Question: "What does it mean to not love in words or tongue but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18)?"

Answer: The disciple John is recognized fondly among Bible readers as the apostle of love. He dedicated vast portions of his writing to the theme of Christlike love. John asserts that believers can understand genuine love by observing Christ’s example: “By this we know love, that he [Jesus] 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 3:16–18, ESV).

To love in deed and in truth means to demonstrate the authentic quality of our love with our actions, just as Jesus did. Paul communicated a similar message: “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:2, NLT).

It is not enough merely to say with our words that we love one another; we must show or prove the truth of our love by our deeds. Jesus said, “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34, NLT; see also John 15:12; 1 John 4:11). Paul emphasized the need for us to be genuine: “Love must be sincere” (Romans 12:9).

How did Jesus love us? Jesus loved us in deed and in truth. Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8) as “a sacrifice to take away our sin” (1 John 4:10, NLT). Jesus loved us like no other—with everything He had—giving up His own life so that we might live.

James provides an excellent illustration of insincere, unproven love: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15–16). We love “in word” or “in talk” when we only offer empty phrases and well wishes. We may say to someone in need, “I will pray for you,” when what he needs to hear is, “How can I help you?” Real love involves taking steps to meet the needs of others.

True Christian love demands more than words—it calls for action. Loving in deed and in truth will often cost us something and may even hurt us. Jesus explained to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it” (Matthew 16:24–25, HCSB). Following Jesus means pursuing a life of self-sacrifice and servanthood (Mark 10:45; see also Matthew 20:28; Luke 22:27; Philippians 2:6–7).

Jesus said that the highest form of love is sacrifice: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NLT). Rarely as Christians will we be called upon to lay down our lives literally. But if we are to love in deed and in truth, we will have to get up and do something, and that will require our time, money, or other resources. Sincere love flows from our hearts and not just from our mouths; it springs from our hands and feet and not just from our lips. “It is a love that gives without counting the cost, without any thought of return, without first weighing up whether or not such love is deserved—a love that is entirely without self-interest” (Jackman, D., The Message of John’s Letters: Living in the Love of God, InterVarsity Press, 1988, p. 100).

The nature of God’s love is sacrificial (1 Corinthians 13:4–8). In His Word, God gives us the finest definition of what it means to love in deed and in truth: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16–17, NLT). God didn’t just say that He loves us; He demonstrated it by sending Jesus to live a life of service and die as a sacrifice for our salvation.

We cannot fully love in deed and in truth without the love of Christ dwelling within us: “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect” (1 John 4:16–17, NLT). God’s love enables us, like the Good Samaritan, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (see Luke 10:25–37). When the pure love of Jesus resides in our hearts, we are equipped to love not with empty words or meaningless talk but with genuine acts of kindness and compassion.