Love today usually refers to feelings of affection, physical attraction, or a temporary preference. The biblical picture of love, however, is not about sentimental feelings but rather a description of specific actions.
John affirms that the central message for Christians is to love one another. But the Genesis account of Cain murdering Abel stands as a stark warning. How one treats those in the spiritual family says something about whether one “remains in death” (v. 14) or stands in the light. And if anyone objects that we are not as bad as Cain, John reminds us of the seriousness of hate: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him” (v. 15).
On the other side, love is equally tangible: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (v. 16). God’s love for the world was no sentimental idea; it was active, sacrificial, and life-giving. The implication is obvious. The Christian community must love in the same way. Rather than follow the action of Cain, the life-taker, we ought to be life-givers and “lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (v. 16).
Some may object that this seems too extreme. For many, such sacrifice may never be required, but we are all called to embrace tangible ways to love our brothers and sisters. Neglecting such action is a failure to love, as Scripture exhorts: “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?” (v. 17). The central call of the Christian community—to love—must be demonstrated “with actions and in truth” (v. 18).