VERSE OF THE DAY
1 John 3:11 (New Living Translation)
This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
This message is never changing it’s been taught to us from the beginning we’ve heard it from start to end we should love one another as taught
1 John Chapter 3
1 John 3 – The Love of God and the Life of Love
A. The destiny of our relationship with God.
1. (1) The glory of God’s love.
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
a. Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Having just mentioned being born of Him, John speaks in amazement about this manner of love that makes us children of God. He wants us to behold it – that is, look at it and study it intently.
i. It is of great benefit to the Christian to take a good, intense look at the love of God bestowed on us.
ii. Bestowed on us speaks many things. First, it speaks of the measure of God’s love to us; it could more literally be translated lavished on us. Secondly, it speaks of the manner of God’s giving of love; bestowed has the idea of a one-sided giving, instead of a return for something earned.
iii. What is it that makes us slow to believe the love of God? Sometimes it is pride, which demands to prove itself worthy of the love of God before it will receive it. Sometimes it is unbelief, which cannot trust the love of God when it sees the hurt and pain of life. And sometimes it just takes time for a person to come to a fuller understanding of the greatness of God’s love.
iv. Behold means that God wants to see this love and He is not ashamed to show it to us. “‘There,’ he says, ‘you poor people that love me you sick people, you unknown, obscure people, without any talent, I have published it before heaven and earth, and made the angels know it, that you are my children, and I am not ashamed of you. I glory in the fact that I have taken you for my sons and daughters.’” (Spurgeon)
b. That we should be called children of God: The greatness of this love is shown in that by it, we are called children of God. As God looked down on lost humanity, He might have merely had a charitable compassion, a pity on our plight, both in this life and in eternity. With a mere pity, He might have set forth a plan of salvation where man could be saved from hell. But God went far beyond that, to call us the children of God.
i. Who calls us the children of God?
· The Father does (“I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty,” 2 Corinthians 6:18).
· The Son does (He is not ashamed to call them brethren, Hebrews 2:11).
· The Spirit does (The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, Romans 8:16).
ii. There is a sense in which this is a totally “unnecessary” blessing that God gives in the course of salvation, and a demonstration of His true and deep love for us. We can picture someone helping or saving someone, but not going so far as to make them a part of the family – but this is what God has done for us.
iii. In this, we gain something in Jesus Christ greater than Adam ever possessed. We never once read of Adam being called one of the children of God in the sense John means here. He was never adopted as a son of God in the way believers are. We err when we think of redemption as merely a restoration of what was lost with Adam; we are granted more in Jesus than Adam ever had.
iv. If we are truly children of God, then it should show in our likeness to our Father and in our love for our “siblings.”
v. It is important to understand what it means to be the children of God, and that everyone is not a child of God in the sense John meant it here. God’s love is expressed to all in the giving of Jesus for the sins of the world (John 3:16), but this does not make all of humanity the children of God in the sense John means it here. Here he speaks of those who have received the love of Jesus in a life of fellowship and trust with Him; But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).
c. Therefore the world does not know us: Because of our unique parentage from God, we are strangers to this world (or should be).
i. This shows the great danger of a Christianity that works so hard to show the world just how much like the world they can be; we can not be surprised or offended to find out that the world does not know us.
d. Because it did not know Him: Ultimately, we should expect the world to treat us as it treated Him – rejecting Jesus and crucifying Jesus. While it is true that Jesus loved sinners and they, recognizing that love, flocked to Him, we must also remember that it was the world that cried out crucify Him!
2. (2) The destiny of God’s children.
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
a. Now we are children of God: Our present standing is plain. We can know, and have an assurance, that we are indeed among the children of God. Romans 8:16 tells us, The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. If you are a child of God, you have an inward assurance of this.
b. It has not yet been revealed what we shall be: Though our present standing is plain, our future destiny is clouded. We don’t know in the kind of detail we would like to know what we will become in the world beyond. In this sense, we can’t even imagine what we will be like in glory.
i. “What we are does not now appear to the world; what we shall be does not yet appear to us.” (Stott)
ii. “If I may use such an expression, this is not the time for the manifestation of a Christian’s glory. Eternity is to be the period for the Christian’s full development, and for the sinless display of his God-given glory. Here, he must expect to be unknown; it is in the hereafter that he is to be discovered as a son of the great King.” (Spurgeon)
c. We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is: We are not left completely in the dark about our future state. When Jesus is revealed to us, either by His coming for us or our coming to Him, we shall be like Him.
i. The Bible speaks of God’s great plan for our lives like this: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29). God’s ultimate goal in our lives is to make us like Jesus, and here, John speaks of the fulfillment of that purpose.
ii. This does not mean that we cease to be ourselves, full of the distinct personality and character God has given us. Heaven will not be like the Nirvana of Eastern mysticism, where all personality is dissolved into God like a drop into the ocean. We will still be ourselves, but our character and nature will be perfected into the image of Jesus’ perfection. We will not be “clones” of Jesus in heaven!
iii. The Christian should long to be like Jesus, yet remember that God will never force a person to be like Jesus if he doesn’t want to. And that is what hell is for: people who don’t want to be like Jesus. The sobering, eternal truth is this: God gives man what he really wants. If you really want to be like Jesus, it will show in your life now, and it will be a fact in eternity. If you don’t really want to be like Jesus, it will also show in your life now, and it will also be a fact in eternity.
iv. We shall be like Him: This reminds us that even though we grow into the image of Jesus now, we still have a long way to go. None of us will be finished until we see Jesus, and only then truly we shall be like Him.
d. We shall see Him as He is: Perhaps this is the greatest glory of heaven: not to be personally glorified, but to be in the unhindered, unrestricted, presence of our Lord.
i. Paul said of our present walk, For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Corinthians 13:12). Today, when we look in a good mirror, the image is clear. But in the ancient world, mirrors were made out of polished metal, and the image was always unclear and somewhat distorted. We see Jesus now only in a dim, unclear way, but one day we will see Him with perfect clarity.
ii. Heaven is precious to us for many reasons. We long to be with loved ones who have passed before us and whom we miss so dearly. We long to be with the great men and women of God who have passed before us in centuries past. We want to walk the streets of gold, see the pearly gates, and see the angels around the throne of God worshipping Him day and night. However, none of those things, precious as they are, make heaven really “heaven.” What makes heaven, heaven, is the unhindered, unrestricted, presence of our Lord, and to see Him as He is will be the greatest experience of our eternal existence.
iii. What will we see when we see Jesus? Revelation 1:13-16 describes a vision of Jesus in heaven: He was dressed in a long robe with a golden [breastplate]; His head and His hair were white as snow-white wool, His eyes blazed like fire, and His feet shone as the finest bronze glows in the furnace. His voice had the sound of a great waterfall, and I saw that in His right hand He held seven stars. A sharp two-edged sword came out of His mouth, and His face was ablaze like the sun at its height. (J.B. Phillips translation) This isn’t the same Jesus who walked this earth, looking like a normal man.
iv. At the same time, we know that in heaven, Jesus will still bear the scars of His suffering on this earth. After Jesus rose from the dead in His glorified body, His body uniquely retained the nail prints in His hands and the scar on his side (John 20:24-29). In Zechariah 12:10, Jesus speaks prophetically of the day when the Jewish people, turned to Him, see Him in glory: then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. Zechariah 13:6 continues the thought: And one will say to him, “What are these wounds between your arms?” Then he will answer, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
e. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is: John made the connection between seeing Him as He is and our transformation to be like Jesus. We can say that the same principle is at work right now. To the extent that you see Jesus as He is, to that same extent, you are like Him in your life.
i. We can say that this happens by reflection. “When a man looks into a bright mirror, it makes him also bright, for it throws its own light upon his face; and, in a much more wonderful fashion, when we look at Christ, who is all brightness, he throws some of his brightness upon us.” (Spurgeon)
3. (3) Knowing our destiny purifies our lives right now.
