Get the love out: Sometimes only words will do

“My little children, let us not love in word or tongue (only), but in deed and in truth”(I John 3:18).

In our effort to encourage people to “love one another,” we must not leave the impression that words do not count.  While deeds of love and other expressions are vital, a lot of people need to hear the actual words.

“I love you.”  “You have no idea how much you mean to me.” “Thank you for being such a precious friend.” “I treasure you.”

Speaking love is a good thing to do.

First, something inside me needs to speak words of love.  It’s good for me.

Back when grandson Grant was a preschooler, grandpa and he maneuvered to spend time together almost every day at the swing in his front yard.  We would laugh and sing and make up stories. We had a great time and the memories of those years, and later with his sisters, will remain to my dying day. (To our five grands who lived off in North Carolina and New Hampshire, I would give anything to have done the same with you!)

Often I would interrupt our fun time to say something like, “Grant, I love you so much.”

One day, when he had heard that yet again, Grant said, “Grandpa, why do you tell me you love me so much?”

How perceptive, I thought. And such a good question. Why do I do that?

I said, “Grant, the love inside me keeps building up and I have to let it out.”

That seemed to satisfy him. And it expresses the truth as well as anything I know.

Speaking love to someone dear to us can be a kind of pressure relief value.  We will explode if we don’t tell that person of our love.

This is why writing a love letter to our sweetheart can be almost as good as getting one from them.

To repeat: It’s good for us to say “I love you.”

We have all heard stories of a husband saying, “Honey, I love you so much it’s all I can do to keep from telling you.”  We want to scream, “Tell her! Tell her!”

We’ve all heard the story of a trucker whose rig went off a Colorado mountainside in a snowstorm. He was found several days later, buried in the snow, his truck a crumpled wreck.  During the hours before he died, the man had written a note to his wife. He told her how much she meant to him, and added, “I’m so sorry I never told you.”

That line is nearly as tragic as the wreck itself.

In Dan Fogelberg’s tribute to his father called “The Leader of the Band,” one memorable line goes, “And papa, I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough.”

Most of us do not say it nearly enough.

In the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel, in what’s called Jesus’ “high priestly prayer,” we are eavesdropping on the Savior’s conversation with the Father. There is nothing else like this in all the Word and it deserves much more attention than most of us have given it. Toward the conclusion, Jesus says:

I have made Thy name known to them, and will make it known, that the love wherewith Thou didst love me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)

Earlier, Jesus had prayed that His followers may know “that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love me” (17:23).  Think of that.  Jesus wanted us to know that the Father loves us the same way He loves Him!  This is as powerful and yet as incomprehensible as anything in the Word.  That He could love us like that.

Second, people all around us need to hear those words. It’s good for them.

Most people long to hear the words “I love you,” particularly from the ones they cherish most.

No one is too old, too infirm, too ornery, or too anything not to need love.  Hearing the actual words can penetrate a stubborn rebellious heart.

Mary Beth was a sixteen-year-old and getting in trouble.  She came from a wonderful family and was clearly pushing at the fences, trying to find out where the borders were and who she was.  I’ve long since forgotten what was going on at that particular moment, but as she spotted me in the hallway just outside the pastor’s office, the inner conflict was written all over her face.  I called to her. “Could you come here just a second.”  Now, she just knew she was about to get reamed out for misbehavior.  But that was not what I had in mind.

I said, “Mary Beth, I love you.” That’s all. Nothing more.

She teared up on the spot and her heart broke.

Whether she remembers that or not–and she’s now an adult with a wonderful family and serving the Lord–I will never forget it. The power of those little words to penetrate rebellion and summon the wayward heart back home is truly amazing.

Third, there are hundreds of ways to convey the words “I love you.”  Be creative.

Write a personal note. (Remember handwritten notes? The fact that this is a dying art means your letter of love and appreciation will  be kept forever, I promise.)

