of tasks. (John 13:3-5, 12-15) We may have to work hard to develop the humility needed to show honor to others in this way. Even the apostles could not fully understand Jesus’ actions until they received holy spirit. (John 13:7) We can show honor to others by not thinking too much of ourselves because of our education, material possessions, or privileges in Jehovah’s service. (Rom. 12:3) And rather than envying those who receive praise, we rejoice with them even if we feel that we deserve equal honor or a share of the credit for what was done.
11. Why must our commendation be sincere?
11 Commend your brothers sincerely. We should seize opportunities to commend one another because such expressions are “good for building up.” (Eph. 4:29) However, we must be sincere. Otherwise, we could actually be flattering the person or avoiding our responsibility to provide needed counsel. (Prov. 29:5) To commend someone but then tear him down behind his back is a form of hypocrisy. The apostle Paul avoided that trap and set a fine example in showing genuine love in the way he commended others. For example, he sincerely commended the Christians in Corinth regarding some aspects of their conduct. (1 Cor. 11:2) But when their actions did not deserve commendation, he explained the reason to them kindly and clearly.—1 Cor. 11:20-22.
12. How can we show genuine love when we offer hospitality?
12 Be hospitable. Jehovah commands us to be generous toward our brothers and sisters. (Read 1 John 3:17.) Yet, we must do so with a pure motive, avoiding any trace of selfishness. We can ask ourselves: ‘Do I offer hospitality primarily to close friends, prominent ones, or those who might be able to return a favor somehow? Or do I instead look for ways to be generous toward brothers and sisters whom I do not know well or who have nothing with which to repay me?’ (Luke 14:12-14) Or suppose a fellow Christian falls into need because of poor planning or fails to thank us for our hospitality. In such situations, we should apply the counsel: “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” (1 Pet. 4:9) If you follow this advice, you will gain the reward of happiness that comes from giving with the right motive.—Acts 20:35.
13. (a) When can it be especially challenging to help those who are weak? (b) What practical things can we do to support the weak?
13 Support those who are weak. The genuineness of our love can be tested by the Bible’s command to “support the weak, be patient toward all.” (1 Thess. 5:14) Although many who are weak later become strong in the faith, others need our patient, ongoing support. This can include sharing upbuilding Scriptural thoughts, inviting them to join us in the ministry, or just taking time to listen to them. In addition, instead of simply thinking that a brother or a sister is either “strong” or “weak,” we should recognize that we all have strengths and weaknesses. Even the apostle Paul acknowledged his own weaknesses. (2 Cor. 12:9, 10) Thus, we can all benefit from the support of fellow Christians.
14. How far should we be willing to go to maintain peace with our brothers?
14 Make peace. We do everything in our power to maintain peace with our brothers, even when we feel that we have been misunderstood or treated unfairly. (Read Romans 12:17, 18.) An apology can help to repair hurt feelings, but it must be sincere. For instance, rather than saying, “I’m sorry that you feel that way,” you could admit your role in the problem by saying, “I’m sorry that I hurt you by what I said.” Peace is especially vital in a marriage. A husband and a wife should not pretend to love each other in public but then use the silent treatment, cruel words, or physical violence to hurt each other in private.
15. How can we show that our forgiveness is genuine?
15 Forgive freely. We forgive by pardoning someone who has offended us and by letting go of our resentment toward him. By “putting up with one another in love, earnestly endeavoring to maintain the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace,” we can freely forgive those who may not be aware that they offended us. (Eph. 4:2, 3) For our forgiveness to be genuine, we must control our thinking so that we do “not keep account of the injury.” (1 Cor. 13:4, 5) If we were to harbor resentment or hold a grudge, we would risk permanently damaging our relationship not only with our brother or sister but also with Jehovah. (Matt. 6:14, 15) We can also demonstrate our sincere forgiveness by praying for those who sin against us.—Luke 6:27, 28.
16. How should we view privileges in Jehovah’s service?
16 Sacrifice personal advantages. If we receive privileges in Jehovah’s service, we should view these as opportunities to show the genuineness of our love by “seeking, not [our] own advantage, but that of the other person.” (1 Cor. 10:24) For example, at our assemblies and conventions, attendants are on duty in the seating area before others are scheduled to enter. Instead of viewing their assignment as an opportunity to get the best seats for themselves and their families, many of these brothers choose to sit in less favorable seats within their assigned section. By sacrificing their personal advantage in this way, they demonstrate love that is free of any trace of selfishness. How might you imitate their good example?
17. What will genuine love move a person to do if he has committed a serious sin?
17 Confess and abandon secret sins. Some Christians who have committed a serious sin try to cover it over in order to avoid embarrassing themselves or disappointing others. (Prov. 28:13) Yet, such a course is unloving, for it harms not only the sinner but also others. It can hinder the flow of God’s spirit and threaten the peace of the entire congregation. (Eph. 4:30) Genuine love moves Christians who have committed serious sins to speak to the elders so that the elders can provide the needed help.—Jas. 5:14, 15.
18. How important is genuine love?
18 Love is the greatest of all qualities. (1 Cor. 13:13) It identifies us as Jesus’ followers and as imitators of Jehovah, the Source of love. (Eph. 5:1, 2) “If I . . . do not have love,” wrote Paul, “I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2) May we continue to show our love not just “in word” but also “in deed and truth.”