And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
a. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself: Knowing our eternal destiny, and living in this hope will purify our lives. When we know our end is to be more like Jesus, it makes us want to be more like Jesus right now.
i. Having the anticipation of being with Jesus, of the soon coming of Jesus Christ, can have a marvelous purifying effect in our lives. It makes us want to be ready, to be serving Him now, to be pleasing Him now.
b. This hope in Him: Ultimately, our hope is not in heaven or in our own glory in heaven. Our hope is in Him. We must never set our hope on other things; not on a relationship, on success, on mutual fund, on your health, on your possessions, or simply just on our self. Our only real hope is in Him.
B. Sin: An Attack on Relationship.
1. (4-5) The nature of sin and Jesus’ work in removing our sin.
Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.
a. Sin is lawlessness: John defines sin at its most basic root. It is a disregard for the law of God, which is inherently a disregard for the law Maker, God Himself.
i. We often fail in the battle against sin because we won’t call it for what it is: lawlessness, an offense against the Great Law Maker, God. Instead, we say things like “If I’ve done anything wrong… ” or “Mistakes were made… ” and so forth. Call it for what it is: sin and lawlessness. “The first step towards holy living is to recognize the true nature and wickedness of sin.” (Stott)
b. You know that He was manifested to take away our sins: John here defined the mission of Jesus Christ at its most basic root – to take away our sins. The angel Gabriel promised Joseph regarding the ministry of Jesus: you shall call His name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sin (Matthew 1:21).
i. Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of taking the penalty of our sin. This is immediately accomplished when one comes by faith to Jesus.
ii. Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of taking the power of sin away. This is an ongoing work in the lives of those who walk after Jesus.
iii. Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of taking the presence of sin away. This is a work that will be completed when we pass into eternity and are glorified with Jesus.
c. He was manifested to take away our sins: This is the work of Jesus in our life. It is a work we must respond to, but it is His work in us.
i. We cannot take away the penalty of our own sin. It is impossible to cleanse ourselves in this way. We must instead receive the work of Jesus in taking away our sin.
ii. We cannot take away the power of sin in our lives. This is His work in us, and we respond to that work. Someone who comes to Jesus does not have to clean himself up first, but he must be willing to have Him take away his sin.
iii. We cannot take away the presence of sin in our lives. This is His work in us, ultimately accomplished when we will be glorified with Him.
d. In Him there is no sin: Jesus had no sin to take away; therefore, He could take away our sin, taking it upon Himself.
2. (6) Abiding in sin or abiding in God.
Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.
a. Whoever abides in Him does not sin: Since sin is lawlessness, a disregard for God (1 John 3:4), and since Jesus came to take away our sins (1 John 3:5), and since in Jesus there is no sin (1 John 3:5), then to abide in Him means to not sin.
i. It is very important to understand what the Bible means – and what it does not mean – when it says does not sin. According to the verb tense John uses, does not sin means does not live a life style of habitual sin. John has already told us in 1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. In 1 John 1:8, the grammar indicates John is speaking about occasional acts of sin. The grammar of 1 John 3:6 indicates that John is speaking of a settled, continued lifestyle of sin. John is not teaching here the possibility of sinless perfection.
ii. “The present tense in the Greek verb implied habit, continuity, unbroken sequence” (Stott); the NIV has the right idea when it translates these verbs with phrases such as keeps on sinning, continues to sin, and he cannot go on sinning.
b. Whoever abides in Him does not sin: John’s message is plain and consistent with the rest of the Scriptures. It tells us that a life style of habitual sin is inconsistent with a life of abiding in Jesus Christ. A true Christian can only be temporarily in a life style of sin.
i. Paul’s teaching in Romans 6 is a great example of this principle. He shows us that when a person comes to Jesus, when his sins are forgiven and God’s grace is extended to him, he is radically changed – the old man is dead, and the new man lives. So it is utterly incompatible for a new creation in Christ to be comfortable in habitual sin; such a place can only be temporary for the Christian.
ii. In some ways, the question is not “Do you sin or not?” We each sin. The question is, “How do you react when you sin? Do you give in to the pattern of sin, and let it dominate your lifestyle? Or do you humbly confess your sin, and do battle against it with the power Jesus can give?”
iii. This is why it is so grieving to see Christians make excuses for their sin, and not humbly confess them. Unless the sin is dealt with squarely, it will contribute to a pattern of sin that may soon become their lifestyle – perhaps a secret lifestyle, but a lifestyle nonetheless.
iv. What is important is that we never sign a “peace treaty” with sin. We never wink at its presence or excuse it by saying, “Everybody has his own sinful areas, and this is mine. Jesus understands.” This completely goes against everything we are in Jesus, and the work He has done in our life.
c. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him: To live a lifestyle of habitual sin is to demonstrate that you have not seen Him (in a present sense of the ultimate “seeing Him mentioned in 1 John 3:2), and that you have not known Him. There are some people so great and so wonderful that seeing them or knowing them will change your life forever. Jesus is that kind of person.
3. (7) Righteousness will show in a person’s life.
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.
a. Let no one deceive you: This tells us that John wrote against a deception threatening the Christians of his day.
b. He who practices righteousness is righteous: John did not allow us to separate a religious righteousness from a life of righteousness. If we are made righteous by our faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22), it will be seen by our righteous lives.
i. The most important thing a person can ever do is make sure he is righteous before God. This simply means he is held in right standing before God. It’s more than saying, “not guilty.” It is more like saying, “Not guilty and in right standing.” It speaks of the presence of good, not just the absence of evil.
ii. John is not saying that we are made righteous before God by our own righteous acts – the Bible clearly teaches that we are made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ – yet that righteousness in Jesus will be evident in our lives.
iii. Apparently, there were those who taught that you could be righteous before God with no evidence of righteousness in your life – John is rebuking this idea. Charles Spurgeon said it well: “The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.”
c. Just as He is righteous: We can live lives characterized by righteousness, not sin, because we have been given the righteousness of Jesus, and He is righteous. We have the resource we need to live righteously!
4. (8-9) The root of sin and the root of righteousness.
