The Essence Of Godliness
Tim Temple


I am convinced that one of the most familiar and yet most misunderstood words of the English language is the word love . As an example of how confused things can get about this term, I remember a scrap of a song that was popular when I was in high school, which was a long, long time ago, as you can imagine. The only part of it I remember are the words, “What is love? Five feet of Heaven in a pony tail.” If that sounds crazy, that is about how crazy some people's concept of love is.

Some of you who are my age, even though you won't admit it, can remember that song, too. It does demonstrate how the world looks at love. It is in a five foot girl with a pony tail sometimes, and it is expressed in other ways by other people. Down through the years, before that song and since, there have been literally hundreds of songs and poems and stories written about the subject of love. Even though some of those more serious songs and poems may come close to describing the real concept of love, more of them are far off the mark.

In Hollywood's view and in Madison Avenue's view, love is evidently a mystical force that just invades people, apparently through the eyeballs, for no particular reason and it takes over their minds, their emotions, their will; and if it is real love, it can cause them to set aside their morals, their good judgment, even their commitments they made to God and to their spouse. In Hollywood and Madison Avenue, and I am afraid in Abilene, Texas, for many people love is often described as something that we used to call lust and not at all what love really is as described in God's Word.

Yet, this term love is one of the most important terms and one of the most important concepts in the Word of God. In fact, on one occasion when a biblical scholar asked Jesus what the most important commandment in the Law of God was, you probably remember that Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and your neighbor as yourself.” Again and again this term surfaces in the Bible in places of great importance, even summarizing the commandments in the Old Testament by Jesus Himself.

One of those places where it occurs is the passage we have been looking at for the past several weeks, the letter which the Apostle John wrote nearly two-thousand years ago, but which we have found to be amazingly relevant to this day in which we live.

In I John, chapter 3, we have been looking at the basic principle that is supposed to guide the children of God. In verses 1-3, John has told us about our position as sons of God, the fact that God has placed us in His view as His sons. Then in verses 4-9, we talked about the practices of the sons of God, and now for the last two or three weeks, we have been talking about the third section of the chapter, this principle that guides the children of God. In verses 10-18, he has described love by contrasting it to hatred as we saw in our study last week.

First Characteristic Of Love

Today we want to look at the very essence of this guiding principle, the principle of love, as it is described in verses 18-24. The first thing we want to look at is the reality of this principle as it is stated for us in verse 18, where we read:

I John 3:

18My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

Stop with that one verse for a moment. Tucked away in this one little verse is a wealth of information about this important biblical term of love. So that we will be sure to understand it, John states it first negatively and then positively. First, he tells us in a sense what love is not: “Let us not love in word or in tongue.” We all know what loving in word or in tongue is, don't we? Either we have done this to somebody else or somebody else has done it to us. This is a love that sounds good. People say it in as flowery a way as possible. Our greeting card companies make the bulk of their annual income by writing flowery little statements about love.

Sometimes people go on and on verbally about how much we mean to them, or sometimes it is just something like saying, “Love ya,” as we leave a person, sort of like a goodbye statement; but so many times when the chips are down and we need a demonstration of that love, the very people who may have sent us the flowery card or the very people who may have told us goodbye by saying, “Love ya,” and those kinds of things, are strangely silent because they love in word and they love in tongue, but they don't love in deed. They may know something about love, but they are not willing to do whatever it is that we need them to do for us when that time comes.

In fact, this is one of the things that God complains about concerning the way people treat Him. Turn back in the Old Testament to the book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel, chapter 33, there is an interesting conversation between God and the prophet Ezekiel. Notice verse 30. God is speaking to Ezekiel and He says:

Ezekiel 33:

30Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord.
31And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, [notice] but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.

Think about what we read here. The people were coming to church and listening to what the prophet had to say. Technically, they weren't coming to church in the New Testament concept, but they were coming together to the temple or to the place of worship. They were coming and listening to what the prophet had to say. In fact, it tells us in verse 30 that they were even inviting other people to come with them to hear what the prophet had to say. The next verses below the ones that we read say that they said to each other after the service that Ezekiel's message sounded to them like sweet music. As surprising as it may sound, after all of that talk, inviting people to come with them, listening, talking about how great it sounded, verse 31 says that they didn't do what they were so eagerly listening to.

