Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
John 12:17-26; 1 John 3:16-18; Job 15:1-16; Ezekiel 26-27
Just about everyone will agree that we should love others. Where we differ is what this means practically. John gives us very clear direction about what it means to love one another. He gives us a general principle, the example of Jesus, and a practical application.
John describes love as sacrificial and other-centred. It is not about our feelings and desires, but about what is best for others. This involves us laying down our lives (and rights) for others. Jesus is the supreme example, allowing himself to be killed so that we can benefit. We recognise such heroism in police, fire-fighters, doctors and others who put their lives at risk in order to help others. Most of our decisions will not be dramatic, but the same principle applies. Will we give up our free time to help a neighbour or family member? Will we help around the house rather than indulge ourselves with what we want to do? Will we help a colleague succeed rather than leave him floundering knowing this will help us look better? Jesus was not just an example to admire; we ought to follow his example. Christians are committed to John 3:16. Are we as committed to 1 John 3:16? One should lead to the other. We have an ethical responsibility to love others.
John switches from the plural in v. 16 to the singular in v. 17. This applies to each one of us, not people in general. When we see others in need, we should be moved both in our hearts and in our actions. It is not enough to just feel sorry for someone’s situation, and to say nice words. Love is more than a feeling. We should use our material possessions to help those in need. But we must also act in truth. We should know enough about the situation to know what is needed and what will genuinely help. It may be money, but it may not be. But to see the need, and have the means to alleviate it, and chose to do nothing, is refusing to love that person.
The love of Jesus is contrasted with the world’s love in John 12. The world seeks glory in riches and putting oneself first. Jesus sees glory in serving others and obeying the Father. Just like a seed that must die so that the plant may live and bear fruit, Jesus must die so that others have life. Once again, this is put forward as an ethical obligation for those who follow him. If instead we love our own lives, we will lose them. To hate our lives is not to put ourselves down and think badly of ourselves. In Jesus’ time this expression showed preference. To say you loved one thing and hated another meant you loved one thing more than the other. We should not view our lives in this world as the most important thing for us. This is a form of idolatry, because it makes something other than God the centre of our lives. If we give away our lives, we will find true, eternal life. And in this we will be honoured by the Father and find the very glory we were seeking in the first place.
In Greek, there are two words for life. Biological, temporal life (bios) is centred around possessions and preserving oneself. Spiritual, eternal life (zoe) is centred around people and sacrificing oneself. Those of us who have bios can give it away and God will convert it into zoe for others and ourselves.