He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
a. He who sins is of the devil: People who are settled in habitual sin are not the children of God – they are of the devil, and Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil and free us from our bondage to the devil.
i. “Well, labor under no mistake, sir. ‘He that committeth sin is of the devil.’ It is no use making excuses and apologies; if you are a lover of sin, you shall go where sinners go. If you, who live after this fashion, say that you have believed in the precious blood of Christ, I do not believe you, sir. If you had a true faith in that precious blood, you would hate sin. If you dare to say you are trusting in the atonement while you live in sin, you lie, sir; you do not trust in the atonement; for where there is a real faith in the atoning sacrifice, it purifies the man, and makes him hate the sin which shed the Redeemer’s blood.” (Spurgeon)
b. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil: John gave us one reason why Jesus came in 1 John 3:5 (He was manifested to take away our sins). Now, John gives us another reason: that He might destroy the works of the devil.
i. We can just imagine the heart of God grieving over the destruction the devil has wrought over this earth, and grieving that man has allowed the devil to do it all. Jesus came to put a stop to all that by overcoming the devil completely by His life, His suffering, His death, and His resurrection.
ii. Note the purpose of Jesus: to destroy the works of the devil. Not to neutralize them, not to alleviate them, or not to limit them. Jesus wants to destroy the works of the devil!
iii. Many people are unnecessarily afraid of the devil, fearing what he could do against them. If they only knew that as we walk in Jesus, the devil is afraid of us! As we walk in Jesus, we help in seeing Him destroy the works of the devil!
c. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him: The change from being of the devil to being children of God comes as we are born of God; when this happens, our old nature, patterned after the instinctive rebellion of Adam, dies – and we are given a new nature, patterned after the instinctive obedience of Jesus Christ.
i. John here is simply emphasizing what it means to be born again. It means that a change comes into our lives – it is a change that will be worked out into every area of our lives as we grow in Christ, but it is a real, observable change.
ii. It is the same message Paul preached, saying that as believers we are to put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and that we are to put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22, 24).
d. Does not sin… he cannot sin: Does not sin and cannot sin each has the same verb tense as does not sin in 1 John 3:6, meaning a continual practice of habitual sin. John tells us that when we are born again – born into the family of God – there is a real change in our relation to sin.
C. Hatred: An Attack on Relationship.
1. (10) Two essentials: righteous conduct and love for the brethren.
In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.
a. The children of God and the children of the devil: John has already introduced the idea of being a child of God (1 John 3:1, that we should be called the children of God and 1 John 3:9, born of God). He has already written of some being of the devil (1 John 3:8). But here, he makes it plain: some are children of God and some are children of the devil.
i. John doesn’t spend time trying to prove or explain the existence of the devil. He knows the reality of the devil is a Biblical fact. Some today lack John’s wisdom and either deny the devil’s existence or they are obsessed with the devil.
ii. Some might think John is far too harsh in saying some are children of the devil, supposing perhaps that John did not love people as Jesus did. But Jesus called people children of the devil also in John 8:41-45. In this passage, Jesus’ point was important, establishing the principle that our spiritual parentage determines our nature and our destiny. If we are born again, and have God as our Father, it will show in our nature and destiny. But whether our father is Satan or Adam, it will also show in our nature and destiny – just as it showed in these adversaries of Jesus.
b. Are manifest: John gave a simple – though not easy – way to identify who the children of God and the children of the devil are. Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.
i. Both of these are essential. Righteousness without love makes one a religious Pharisee, and love without righteousness makes one a partner in evil.
ii. How do righteousness and love “balance”? They don’t. We are never to love at the expense of righteousness, and are never to be righteous at the expense of love. We aren’t looking for a balance between the two, because they are not opposites. Real love is the greatest righteousness, and real righteousness is the greatest love.
iii. Love and righteousness are each most perfectly displayed in the nature of Jesus. He was both righteous, and completely loving.
2. (11) The need to love one another.
For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
a. This is the message that you heard from the beginning: John had already emphasized the command to love as being the word which you heard from the beginning (1 John 2:7). In remembering this message to love one another, he remembered the command of Jesus in John 13:34.
b. That we should love one another: The basic Christian message has not changed. Perhaps some have thought that because Christians talk about a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” that it is only us and Jesus who matter. But how we treat others – how we love one another – really matters before God.
3. (12) An example of hatred: Cain.
Not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.
a. Not as Cain: As a negative example, John presents Cain, who was not right with God (his works were evil) and who hated his brother. When there are two children of God who are both right with God, there will be love.
b. Who was of the wicked one: Cain is a good example of the failure to love.
i. We can presume that Cain had a godly upbringing that should have equipped him to love, but he chose not to.
ii. Cain’s disobedience came from a lack of faith (Hebrews 11:4) which resulted in first disobedience, then hatred.
iii. Cain’s disobedience and hatred was based in pride (Genesis 4:5).
iv. Cain’s disobedience and hatred made him miserable (Genesis 4:5).
v. Cain refused the warning God gave him, and gave into the sin of hatred (Genesis 4:6-7).
vi. Cain’s sin of hatred led to action against the one he hated (Genesis 4:8).
vii. Cain was evasive about his sin of hatred, and tried to hide it. But God found him out (Genesis 4:9-10).
4. (13-15) Love as the evidence of the new birth.
Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
a. Do not marvel: We shouldn’t be surprised when the world hates us; but we should be surprised when there is hatred among the body of Christ.
b. We know: John insists that the believer can come to a place of genuine assurance. “I have, heard it said, by those who would be thought philosophers, that in religion we must believe, but cannot know. I am not very clear about the distinction they draw between knowledge and faith, nor do I care to enquire; because I assert that, in matters relating to religion, we know; in the things of God, we both believe and know.” (Spurgeon)
c. We know that we have passed from death to life: A love for the people of God is a basic sign of being born again. If this love is not evident in our lives, our salvation can be questioned. If it is present, it gives us assurance.
i. We can know we have passed from death to life by our love for other Christians. The place of hatred, of jealousy, of bitterness you find yourself in is a place of death. You need to pass from death over to life.
ii. This means knowing two things. First, we know that we were dead. Second, we know that we have passed to life from death. To pass from death to life is the reverse of the normal. We all expect to pass from life to death; but in Jesus, we can turn it around.
iii. This speaks to our pursuit of fellowship. If we love the brethren, we will want to be with them – and even if we have been battered and bruised by unloving brethren, there will still be something in us drawing us back to fellowship with the brethren we love.
iv. “Do you love them for Christ’s sake? Do you say to yourself, ‘That is one of Christ’s people; that is one who bears Christ’s cross; that is one of the children of God; therefore I love him, and take delight in his company’? Then, that is an evidence that you are not of the world.” (Spurgeon)
d. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer: To hate our brother is to murder him in our hearts. Though we may not carry out the action (through cowardice or fear of punishment), we wish that person dead. Or, by ignoring another person, we may treat them as if they were dead. Hatred can be shown passively or actively.
i. John seemed to have in mind the teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount regarding the true fulfillment of the law (Matthew 5:21-22).
ii. “In the heart there is no difference; to hate is to despise, to cut off from relationship, and murder is simply the fulfillment of that attitude.” (Barker)
iii. “Every man who hates another has the venom of murder in his veins. He may never actually take the deadly weapons into his hand and destroy life; but if he wishes that his brother were out of the way, if he would be glad if no such person existed, that feeling amounts to murder in the judgment of God.” (Spurgeon)
e. You know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him: To live in the practice of murder – or to have a life style of the habitual hatred of our brethren – is a demonstration that we do not have eternal life abiding in us, that we are not born again.
i. There are many people for whom being a Christian is a “none of the above” sort of thing. They consider themselves Christians because they are not Muslim, or Jewish, or Buddhists, or atheists. But being a Christian is never a “none of the above” kind of thing.
ii. Being a Christian is more than saying, “I am a Christian.” There are in fact some who claim to be Christians who are not. How can we know if we are one of these? John’s reply has been constant and simple. There are three tests to measure the proof of a genuine Christian: the truth test, the love test, and the moral test. If we believe in what the Bible teaches as true, if we show the love of Jesus to others, and if our conduct has been changed and is becoming more like Jesus, then our claim to be a Christian can be proven true.