Jesus said the same thing nearly a thousand years later when He was on the earth. Listen to His words according to Matthew, chapter 15, verse 8:

Matthew 15:

8This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

Doesn't that sound familiar? Could Jesus have said that about you or about me? You would think that anybody who had the privilege of hearing Jesus Himself speak would have rushed right out to do whatever He said, wouldn't you? You would think that as they had some sense that Jesus was a great prophet and maybe was really the Son of God, they would have stumbled over themselves getting out to do what He said to do. But that wasn't what happened. He said, in fact, just the opposite was true.

I am very much afraid that every one of us would have to admit that at some time in our lives or in some of the situations that we have been, some aspect of our life or some time period of our lives, we would have to plead guilty to that, wouldn't we? Jesus would have had to say that same thing about us: “They honor Me with their lips. They come to church. They sing the songs; they talk about Me maybe even in their workplace. They talk about Me when they have some reason to, but their heart is far from Me.” Jesus said in the words that John was later going to use: “They love in word and in tongue, but not in deed and in truth.” If we would fail to do what Jesus Himself tells us to do, why should our friends, who hear us talk about how much we love them, think that we would put actions to our words for them? If we won't respond to God in deed, if we only respond to God in word, then why should anybody think that we would respond to a mere human being in deed?

“That is what love is not,” John says. “Love is not just what we say and how glibly we may talk about how much we love God or how much we love some other person. It is not just empty talk that sounds good, but doesn't come through when there is some kind of real need. It is not just in word or in tongue, to use John's terminology.

This is not to say that we should never talk about loving somebody else. It is not to say that we should never say that we love God or say that we love someone else, but what it is saying is that what we say must measure up to our actions if it is going to be considered real love. As I said a few minutes ago, John not only states this truth negatively, which we have just been looking at, but coming back to I John, chapter 3, he states it positively in the second half of the verse. Look at verse 18 again:

I John 3:

18My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

The Holy Spirit says, writing through John, that here are two things that characterize real love—deed and truth. Those are two separate things, even though they are intertwined. I want us to think about both of them for a few minutes. I think most of us can understand the deed part pretty easily. That means in the great theological terminology, “Put your money where your mouth is.” Do what you say, and there is no way around it. That is a mark of genuine love—to follow through with what we say. As someone has said and many people have repeated all down through the years, “What you do speaks so loudly that I can't hear what you say.” That is loving in deed.

While we are on the subject, let me remind you that Jesus spoke in interesting terms about the deeds that he looks for. When we think about deeds of love, especially when we read something in the Bible about loving in deeds, and there are many other places where the Bible talks about this kind of thing, we have a tendency to think in terms of bailing somebody out financially or fixing a flat on a busy freeway in the rain. We think of deeds like that, don't we? But look at the kinds of things Jesus spoke of. Turn back to Matthew, chapter 10. A few weeks ago I was reading through this chapter again and was struck by these words in verse 42. These are familiar verses and I am not sure why they struck me so much that day, but in this verse He said:

Matthew 10:

42And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

“Whoever will give a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple.” In the verse before that he says:

Matthew 10:

41He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.

This is in that passage where he was sending the disciples out to announce the kingdom of Israel. He was telling them to go and just ask people to let them stay in their homes as they traveled around preaching about Christ and about the Messiah coming and was saying, “I am going to bless those people who help you. If someone so much as gives a cup of cold water because you are one of My disciples, I am going to reward them for that; and if someone receives you into his home, if someone gives you a place to spend the night just because you are a prophet, they will receive a part of your reward.”

He is talking about something as small as giving somebody a drink of water and letting somebody spend the night with you. If that person is received out of a love of the Lord, if he is received because he is a brother in Christ or a sister in Christ, then you are going to have a share in whatever that person produces for Christ. He uses the term of prophet there in verse 41, but the principle applies to any other Christian brother. Think about this. God says that if you take care of a man of God (In those days it was a prophet. Today it might be a missionary or a pastor or somebody who is in professional service for the Lord.), you will have a share in everything that person does. We are all in full time service for the Lord, and I try not to use that term full time service because all of us ought to be, but there are those who do that as their profession.

When we stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ, we will we receive as part of God's rewards to us crowns that we will later at some time in Heaven be able to cast at His feet in worship. God will reward us not only for what we have done, but for what we have helped somebody else to do. How gracious God is and how practical and realistic it makes this matter of loving in deed—doing something for somebody else out of love for them or out of love for Christ. What a wonderful thing, and it doesn't have to be some huge thing. God notices even those little things that we do.