E-mail works and so does Facebook.  Certainly not as well as the face-to-face or handwritten kind, but it’s a start.

A phone call is good.  It can’t be kept on a shelf or in a notebook, but if done right, it will be retained in the person’s heart.

Best of all is the face-to-face, full-press experience of eyeballing your friend and saying something like, “Hey, look at me.  Listen closely. I love you.”

Then smile real big.  Because if your friends are like mine, they will be taken aback and not know what to say. Or, they’ll mutter a “I love you too,” and experience a slight embarrassment.

That’s just fine.  It’ll be easier next time.

I was in college before I began to realize just how much I loved my mom and dad. We were a close-knit large family (six children born over a 9-year span).  On the farm, we had all worked together and argued and fought and enjoyed one another.  Now in college, I was missing my parents.

This was in the late 1950s when letter-writing was the thing to do. Since I was four hours away from home, we would go six weeks without seeing one another. So, in my letters, I began to say “I love you.”  My siblings teased that “Joe is homesick.” True enough. I was.

I decided something as a freshman in college: I would tell my parents that I love them.  Life was too short–and they were getting old (they must have been in their fifties!)–not to tell them how much they meant to me.

Over the years since, all our family but one became skilled in the expression of those words “I love you.”  We learned to say them to each other, to hug and to mean it.  Mom would often take the initiative. I can still hear her saying, “I love you, Joe.” (Tears now.)

Pop did not grow up hearing those words or voicing them. We smile at this memory. I would say, “I love you, my father,” with a big smile. He would say, “All right then” and change the subject.  We knew he loved us and he proved it a thousand ways. He was just not good with uttering the actual words.  Contrary to the theme of this piece, I suppose, that was perfectly fine with us.

Fourth, the words must never be a substitute for “doing love.”  

One of the strongest teachings of Scripture is that “love is something you do.” In Luke 6:27-38 when our Lord commands His people to love their enemies, He is not calling for affection and emotion, but for action. “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who threaten you….”

Those who treat their enemies in this manner will frequently make several discoveries: their anger toward the enemy goes away, the enemy (those hating you, cursing you, threatening you, etc) is stunned and does not know how to react, Christ is honored, outsiders are impressed that they are seeing actual Christianity on display, and the devil is infuriated.  In time, this loving behavior tends to destroy enemies by turning them into friends.

First John 3:18, our text for this piece, makes the point that our words of love must not be a replacement for “deeds and truth.”

Many an adult who grew up with a shiftless parent who could spout the words of love but would not hold a job, did not provide for the family, and abused the children, has a disdain for hearing words of affection. The words fall on deaf ears; they want to see the evidence.  This is understandable.

God in Heaven was not content with sending love-notes from glory to struggling mankind.  He did not stop with sending prophets and even angels. Eventually, He “came Himself” in the person of the Lord Jesus.  The opening verses of Hebrews says this so eloquently. (This article is already overly long, so I will forego inserting the verses and encourage readers to enjoy this text in their own Bibles.)

How do we know God loves us?  Look at Jesus. In particular, look at Him on the cross. No one can ever say again, “God does not love me,” unless in ignorance.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

“God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God!” (I John 3:1).

“Thank you for loving us, Our Father.  We love you, too. Now, help us to show You how much we love you in the way Jesus taught us.”

Fifth, the Lord Jesus made it very clear how we are to love Him.

In the Upper Room discourse, His almost-final teachings to the disciples, our Lord made this point repeatedly….

–“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

–“He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21).

–“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23).

–“He who does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:24).

–“If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love” (John 15:10).

–“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

–“This I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:17).

Anyone see a theme hear?

The next time you hear someone (or are tempted to do this yourself) saying, “Well, I know I’m not living for the Lord, but He knows I love Him,” consider pointing out to them that Jesus says otherwise.

Words can be cheap.  They can fall off our lips too easily and carry no meaning.

So, let us not love in words or in tongue only–the clear intent of First John 3:18–but in deeds and in truth.







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