D. What love is and how we should love one another.
1. (16) The objective reality of love and how it shows in our life.
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
a. By this we know love: What is love? How we define love is important. If we define love the wrong way, then everyone passes, or no one passes, the love test. To understand the Biblical idea of love, we should begin by understanding the vocabulary of love among the ancient Greeks, who gave us the original language of the New Testament.
i. Eros was one word for love. It described, as we might guess from the word itself, erotic love. It referred to sexual love.
ii. Storge was the second word for love. It referred to family love, the kind of love there is between a parent and child, or between family members in general.
iii. Philia is the third word for love. It spoke of a brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. Philia love might be described as the highest love that one is capable of without God’s help.
iv. Agape is the fourth word for love. It described a love that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting re-payment. It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing. It is love that loves even when it is rejected. Agape love gives and loves because it wants to; it does not demand or expect repayment from the love given – it gives because it loves, it does not love in order to receive.
v. Many people confuse the four loves, and end up extremely hurt as a result. Often a person will tell another, “I love you” meaning one kind of love, but the other person believes he means another kind of love. Often a man has told a woman, “I love you,” when really he had a selfish love towards her. Sure, there were strong feelings in the heart – but they were feelings that wanted something from the other person.
vi. “It’s true you can say to a girl, ‘I love you,’ but what you really mean is something like this: ‘I want something. Not you, but something from you. I don’t have time to wait. I want it immediately.’… This is the opposite of love, for love wants to give. Love seeks to make the other one happy, and not himself.” (Walter Trobisch in I Loved a Girl, cited by Boice)
b. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us: Real love isn’t merely “felt” as an inward feeling; it is also shown by demonstration – and the ultimate demonstration was the giving of Jesus on the cross.
i. The exact same idea was expressed by Paul in Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
ii. It isn’t the death of Jesus in itself that is the ultimate demonstration of love; it is the death of Jesus together with what it does for us that shows the epitome of love. If I am on a pier, and a man jumps in the water and drowns, and cries out with his last breath, “I’m giving my life for you!” I cannot really comprehend that act as an act of love – it just seems strange. But if that same man jumps in the water to save me from drowning, and gives his own life that I may survive, then I can fully understand how the giving of his life was a great act of love.
iii. In a sermon titled “The Death of Christ for His People,” Charles Spurgeon drew three points from this great sentence:
· How great must have been our sins.
· How great must have been His love.
· How safe the believer is in the love of Christ.
c. By this we know love: There is a real sense in which we would not know what love was all about if not for the work of Jesus on the cross. We have an innate ability to pervert the true meaning of love, and pursue all kinds of things under the guise of looking for love.
i. Nature can teach us many things about God. It can show us His wisdom, His intelligence, and His mighty power. But nature, in and of itself, does not teach us that God is a God of love. We needed the death of God the Son, Jesus Christ, to ultimately demonstrate that.
ii. David Scott Crother died of AIDS in early 1993, but not before he infected his unnamed partner, who pressed charges against Crother. The woman said in an interview: “This is not an assault. It is murder… All I wanted is someone to love me, and now I’m going to die for that. I don’t think I should have to die for that.” We all have that craving for love, but we look for it in the wrong ways and in the wrong places.
d. And we also: Since we are sent with the same mandate Jesus was sent with, we must demonstrate our love by laying down our lives for the brethren. Jesus’ words As the Father sent Me, I also send you (John 20:21) seem to be ringing in John’s ears.
i. Stott on laid down and lay down: “It seems to imply not so much the laying down as the laying aside of something like clothes… It is, in fact, used in John 13:4 of Christ taking off his outer garment.” [Italics added]
e. We also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren: The focus here is on loving the brethren. Of course, we are also called to love our enemies and those who hate us (Matthew 5:44), but John calls us to a more basic test – if we can’t even love our brethren, what kind of Christians are we?
f. Lay down our lives: John also reminds us that love, and its demonstration, often involves sacrifice – the laying down of our lives for others. Wishing to be more loving won’t do, because it won’t sacrifice where it is necessary.
i. And if we take the analogy from Jesus’ love for us, sometimes the cost of love will make us feel like we are dying – but that is what it means to lay down your life. “Love means saying ‘No’ to one’s own life so that somebody else may live.” (Marshall)
ii. We often consider ourselves ready to lay down our lives in one great, dramatic, heroic gesture; but for most of us, God calls us to lay down our lives piece by piece, little by little in small, but important ways every day.
iii. Simply put, John is telling us to do the same thing we read of in Philippians 2:3-4: Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
2. (17-18) What it means to love in real life.
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
a. Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth: John will not allow us to merely talk about love; real love is demonstrated in actions (though it is also often evident in our feelings).
b. And shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? If you have the capability to meet a brother’s needs, and do nothing to meet those needs, then how can you say you love that brother? How does the love of God abide in you?
i. “Here is a test of this love; if we do not divide our bread with the hungry, we certainly would not lay down our life for him. Whatever love we may pretend to mankind, if we are not charitable and benevolent, we give the lie to our profession.” (Clarke)
ii. What is the limit to this kind of love? The only limit is the one that love itself imposes. When giving to a person, if meeting his perceived or immediate need, does him harm instead of good – then the loving thing to do is to not give him what he asks for, but to instead give him what he really needs.
c. My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth: We can substitute talk for love – talking about meeting people’s needs instead of actually meeting them.
i. Stott quoting Lewis: “It is easier to be enthusiastic about Humanity with a capital ‘H’ than it is to love individual men and women, especially those who are uninteresting, exasperating, depraved, or otherwise unattractive. Loving everybody in general may be an excuse for loving nobody in particular.”
3. (19-21) The assurance this love brings.
And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.
a. Assure our hearts: When we see this love at work in our lives, we can know that we are of the truth – and this brings assurance to our hearts before God, that we are standing in Him.
i. Gayle Erwin tells a wonderful story about a man he knew when he was a boy. The man’s name was Jake, and he was the meanest, drunkest, man in town. He would come to church from time to time, but that was only to beat up the elders. One Wednesday night, Jake came to church – but not to beat anybody up. Remarkably, Jake gave his life to Jesus. He walked down the aisle of the little church and kneeled down at the altar. The next night there was another meeting at the church, and the pastor asked if anyone wanted to share what God was doing in their lives. Jake stood up, and said: “I have something to say. Last night when I came here, I hated you people.” Heads nodded in agreement. “But something happened to me and I don’t understand this, but tonight I love you.” And even though he only had one tooth, he smiled really big. This is a wonderful assurance that we are born again.
ii. Assurance is essential – who wants to wait until it is too late to know if they are really saved or not?
b. And shall assure our hearts before Him: Our assurance is two-fold. First, God already knows everything about you and He loves you, He cares for you, He desires you; second, God knows all things, and knows who we truly are in Jesus Christ. If we are born again, then the real self is the one created in the image of Jesus Christ.
c. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things: But what if we have been walking in love, yet our heart still condemns us before God? John assures us that God is greater than our heart, and so reminds us that we cannot base our relationship with Him purely on how we feel in His presence.
i. Condemnation can well up inside us that has nothing to do with our standing before God. It may be the work of the enemy of our souls (who, according to Revelation 12:10 accuses the brethren), or the work of an over-active conscience. At those times, we trust in what God’s Word says about our standing, not how we feel about it.
ii. “Sometimes our heart condemns us, but, in doing so, it gives a wrong verdict, and then we have the satisfaction of being able to take the case into a higher court, for ‘God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.’” (Spurgeon)
d. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God: Yet, when we are in fellowship with God, and our heart does not condemn us, we know that we can have confidence toward God and our standing with Him.
i. If someone is in true fellowship with God – not deceiving oneself, as mentioned in 1 John 1:6 – then the assurance that comes to his heart while fellowshipping with God is a precious thing. It is what Paul spoke about in Romans 8:16 – The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
e. We have confidence toward God: How precious is the confidence we can have in Jesus Christ! There is such a thing as a false confidence, a confidence in self or in illusions; but there is also a glorious confidence we can have in Jesus.
i. “The word rendered confidence stood in ancient Greece for the most valued right of a citizen of a free state, the right to ‘speak his mind’… unhampered by fear or shame.” (Barker citing Dodd)
4. (22) Fellowship in God’s love means the assurance of answered prayer.
And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
a. Whatever we ask: The person who walks in the kind of obedience and love John speaks of will also experience answered prayer. This is not because their love and obedience has earned them what they ask, but their love and obedience comes from fellowship – the key to answered prayer.
i. John seems to be quoting Jesus’ idea from John 15:7 – If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
b. Because we keep His commandments: Keeping God’s commandments is important to answered prayer. But we should make a distinction between the prayer of the man who is saved, and the cry of the heart seeking mercy from God in Jesus. For the sinner who comes to Jesus in prayer, seeking mercy, the only requirement is sincerity of heart. God does not demand our obedience before He saves us.
i. The key to prayer is being in such close fellowship with God that we ask for the things that are on His heart; we take up His agenda with our requests and intercession.
ii. The spirit of true prayer is Thy will be done, not My will be done – we turn to prayer to call into action what God desires; even knowing that some of the things God desires will directly and personally benefit us.
c. And do those things that are pleasing in His sight: The person who is in fellowship with God will want to do those things that are pleasing in His sight. We should have hearts that just want to please the Lord in everything that we do.
i. It is sobering to look at our lives and see how much we do to please ourselves and how much we do to please the Lord. We shouldn’t think that the two are opposites; God is glorified when we enjoy His goodness and His good things. Yet, the godly life will have special focus on just pleasing God, even if it doesn’t particularly please us at the moment.
5. (23-24) The commandment of Jesus.
And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
a. And this is His commandment: The idea of keeping His commandments in the previous verse led John to speak specifically about what His commandment is. Simply, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another.
i. Here, John does not refer to these two aspects of obedience as two commandments, but as one commandment. Grammatically, he may not be officially correct, but spiritually, he is right on. These two are one. When Jesus spoke of the greatest commandment: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, He added another saying: And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). There are two commandments, but they are clearly like one another.
b. We should believe on the name of His Son: Again, John seems to have quoted Jesus’ idea from John 6:29: This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent. The first commandment and the greatest work we can do, is to believe on Jesus.
i. This is not simply believing that Jesus is, or even believing that He did certain things such as die on a cross. To believe on the name of Jesus means to put your belief on Jesus in the sense of trusting in Him, relying on Him, and clinging to Jesus. It isn’t about intellectual knowledge or understanding, it is about trust.
c. And love one another: The second commandment is also a quoting of Jesus’ idea from John 15:12: This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. The love of the brethren is not an option for some Christians; it is a commandment for all.
d. Abides in Him: Those who abide in Jesus know they are abiding in Jesus, because of the presence and assurance of the Holy Spirit. John again is giving the same idea as Romans 8:16 (The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God).
i. Romans 8:9 tells us that anyone who belongs to Jesus has the Spirit in him; that indwelling Holy Spirit gives us assurance. You can’t be abiding in Jesus and not know it, though you may be attacked with doubt from time to time.
ii. The one who does not keep God’s commandments does not have the ground of confidence that he abides in Jesus. As well, he does not truly have the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s presence in his life.
iii. To know if you really have this assurance can take spiritual discernment, and that is what John deals with in the very next verse. But God has already given us another basis for assurance: seeing if we love one another (1 John 3:19).
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Categories: General Letters New Testament
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The Story of God and 1 John 3:11–18
April 20, 2017
Categories New Testament
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)
I would imagine several sermons pivoted around this verse over the past several days celebrating Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday. It’s also the pivot verse in a passage Constantine Campbell engages in his new 1, 2, & 3 John commentary from The Story of God Bible Commentary series.
This resource offers a clear and compelling exposition of John’s epistles, as well as a guide for everyday readers in how to creatively and faithfully live out John’s lessons contextually. (Like each volume in The Story of God Bible Commentary series, Campbell explores this passage through the SGBC’s three lenses: Listen to the Story, Explain the Story, Live the Story.)
1 John 3:11–18 follows an important passage on our identity as children of God, 2:28–3:10. “While the previous passage was primarily concerned with identification,” explains Campbell, “this passage offers direct application: believers are to love one another.”
Which makes it the perfect passage to meditate on as post-Resurrection people.
Listen: Love One Another
If you listen to the Story by reading through 1 John 3:11–18, you will hear several themes:
There is a strong correlation between love and life, as well as hate and death. Love is evidence that we have eternal life. Those who hate remain in death. With their confidence of eternal life, believers are able to lay down their lives for others, just as Jesus did. While love makes us willing to give up our lives of others, hate makes others willing to take life. (113)
Campbell highlights several other texts in Scripture which correlate with this one: Genesis 4:1–16; Matthew 5:21–22; John 10:11; 15:12–13, 18–25.
The voice of the Story of God is consistent with what John expresses here: “Love is expressed in practical terms. Believers are to provide for those in need, showing love in action” (113)—in the same way as Christ.
Explain: Love and Life, Hate and Death
The idea that we post-Resurrection people “should love one another” (3:11) is basic to our Christian life because it is fundamental to Christian teaching. “This is the message John’s readers ‘heard from the beginning’ (3:11), which likely refers to the beginning of their Christian lives” (114).
Campbell launches into an extended explanation of how John leverages the dramatic example of Cain and Able in order to illustrate this central teaching. In short:
The one who does right is a child of God; the one who does wrong is a child of the devil (1 John 3:7–10). Cain’s actions were evil (ponera) because he belonged to the evil one (tou ponerou) (114).
John explains that we follow in Cain’s footsteps every time we hate. Instead, we’re called to love. But what kind of love? The Jesus-inspired kind:
Jesus’s death is not only theologically significant; it is exemplary. While Cain was an exemplar of hate in action, Jesus is the example of love in action…Just as hate takes away life, so love offers life. (117)
In summary, “This passage draws a connection between love and life as well as hate and death…Genuine love takes action in caring and providing for those in need and is powered by God’s love in us, as modeled by Jesus” (118).