Speaking of loving in word from the legitimate point, those words of encouragement that we give to them, those words of joy that we might say to them—even the smallest kinds of things are something that God blesses and God honors and that God sees as loving in deed. Obviously, that doesn't exclude doing the bigger things, helping to bail somebody out financially or changing a tire in the rain on a busy freeway. It doesn't exclude those things, but it does include even the little things that we might think He wouldn't even notice if we did that. God keeps track of the smallest kinds of things that we do as an expression of love and support for another believer. So that is the first positive characteristic of love—loving in deed.

The Second Characteristic Of Love

It is very easy, I think, to read right past that second characteristic of love. We tend to read these two in one statement: “loving in deed and in truth,” But there is a sense in which loving in truth is even more significant than loving in deed. They are both important, but loving in truth is, I think, a little harder to understand the significance of. “Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” This is the aspect of love that to me clarifies better than almost anything else what true love is. So often, even we who are trying to think about love in the Christian sense, just leaving aside that worldly aspect of love that we talked about in the beginning, think of it as a kind of sweet, almost hypocritical acceptance of other people, no matter how unacceptable they may really be to us. We think about just loving everybody and being sweet to everybody and trying to have the love of Jesus for everybody. Sometimes we feel very hypocritical when we try to do it that way.

There is that aspect of love, and please let me emphasize as we move into what I want to say, that we have talked about many times even here in the study of I John, and that is love of the unlovely. That love is given regardless of the return, whether there is any return or not. That is God's kind of love—agape love. But at the same time agape love doesn't mean that we are to just love everybody even if they are living in open sin or rebellion against God. Agape love doesn't mean that we just overlook something that would keep us somehow from being able to love that person. It doesn't mean that we just overlook sin and wrongdoing on the part of another person. That is where this verse comes in. We are to love others, but we are to love in truth.

Sometimes that can be difficult because that is not usually the way we operate. The most immediate example that comes to mind is a little statement in Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 6:

Hebrews 12:

6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

What does it say? “Whom the Lord loves he chasteneth…” It goes on to say that if you continue to sin, if you call yourself a Christian and you live in sin on a continuing basis and you never have any inkling from God that that is the wrong thing to do, if your conscience doesn't bother you, if you don't run into some problems in life, if the Lord doesn't do something to get your attention, the writer to the Hebrews says that you have good reason to think that you may not even be a believer because God chastens His sons. God disciplines His children and maybe that is a heads up for some of you today.

If you are living in sin, maybe you have rationalized it away; you don't call it sin, but you know deep down in your heart, it is a violation of the Word of God. You have been living that way, and you are going on with it, and nothing is happening. There doesn't seem to be any ill effect from it. Let me tell you, my friend, you need to examine your heart and see if you have really trusted Christ because God disciplines His children. He tells us that human fathers discipline their children. How much more will God not discipline His children?

Whatever it may involve, that chastening and scourging for God's children is not pleasant, but it comes from the heart of God's love for us. God loves us enough when we sin to get our attention, and sometimes the most immediate way of getting our attention is the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit came, speaking in the future tense, He will convict of sin and of judgment and of righteousness. When Jesus left, He sent the Holy Spirit; and when we sin as a believer, the Holy Spirit begins to convict us of that sin and that first conviction may just be a sort of uneasiness in our hearts. It may be an unhappiness or a confusion or just not feeling right. Let me tell you, as a Christian, when that begins to happen, you need to think back over the last five or ten minutes because the Holy Spirit is probably trying to convict you, trying to call your attention to something that you have just done that was a violation of God's Word. That is the function of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we think about it as conscience, but for the believer, that is the Holy Spirit.

If you brush that off, if you just hurry on your way and keep on going and don't respond to that uneasiness, if you go on in that sin, if you go on without confessing that sin and don't deal with it, then God may have to do something more difficult and you may have to do something more difficult. He brings difficulty into your life; He brings something into your life from an uncomfortable standpoint that will finally get your attention.

That is why I have said many times before that any time some catastrophe comes into your life, any time some big problem comes into your life, the first thing that you as a Christian ought to do is say, “Is God trying to get my attention about something?” There are several other reasons God allows suffering to come into a believer's life and we should never think that just because so and so has a big problem that God is disciplining that person. We should spend more time thinking about what He is doing to us than what He might be doing to somebody else. The first question we ought to ask is, “Is there something that I have been refusing to come to grips with, and is God trying to get my attention? Is God disciplining me?” If you will say as the Psalmist did, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” If you will pray that prayer to the Lord, the first time catastrophe comes or even when that uneasiness comes, God will show you what it is that you need to get right and confess as sin.

