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. Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
-1 John 3:16,18
My 4 year old son has a speech problem. From early on, he has been very aware of it and watching him struggle through communication has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, most of which have been beyond heart breaking, but along the way, I've learned one very important lesson from him.
That lesson came from the word "love". He knows he can't say "love" correctly, so for a long time, instead of saying, "I love you", he would substitute the phrase, "I miss you". At bedtime, he would look up at my eyes, give me a kiss and say, "I miss you, Mommy". And that worked for Mommy because Mommy knew what that meant. No one else, though, understood what he was trying to say. He would say he missed them and they would look at him and say, "Michael, I've spent the whole day with you. How can you miss me?" He knew they weren't understanding him and so he had to find a different way to express what he was feeling.
At first, his expressions were very affectionate. He would give lots of hugs and kisses anytime he wanted to say he loved someone, sometimes to the point of frustration for the person on the receiving end. As he grew and matured, his expressions of love varied. Now he has several ways of expressing his love, from giving a thumbs up, sharing his food, giving a back massage or, my favorite, when he brings you a pillow and blanket and "takes care of you". For as much as my heart breaks at the coping mechanisms he's had to develop to communicate something so basic, I've learned that his actions of love are more tender and precious than hearing the words, "I love you" over and over would have been and I'm often shocked at the depth of love a 4 year old is able to express when forced to show it instead of say it.
Like my son has had to do, we as Christians are called to love in action and in truth, but often times we rely simply on words and speech to be enough. There is nothing wrong with an encouraging word or even with the words, "I love you". In fact, if those are spoken with enough love as collateral backing, they can facilitate the communication of love just as much as any other means. But we all have known examples in our lives where people have told us time and time again that they love us, but at some point we realized that there was no actual collateral backing those expressions, the love was just for show. The love was neither active nor truthful. Either the person was trying to give us momentary good feelings by serving us a mere platitude or they felt as though they "should" love us, but didn't have the actual feelings or motivation to back it up.
We can talk a lot about loving our brothers, but until the time actually comes to act on it, our love doesn't carry much weight. It isn't hard to tell someone that you love them and are there for them, but it is much harder to actually commit to doing something. To be there with them, hour after hour, phone call after phone call, episode after episode. To not only offer to do something for them, but to follow through and actually do it. To commit to walking along side of them. To actually treat love as a verb and not as something ephemeral. Love requires a sacrifice and we as Christians can make that sacrifice because we have the power of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross to draw our strength from.
Christ's love was an active love. He healed the sick. He cast out demons. He forgave sins. He emoted, such as when He wept at the death of Lazarus. Even when he did verbally show His love, it was specific and pertinent to the particular person and situation He was speaking to. At no point did He simply walk the crowds telling them "I love you" over and over to nameless faces, or even to faces He recognized. He didn't say to them, "let me know if you need a demon cast out", he just did it. He didn't just feel good things about people, He connected with their in most true self and then acted on their needs.
Besides the Crucifixion, I'm not sure there is another more powerful example of Jesus loving someone than when He washed the feet of His disciples in John 13. Here, the Son of God, who was about to be beaten and tortured to death on a Cross, humbled Himself before His friends in order to serve them and care for them. His love wasn't just a feeling. He didn't go up to each one of them and just give them a simple "I love you." His actions weren't just obligatory hollow actions. He didn't do it because it was His "ministry" and it would look bad if he didn't. His love was expressed by putting others above Himself. His love was backed with humility and vulnerability as collateral.
All love, whether verbal or an action, should be backed with humility and vulnerability and always be in truth. Stretch yourself to express your love in ways besides simple words and try to fill each action with as much collateral as possible. Draw your strength from the Lord when you love and you will love others as Christ has loved you.