Live: Sacrifice, Give, Love with Actions
Preachers often reflect the sentiment of Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Campbell isn’t sure John would agree:
In his customary binary fashion, it seems clear that John regards love and hate as opposites. While love seeks the welfare of another, hate seeks destruction. (118)
Christ’s love is the cure. He and his love are able to deliver us from love’s opposite. Such deliverance comes not only from the power of his death and resurrection, but also from the power of his life of love. Campbell notes that this life exemplifies as well as defines love, which John says in 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” Christians are called to follow Christ both literally and figuratively:
• “like Jesus, a person might lay down his or her physical life for the sake of another”
• “laying down one’s life means giving something up for another” (122)
Campbell notes that the example John offers to illustrate laying down one’s life—sharing material possessions through a heart of compassion—in many ways reveals the true nature of the heart. For as Campbell writes, “If anyone sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (123)
“Compassion, generosity, and giving are traits shared by those who truly know the love of God. His compassion and generosity toward us teach us how to love others” (124).
Use Campbell’s guide to John’s letters to gain a fresh, clear understanding of the Story of God in these letters—as well as your own story in their light.
Lesson 16: Hatred or Love? (1 John 3:11-18)
A woman was surprised at church one day when another woman, who had often snubbed her, went out of her way to give her a big hug before the service. She wondered what had initiated her change of heart.
She got her answer at the end of the service when the pastor instructed, “Your assignment for next week is the same as last week. I want you to go out there and love somebody you just can’t stand” (adapted from Reader’s Digest, [4/02], p. 48).
If loving others were only as easy as giving a hug to someone you don’t like, we all could excel in love. Just hug them and move on! But, love is a bit more difficult than that! It requires continual effort, because at the heart of loving others is putting the other person ahead of yourself, and that is always a huge battle. For this reason, the New Testament as a whole and the apostle John in this letter never tire of exhorting us to love one another.
John had seen the love of Christ demonstrated that night in the Upper Room, when Jesus took the basin of water and washed the disciples’ feet. He then heard Jesus say (John 13:34-35), “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Then John saw the supreme demonstration of Christ’s love when He willingly went to the cross to die for our sins. And so the “son of thunder” became known as the “apostle of love.”
John has already reminded his little children of Jesus’ old-new commandment (2:7-11). He will yet devote the major part of chapter 4 (verses 7-21) to this theme. In fact, six times in 1 & 2 John, he refers directly to Jesus’ command that we love one another (1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 5; plus the allusion in 1 John 2:7). In our text, John is in the second cycle of applying the three tests of authentic Christianity: the moral test of obedience to Jesus Christ (2:28-3:10); the social test of love for one another (
If we get weary of hearing over and over about the need to love one another, we should remember that John wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who knows our hearts. We need to examine ourselves constantly because our default mode is to revert to selfishness, not to love. In our text, John again gets out his black and white paint and does not mix them into shades of gray. He wants to expose the errors of the heretics in the plainest of terms. So he contrasts the world with the church. His message is,
The mark of the world is hatred, but the mark of the church is love.
That is a nice, clean statement, but as you ponder it you have to ask, “Is that really true?” I’ve known some wonderful, loving unbelievers and I’ve also known some real scoundrels in the church (not in this church, of course!). We’ve all met people who claim to be Christians, but frankly, you’d rather snuggle with a porcupine than try to get close to them! So, how do we square what John says with what we actually experience? Hopefully, that question will be answered as we work through the text (my sub-points are adapted from John Stott, The Epistles of John [Eerdmans], p. 144).
1. The mark of the world is hatred.
Sometimes to define a somewhat vague notion like love it is helpful to contrast it with the opposite, hatred. So John contrasts the love that we are to have for one another with Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel (3:11-12). Then, he states (3:13), “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.”
John here reflects Jesus’ words in the Upper Room (John 15:18-19 [see also, John 17:14]), “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (Jesus believed in divine election, by the way!)
Not to doubt Jesus’ words, but rather to understand them, we have to ask, “Is this really true? How is the world marked by hatred, especially in light of all the nice unbelievers out there?” To answer these questions, we need to define our terms.
By the world, John means the unbelieving world, of course, which is under Satan’s dominion in opposition to God. But, in particular, John was targeting those who had left the church and were promoting false teaching about the person and work of Christ. In 2:19, he said, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us….” In the doctrinal section that follows our text, he says that these false prophets have gone out into the world (4:1). They are the spirit of antichrist, which “is already in the world” (4:3). “They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them” (4:5).
When John speaks of love, he points us to the supreme example of Jesus laying down His life for us (3:16). Thus a helpful definition of biblical love is: a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved. Jesus sacrificed Himself because He cared for us and He is committed to seek our highest good, namely, that ultimately we might share His glory.
Since hatred is the opposite of love, we may define it as, a selfish, insensitive attitude that shows itself in disregarding others’ good as I seek my own interests. The essence of hatred is the self-centered bent of fallen human nature that says, “I’ll help you if it helps me or if it’s not too much of a hassle. But if it comes down to you or me, I’m looking out for me!” When we understand hatred as such, we can see that it characterizes the unbelieving world. The world is motivated by self-interest. Self-sacrifice, to the world, is crazy.
“But,” you may be thinking, “what about examples of genuine love on the part of unbelievers?” While it may be true that most unbelievers are motivated by selfishness, we often see examples of unbelievers who sacrifice themselves on behalf of others. We see unbelieving parents who give themselves selflessly on behalf of their children. We hear of those who donate a kidney so that a family member, or even a perfect stranger, might live. We hear of soldiers who willingly die to protect their comrades. Don’t these examples contradict John’s words about the world’s hatred?
I believe that such examples may be explained by the fact of God’s common grace. Jesus said (Matt. 5:45) that the Father “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” He said (Luke 6:35b), “He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.”
Love is one of God’s gifts that He has not withdrawn completely from unregenerate people. It should serve as a witness to them, to point them to the source of it, because, as John will point out (4:7), “love is from God.” But, the fact that God has not completely withdrawn His grace from this rebellious world does not contradict John’s generalization, that the world is marked by hatred (see Rom. 1:29-31; 2 Tim. 3:1-2).
John says five things about hatred in our text, which are in direct contrast with God’s love that is to characterize the believer:
A. HATRED IS TYPIFIED IN ADAM’S FIRSTBORN, CAIN (3:12).
This is the only explicit Old Testament reference in John’s epistles, and the only proper name, except for references to Christ or God. I think that John chose Cain because he was the first person born on this earth under the curse of sin. His hatred toward his brother typifies the self-centered, evil bent of the fallen human heart. While our self-centeredness seldom goes to the extreme of murder, the roots are there.
Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel offered a better sacrifice by faith. Since faith is always a response to God’s revelation, we must assume that God had revealed to Cain and Abel the proper kind of sacrifice that He required. Abel obeyed by faith. Cain, in defiance and disobedience, brought an unacceptable offering. When his brother’s offering was accepted and Cain’s was rejected, his envy began to seethe. Even though God confronted Cain and exhorted him to repent (Gen. 4:6-7), Cain ignored the warning. As a result, he slaughtered his brother (the Greek word used means to slit the throat or to butcher).
