Bible Study

1 John Bible Study, Day 17: What Love Is

Today’s passage: 1 John 3:16–20

Focus verse: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

The ultimate expression of love is to die for another, to sacrifice ourselves for the good of someone else. Jesus exemplifies this highest form of love by dying as a human sacrifice for us—for all people, for all time.

His death covers the penalty our sins deserve, thereby making us right with Father God.

In the same way, we should be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, this may mean to actually die for them so they can live. But in practical terms our call to sacrifice may be less demanding.

John writes that we prove God’s love in us when we have pity on our brother and sister in need. The most direct application is to share what we have with them, to give our possessions to those in Jesus’s church—our brothers and sisters. 

Having pity on them, however, doesn’t always mean giving them our belongings. At times we may need to say no. 

This isn’t a justification to not help them with tangible solutions, but to note that giving them what they lack isn’t always the answer.

Sometimes our generosity could enable them to continue to make the same ill-advised decisions or persist in the same wrong behaviors that caused the situation in the first place.

In these instances, the wise thing is to say no. We offer them tough love. This is how we can best take pity on them.

Another way to take pity on our brothers and sisters in need is to pray for them. As strange as it seems to say, in this case we must ensure that prayer isn’t our default position but a secondary one.

We get this understanding when John implores us to not love with words only but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18).

In this way we can have a clear conscience, knowing that we responded rightly and can therefore rest in God’s presence.

We must remember that we are not to accumulate wealth for ourselves. Instead, we are to store up our treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21).

God blesses us—just as he did Father Abraham—so that we can bless others (Genesis 12:2). Yet we need to balance this with a call to be a wise steward of what God has given us (Matthew 25:14–30).

These passages give us much to contemplate when we consider how to best take pity on our brothers and sisters in need.


  1. How can we lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters? 
  2. Who are we willing to die for?
  3. When have we tried to help someone with our words when we should have acted?
  4. When should we love others in prayer?
  5. How can we better help those in need?

Discover more about Jesus’s great love in laying down his life for us in John 10:11–18.

Tips: Check out our tips to use this online Bible study for your church, small group, Sunday school class, or family discussion. It’s also ideal for personal study. Come back each Monday for a new lesson.

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Discover practical, insightful, and encouraging truths in Love One Another, a devotional Bible study to foster a deeper appreciation for the two greatest commandments: To love God and to love others.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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