I am the good shepherd.I know my own and my own know me,just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.And I lay down my life for the sheep.John 10:14-15 NRSV
We know love by this,that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goodsand sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?1 John 3:16-17 NRSV
What does Jesus mean by lay down his life for the sheep? We of course understand this as His willingness to die on the cross for all humanity. This is an entirely new concept for shepherd imagery within the bible. Shepherds are mentioned 118 times in the Bible, and it is only in John that the idea of laying down one's life is part of a shepherd's job description.
We are used to the idea of the Good Shepherd searching out the lost sheep. Many images exist of Jesus leaning over cliffs and grabbing a lamb before it plummets to its untimely demise. This is different. Here, the sheperd is willing to die. Where before was risk, here it is certain. He will die so that they may live.
In 1 John, this idea is expanded and explained. It is by this action that we know we are loved. Moreso, we need to look at ourselves. We may be all fine, and say we are prepared to lay our lives down for our brethren, but the chances of actually being asked to are pretty slim. Yet, we can say we wiould do so, and feel pretty holy whilst doing so. But the author of 1 John isn't going to let us off so easily.
There is a test. If we see someone in need, are we prepared to give of ourselves? Give more than we need ourselves? How many times have I given $1 to someone when I have had $10 in my pocket? How many times have I brushed soemone off with 5 minutes, just to go somewhere else to do nothing? For all my carrying on about living the faith, really, in this circumstance, am I?
He goes even further. It isn't enough to just do. It has to be within the heart. It can't be giving the $10 and feeling cheated, or holy for that matter. It has to be given with pureness of heart, a true desire to love a fellow human.
That is how we will know that God abides in us.