John assumes the doctrine of original sin in 3:14, when he states that we have passed out of death into life, but the one who does not love abides in death. People do not begin as neutral or basically good and then decide either to choose or reject God. People are born into this world in a state of spiritual death (Eph. 2:1). They need the new birth in order to pass out of death into life. The only other time that phrase appears is in John 5:24, where Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” So John begins with Adam’s firstborn, Cain, who typifies the hatred of the fallen human race.
B. HATRED ORIGINATES WITH THE DEVIL (3:12, 15).
Cain was “of the evil one” (3:12). John’s reference to the murderer (3:15) recalls Jesus’ words in John 8:44, where He states that the devil “was a murderer from the beginning.” So if we think that either hatred or love finds their roots in the human heart, we have not gone deep enough. Hatred finds its source in the devil, whereas love originates with God. This is not to blame the devil and absolve sinful people of responsibility for their sin. But, to harbor hatred is to oppose God and put yourself in league with the devil! Therefore, we need to be quick to judge our own hearts when we see these selfish attitudes rearing their ugly head.
C. HATRED DIVIDES PEOPLE AND MAY RESULT IN THE TAKING OF LIFE (3:12, 15).
At best, hatred becomes indifference or avoidance of another person, causing separation and distance in relationships. At worst, selfishness and hatred become murder (James 4:1-2). In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21, 22; see also Matt. 15:19) Jesus said that anger is tantamount to murder in God’s sight, because all murder begins there. While we cringe when we hear of someone murdering someone else, we often tolerate the roots of this sin by excusing our anger as justifiable. We need to see our own selfish anger as hideous and yank it out by the roots!
D. HATRED IS MOTIVATED BY PERSONAL SIN (3:12).
John asks, “And for what reason did he slay him?” It was not because Abel was a scoundrel doing evil. Rather, Cain’s deeds were evil and Abel’s were righteous. The root of Cain’s slaughter of his brother was that Cain was in rebellion against God. So, while hatred may be directed at other people, invariably the hateful person is at odds with God. He needs to confront his own sinful heart.
Thus hatred is typified in Adam’s firstborn, Cain, It originated with the devil. It divides people and may result in murder. It is motivated by personal sin or rebellion against God.
E. HATRED IS THE EVIDENCE OF SPIRITUAL DEATH (3:14, 15).
A person whose life is marked by selfish hatred of others shows no evidence of new life in Christ. That is the meaning of John’s words in verses 14 & 15. He is not saying that no murderer may be saved. Paul was a murderer before he was saved, and both David and Moses murdered men after they were saved. As in 3:9, here John uses present tense verbs that point to the overall direction of a person’s life. A person whose life is marked by a pattern of selfishness, envy, jealousy, strife, and hatred gives evidence that he remains in spiritual death.
While John’s words are an evidential test of a person’s spiritual condition, they are also an exhortation to those that profess to believe in Christ. As believers, we have to battle the hatred that stems from our own selfishness. While on the one hand, spiritual growth results inevitably from spiritual life, on the other hand it does not happen without our constant effort. Whenever the deeds of the flesh rear their ugly heads, we must put them to death and replace them with the fruit of the Spirit (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:19-23).
Thus, John shows that the mark of the world is hatred—the self-centered, “look out for number one” mentality, which if unchecked, results in murder. In stark contrast, he says that…
2. The mark of the church is love.
John draws a sharp, point-for-point contrast between the hatred that marks the world and the love that marks the church. Whereas hatred is typified in Adam’s firstborn, …
A. LOVE IS TYPIFIED IN GOD’S FIRSTBORN, CHRIST (3:16).
Verse 16 literally reads, “By this we have experientially come to know love, that That One laid down His life for us.” The cross is the supreme demonstration of what real love—God’s love—is. There is hardly a passage in the New Testament that speaks of God’s love that does not also speak of the cross. The most familiar is another 3:16, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (See, also, Gal. 2:20; Rom. 5:8; Eph. 5:25; 1 John 4:10.) If you want to know what God’s love is like, look at Jesus, the Righteous One, who willingly sacrificed Himself on behalf of the ungodly.
Whereas hatred originates with the devil, …
B. LOVE ORIGINATES WITH GOD.
John will state this directly in 4:7, but it is implicit in our text. Love in the believer comes from God. In 3:10b, John said that the one who does not love is not of God, implying that the one who loves is of God. In 3:17, he says that if we do not demonstrate practical love for those in need, the love of God does not abide in us. If you lack love for someone, first make sure that you are born of God. Then, ask Him for it.
Whereas hatred divides people and may result in murder, …
C. LOVE UNITES PEOPLE AND RESULTS IN LAYING DOWN OUR LIVES FOR OTHERS (3:16-17).
Jesus showed His love by laying down His life for us. Thus (3:16), “we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” That is a hard saying! Be honest—would you lay down your life for the people in this room? You can easily sit here and say, “Yes, I’d die for my fellow Christians.” But, the urge to save your own skin is pretty strong. Who can truly say in advance, “I’d die for my brothers?”
But John doesn’t leave us to sit around speculating about what we might do if persecution hits. He brings it down to everyday living (3:17): “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” Ouch! It’s easy to say that you would lay down your life for the brethren. But if you aren’t doing it inch by inch, in the little details of setting aside your selfishness to serve others, beginning at home (Eph. 5:25), it’s empty talk to say, “I’d die for my brothers in Christ!”
Self-sacrifice is never convenient. It’s always more of a hassle to meet someone’s needs than to ignore him. But, John’s point is the same as Jesus’ point in the parable of the Good Samaritan: We must not ignore others’ needs, but rather, sacrifice our time, energy, and money to help them out. This does not mean indiscriminately doling out money to those who are lazy or irresponsible (2 Thess. 3:10-12). We need discernment and wisdom to know how best to help a needy person. But we also need to be careful not to excuse our indifference by labeling the other person as lazy or irresponsible. Love unites people through practical deeds of self-sacrifice.
Whereas hatred is motivated by personal sin, …
D. LOVE IS MOTIVATED BY GOD’S LOVE IN CHRIST.
That’s the point of verse 16. If God’s love as shown on the cross abides in your heart, it will flow through you to others. If you’re running short on love, stop and meditate on what Jesus did for you. If the servant who had been forgiven the huge debt had stopped to think about it, he would have forgiven his fellow servant the lesser debt (Matt. 18:23-35). Or, as John states (4:11), “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Finally, whereas hatred is the evidence of spiritual death, …
E. LOVE IS THE EVIDENCE OF SPIRITUAL LIFE (3:14).
John states (3:14), “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” While this fruit of the Spirit never grows to perfect maturity in this lifetime, you should be able to see growth in love when you compare your self-centered life before conversion with your focus since you were saved. If you say that you know Christ, but continue to live for yourself, if you’re unwilling to be inconvenienced or sacrifice yourself and your possessions to meet the needs of others, you need to examine whether or not you’ve truly passed out of death into life. If you have tasted God’s love in Christ at the cross, the new direction of your life will be to grow in love for others.
In verse 11, John says, “This is the message which you have heard from the beginning.” He means, from the beginning of your Christian life you were taught to love one another. It’s a basic truth that you should start to learn and practice from the first day of your Christian experience. God’s love flowing through us to one another should so mark the church that it draws a sharp contrast between us and the world.
