For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:11–18)
The great love which God has demonstrated is a great love which is to be echoed in the life of the Christian. Earlier, John had described Christians as ‘children of God’, and this means that we are all brothers - or sisters - in a family which has God at its head. This is a family in which the bonds are tighter than even a human family, a family tied together by the love of God.
To describe this strength, John turns to the account of the first brothers: Cain and Abel. Here - driven by anger at his brother’s righteous acts - Cain kills his own kin. Although they were biological brothers, they were far from spiritual brothers: one practiced evil and the other righteousness. Stronger than blood are the ties that bind the ‘children of God’. Following the example of Jesus, who “laid down his life for us”, the Christian lays down his or her life for another Christian. If a fellow Christian is in need, then help is at hand.
In all of this John is reminding us that our heart is most clearly demonstrated in our actions, and not in our words. To love in ‘word or talk” is not enough. To love in “deed and in truth” is to truly love.
In its heart, the church is not a building or an institution. It is not so many hymns, clergy and buildings. It is a family of people who share the same heavenly father. As we live out that truth, then we can the church in its true glory.