Why does He do that? Because He is mad at us for committing that sin? No, because He loves us so much. He wants fellowship with us, but He is of pure eyes and cannot look upon iniquity, Habakkuk says. He wants that fellowship with us. He is standing at the door, knocking, asking us to let Him come in. He pursues us, but as a loving Father that sometimes takes the form of discipline. Sometimes in our relationship with other believers the most loving thing you can do, to love in truth, is to go to that Christian brother who has sinned against you and correct him about that sin. Jesus explained that very clearly in Matthew, chapter 18: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Do it privately, but go and tell him his fault.

So many times we think, “Oh, I can't do that. That would be so awkward. That might ruin our friendship,” but let me tell you something. You are not living in truth if you don't deal with your Christian brother in that way.

Another example of loving in truth is telling someone the truth even when it hurts. That ties in with what I have just been saying. What would we think about a doctor who refused to tell his patient the truth that they had cancer or some other life-threatening illness, and he just didn't tell them because he didn't want to upset them? We would sue that fellow for malpractice, wouldn't we? We wouldn't want him to let us go on or let our friend go on in that illness and do nothing about it because he knew it would upset them if they knew they had that disease. Yet, how many times do we as Christians say, “Well, I don't want to confront anybody about that sin because it would just get him all upset. I don't want to straighten him out about this doctrine that I knew he is misapplying because it would hurt his feelings and embarrass him.” We don't want to love in truth. When you take that attitude, you are not loving in truth.

Another example from the other side of the coin is when we repeat some gossip that we have heard about some fellow Christian that we supposedly love without checking to see if that really is true or if it is just gossip. If you repeat gossip or if you repeat a statement that might be gossip, if you repeat gossip about another person without taking the time to see if it is true, you are not loving in truth, and you should never repeat it. It is always something controversial and juicy and exciting and we can't wait to tell somebody and ask somebody else to pray with us about that. That is not loving in truth if you don't check and see what the real story is. Making a judgment about another person on the basis of some other thing that you heard that he did or something that he said that seemed wrong to you is also not loving in truth.

Judge Righteous Judgment

Let me branch off here for a moment about this matter of judgment. I think judging is one of the most misunderstood concepts in all of the Christian life. Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 7, verse 1, “Judge not that you be not judged,” and ever since then people have been afraid to express an opinion about other people. How many times have you heard someone say, or you yourself have said, “Now, I don't want to judge so and so, but I saw him kill his wife last week.” People have taken Jesus' words completely out of context and made them kind of a standard of the Christian life. In John, chapter 7, verse 24, just twenty-three verses later, Jesus said, “Judge righteous judgment.”

The majority of Christians know that first thing that He said, “Judge not that ye be not judged,” but I doubt that there are very many Christians, for whatever reason, who remember that Jesus also said in the same sermon, “Judge righteous judgment.” That is not a contradiction. What does He mean when in one place He said, “Judge not,” and in another place He said, “You should judge righteous judgment?” There is a kind of judgment that is right, that is even commanded by Jesus.

The difference is this: I Samuel, chapter 16, verse 7, says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” So anything that is a matter of fact, anything that is something that you have witnessed, something that can be proven outwardly, something that you can see outwardly is judged by other human beings. If you saw someone do something, you can say, “He did that.” If that thing that he did was wrong, you can say, “He did something wrong.” That is not a negative kind of judgment; that is judging righteous judgment. He did something wrong, and he shouldn't have done it. That is judging righteous judgment, and Jesus said to do that.

Judging in the sense that Jesus talked about in Matthew, chapter 17, verse 1, is when you hear that someone has done something or you hear that someone has said something or you see that they have done something and you decide why he did that. You decide that he or she did that for a wrong motive—that is judging. That is what Jesus said not to do. When you make that kind of a decision about another Christian, especially when you don't even try to find out why they said that thing or did that thing, you are not loving in truth. You are judging that person, and Jesus said that was wrong.

Not Loving In Truth

John now elaborates on why it is wrong. “It is that you are not loving in truth.” This next one may be the hardest to understand at all, so bear with me. From time to time, we are exposed to people who may be fine people, but they are just different from us, and we find it hard to relate to them. Maybe they just have a different sense of humor than we do or maybe they are from a completely different kind of background than we are. Maybe they have a whole different spiritual gift than we do, and we are just not on the same wave length. We know that they are a believer, but we just don't relate to them. In a situation like that, loving that person as a fellow believer in Christ would call for you to be polite and to be friendly and to be accepting of that person. But loving in truth means that we are under no obligation to give that person the impression that they are one of our favorite people and that we just love to be with them when in fact we don't and we may have all kinds of good reasons why we don't.

