Study Guide: Love in Truth and Action

Sunday July 18, 2004 | Dwayne Polk

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

In this final sermon of Dwayne's “Wounded Healer” series, he discussed how our character cannot be divorced from our actions; how we choose to act reflects who we are. 1 John 3:11-18 provides God's ideal for us - nothing less than perfection! The author of 1 John asks us whether we will behave like Cain or like Abel. Dwayne challenged us to think about the difference between simply responding appropriately when we see that others have needs and actually dying for someone, which is what God demands.

Extended Summary:

Dwayne was back to complete this three part series on “Wounded Healers.” The first sermon dealt with our identity (what it means to be a wounded healer). The second dealt with our character and motivations. This closing sermon deals with actions, which are the expression of our character. 1 John 3:11-18 lays out the ideal—the lofty goal of perfection. But this passage also brings it down to earth lest we get lost in the abstraction of mere ideas. The Author of 1 John clearly intends us to make a decision. Will we behave like Cain? Or will we behave like Abel? Will we ask, “Am I my sister’s or brother’s keeper?” or will we recognize that we, as Christians, are expected to imitate Christ and sacrifice of ourselves for the good of others? In case that was not clear enough, the author goes on to drive the point home even more specifically. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Dwayne reminded us that this is not the only place we see teaching like this. James 2:14-17 echoes this as do many other passages. Who you are cannot be divorced from what you do.

Dwayne added a point of clarification on the phrase “the world’s goods” found in 1 John 3:17. This phrase is sometimes translated “material possessions” but it refers to those things necessary for a whole and healthy life. The Bible has another word that describes the state of all people having what they need for a whole and healthy life. That word is “shalom” which means “peace,” but also describes a more profound state of well-being and things being right in the world. Not simply the “lack of conflict” which “peace” sometimes is used to describe.

Returning to the text, we can see that there is a big difference between simply responding appropriately when we see that others have needs and actually dying for someone. This contrast is designed to challenge us to consider why are we so quick to accept the ideal that is not likely to happen (dying for someone) and yet resist the common action of mercy for those who are in need. Dwayne offered several illustrations of a shared human problem that these texts challenge.

We all have an amazing capacity for self-deception, especially if it means less pain, less trouble, less required of us. We like to take the path of least resistance and greatest personal gain for ourselves. For example, we easily fool ourselves into believing that simply talking or praying or thinking about what is required is equivalent to doing it! Another way of getting at this was what Dwayne described as the “spectator-syndrome.” Recall how we often work up a sweat when cheering on our favorite team and we even feel as though we had gotten a work-out after the game is over, but what did we actually do? In this same way, developing a loving character is not something we merely think about but something we must act upon. We cannot claim to possess a loving, self-sacrificial character if that is not what we express with our lives.

Bringing us back to the idea of being wounded healers, Dwayne reminded us of the widow who gave her last two coins to the temple so that the temple could use it for the good of others in need. The widow was “wounded” in a way that affects an enormous percentage of our world’s population: poverty. She did not consider her own needs, but instead gave selflessly to others. Here is congruity of thought and action where it counts. And Jesus’ response was that she gave more than all the rest, many of whom gave large sums out of their great wealth. How can this be? In giving all to God, God is able to form great character in her. When we hold back, we offer less of ourselves, and God has less to work with in us. Dwayne acknowledged that this is a hard teaching! It works against our sense of self-preservation and certainly our consumer culture. It doesn’t even seem reasonable! Why does Jesus use such a radical example? Because God wants all of us, with complete abandon, and that raw material is what God has to work with to help us form Christ-like character.

Before moving on to some practical suggestions, Dwayne clarified that if we are to be wounded healers we do have to get the first things first: any godly action we might make must flow out of our relationship with God. We must be open to God to fill us, work with us, and use us for the Kingdom. We also must have our own wounds “sufficiently bound” before we extend our resources to others. He stated the goal as this: to be a community of wounded healers who really listen to God and demonstrate our Christ-like character in what we do for others.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Dwayne mentioned several different types of resources that we have available to us when it comes to our ability to express our love for others. What are those resources? Generate a list of things you can think of that you might have available to you that you could use to bless others (as a group or individually).
  2. Discuss the challenges found in 1 John 3:11-18 and James 2:14-17. What is your response to these challenges? Return to the question that Dwayne asked us to reflect on: do we have a responsibility for our brothers and sisters?