One of the most important situations when this might happen is the dating scene. All you married people tune this out, but you unmarried, especially you high school and college people, need to think about this. If you are single and a person like that that you just really aren't on the same page with asks you out, you are under no obligation to keep going out with that person. You are under no obligation to accept the date in the first place, and you are certainly under no obligation to keep going out with that person just because they are a fellow Christian. In fact, to keep dating that person and to give them the impression that everything is all right is not loving in truth. To love a fellow believer is to not give him a false impression of how you really feel about him.

Another example of that same principle would be in a business situation. You are under no obligation to give somebody a job just because they are a fellow Christian. If they don't fit the purpose of your business and they don't fit what you are doing and what you need in an employee, it is not loving in truth if you do give that person a job and they mess up your business and you mess up their resume. That is not loving in truth. This matter of loving each other always involves the truth and if that person doesn't fit what you need in your business or that person doesn't fit the plan of things that you feel God has given you for dating, loving in truth, many times is to say, “No, I am sorry. You just don't fit in my situation in life.” You wouldn't say it that boldly, but loving in truth is a love that always tells the truth. It is always in keeping with the truth for the other person and for us.

Loving From The Scriptural Standpoint

We have thought about this matter of loving in deed and truth from the negative standpoint and from the positive standpoint. Very quickly let me wind this up by talking about loving from the scriptural standpoint. Turn to Ephesians, chapter 4. This is the passage that tells us God's overall purpose for the Church. In verses 2-3, Paul writes about this subject of love in the Church. In verse 1, he says:

Ephesians 4:

1I Therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
2With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Let's stop there with verse 3. “Walking worthy of the calling with which we are called” means keeping in mind whose family we are in. We are sons of God. That is what John is talking about in I John, chapter 3. I love the way Paul puts it in verse 2:

Ephesians 4:

2With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

Today we might say, “Putting up with one another in love,” because we are different, aren't we? Let's admit it. Even though we both love Jesus Christ, I'm weird and you are weird, and I am weird in a different way than you are. Sometimes we just have to put up with each other because we do love each other. Don't waste your time trying to make me more like you, and I am not going to waste my time trying to make you more like me. Let's just put up with each other. That is what he said: “Bear with each other because we do love God and because He loves us.” Let me have my preference sometimes, and I need to let you have your preference sometimes. I need to try to look at things from your standpoint whenever I can. You need to consider my opinion. We need to bear with each other in love, loving in truth.

In the next verses he begins to explain that God has given each of us, as Christians, spiritual gifts, and He has brought those spiritually gifted people into the Church and His purpose in all of that is found in verse 13:

Ephesians 4:

13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

You see that first line of verse 15. “Speaking the truth in love…” The concept John is writing about in I John 3:18 is stated here as a necessary ingredient of becoming a mature Christian. He describes that maturity back in verse 14 as being able to withstand all false doctrine and the trickery of the false teachers.

What this tells us is that you and I will never achieve spiritual maturity as believers if we are not willing to develop this quality of loving in truth, or as Paul says it here in Ephesians, speaking the truth in love. We will never become mature until we learn to deal with each other lovingly, but truthfully, in that love. When we come right down to it, this matter of loving other Christians is one of the toughest aspects of the Christian life, isn't it? For one thing, there is so much confusion about it, so much misunderstanding about what it really is; but for another thing, you are just so weird and strange, and you think I am so weird and strange. We just have these differences among us, and yet we all are brothers and sisters in Christ.

That is exactly why God chose this as one of the marks of maturity—because only He can produce that kind of love in us. We have to depend on Him to be able to love each other in that way. No matter how kind and loving we may be to the people who like us, the people who think like we do, the people whose preferences are like ours, the people who have our same kind of spiritual gift and the same kind of interests, the mark of maturity is to be able to love in deed and truth those who are unlike us.


Are you having trouble loving some fellow Christian? Your only hope is to come before the Lord and ask for His help and His provision because this is the essence of the principle by which we are to live as children of God. Since this is something that sooner or later every one of us has trouble with, I want us to close our time together today by doing that very thing—going to the Lord in prayer about our ability to love each other in deed and in truth and not just in word.

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