Ray Stedman (Expository Studies in 1 John [Word], pp. 264-265) tells the story of a Jewish man named Art, who was raised as an atheist. Early in life, he became a committed Marxist. At the close of World War II, he was in Germany with the American army and saw the gas chambers at the concentration camps. It filled him with hatred, first toward the Germans and then, as he realized that this went deeper than nationality, at the whole human race. He came back to Berkeley and gave himself to education, but he came to see that it was not the answer. Education could not change hearts.
Finally, he resigned his position. His wife lost her mind and was put in a mental institution. Divorced, and without ties, he went out to wander. One rainy day in Greece, grubby and dirty, he was hitchhiking. No one wanted to pick up a seedy looking character like him. He had stood in the rain for hours when a Cadillac stopped. To Art’s amazement, the driver did not just gesture for him to get in. He got out of the car, came around and began to pump his hand and welcome him warmly. He took Art’s dirty rucksack and threw it on the clean upholstery. Then he drove Art to a hotel, rented him a room, and gave him some food.
Finally, he asked Art what he was doing and where he was going. All the pent-up heartache, misery, and resentment of a lifetime came pouring out of this young Jewish atheist, while the man sat and listened. When Art was through, the man said, “You know what this world needs? Those who are willing to wash one another’s feet.” Art said, “I never heard anything so beautiful. Why do you say that?” The man said, “Because that’s what my Lord did.” For the first time in his life, this young atheist heard a clear presentation of the gospel. He became a Christian and went on to devote his life to serving the Lord.
That unnamed man, quietly going about being a Christian, demonstrated what John says to us (3:18), “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”
1. Practically, how would you counsel a Christian to deal with deep-seated bitterness, anger, or hatred?
2. Often we are blind to our selfishness. How can we grow to see it so that we can deal with it in a godly manner?
3. Is there a difference between loving someone and liking him? If so, what are the practical ramifications of this?
4. If we gave to everyone in need, we would literally have nothing left. How do we discern when to give and when not to give?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
FROM THE SERIES: 1 JOHN
Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Suffering, Trials, Persecution, Love, Worldview
The Path of Love
Author: Ray C. Stedman
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READ THE SCRIPTURE: 1 JOHN 3:11-18
One of the most emotion-charged times in my recent trip to the Holy Land was to come around a corner of the Mount of Olives and catch a first glimpse of the city of Jerusalem. We spent a week in Jerusalem (on the Jordan side). Our hotel was located right on the Mount of Olives, commanding the most spectacular and dramatic view of the entire Old City lying beneath us. We arrived there in the evening and the next morning I was up early to go out into the brilliant sunshine and stand there on the Mount and look out over that city with its ancient wall and the temple area directly below, and the warren-like streets filling the area beyond the temple wall. From that vantage point I could see all the historic spots of Christian interest. My mind went back to the time when our Lord sat on the Mount of Olives and looked out over that stubborn, recalcitrant city. Tears came welling up into his eyes from a bursting heart, and he cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would not!” Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34 RSV).
The most compelling emotion I experienced while looking out over that city was the awareness that came drifting across twenty centuries, of the compassion and love of the Lord Jesus Christ for that city. The love of Jesus Christ! It has been the most compelling force in all history. The Apostle Paul could write to his Corinthian converts and say, “The love of Christ constrains me,” 2 Corinthians 5:14 KJV). It drove him out into all the cities of the ancient world. Throughout the twenty centuries that have followed, the love of Christ is the one force that has succeeded in breaking through the hard crust of human hate and suspicion. Time and time again it has melted the cruel, arrested the rebellious, and changed the implacable.
Years ago, in Virginia, I met an old man who was the rector of an Episcopal church. He had been converted in D. L. Moody’s meetings in Cambridge, England. When Moody came to the center of English culture and education in Cambridge, the students were very much in rebellion against him. They felt he was a backwoodsy American who could not even speak the English language properly — and he couldn’t! They were affronted by the idea that this coarse, crude, vulgar American should be asked to speak to the cultured students of Cambridge. The man I met in Virginia was one of those students opposed to Moody. A band of them had agreed that, when the meeting began, they would break it up with catcalls, hooting, and mockery, and refuse to allow Moody to continue with his message. Sounds rather up to date, does it not? But when the meeting began, his associate, Ira Sankey, sang a beautiful number that greatly moved the hearts of those students. As soon as the song ended, Moody strode to the front of the platform and, in his characteristic blunt fashion began, “Young gentlemen, don’t ever let anybody tell you that God don’t love you, for he do.” It arrested them. They were so startled by this ungrammatical beginning that they all paid attention. Again he came back to the theme and said, “Don’t ever let anybody tell you that God don’t love you, for he do.” This student said that as he left the meeting that phrase ran again and again through his mind and he thought to himself, “Why do I fight a God who loves me? Why should I be in rebellion to such a God?” Later that day he sought out D. L. Moody, and Moody led him to Christ. As he told me that story, he looked back across the years to recall the time when he first came to realize the love of God.
That is the new theme to which we now come in the epistle of John. John has been talking about maintaining fellowship, maintaining truth, maintaining righteousness, and now he comes to the theme of maintaining love. It begins in Chapter 3, Verses 11-18:
For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not wonder, brethren, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death. Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one 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 speech, but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:11-18 RSV)
You will note a familiar pattern in John’s epistle, one of handling various contrasts. We have already heard him speak about light and darkness, death and life, truth and error, God and the devil; now he ties together these twin themes, love and hate. He presents them exactly as they occur in life; not in watertight compartments, isolated from each other, but intertwined together. In order to study them, however, we must separate one from the other. Today we shall look at John’s tracing of the path of love, and next Sunday, at the course of hate. Here are two opposing emotions, love and hate, mingled together, and John traces them out for us that we might understand what these two mighty, powerful influences are. There are no two forces on earth today more powerful than love and hate. This section, therefore, has much of value for us. Now you will notice in Verse 11, where John begins his word about love, he suggests to us that the origin of love is the conversion of a Christian.
For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, (1 John 3:11 RSV)
It is evident that John sees love here as beginning with Christian commitment and conversion. It is produced, he suggests, by the message “which you have heard from the beginning.” That is a familiar phrase. We have seen it many times in John. He speaks of “that which you heard from the beginning” which, if it abides in you, then you will also abide in the Son and in the Father. Perhaps a dozen times before this we have had this phrase, “from the beginning.”
The epistle opens on that note. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, … we proclaim also to you,” (1 John 1:1-2 RSV). This is a reference to the beginning of a Christian life. These who received this first letter are reminded of the beginning when they first heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. From that very moment they received a new awareness of the requirement of God in human lives, that we should love one another. The implication is clear here that this is not merely a command, such as we have in the Ten Commandments, but rather is the realization of the beginning of the possibility of loving one another. Such possibility originates with conversion.
I know there are many who are troubled by this. They are upset by the fact that Christians claim to have a monopoly on love, that real love only begins when you are a Christian and that it is impossible for a non-Christian to show genuine love. There are, as you know, certain words for love in the New Testament that indicate various qualities or aspects of love, but I shall not go into these now. I want merely to answer briefly some of these challenges.
There are those who say, “Isn’t it true that atheists love their children as wholeheartedly and as genuinely as Christians do? Isn’t that real love? Is not the love of a boy for a girl, or a friend for a friend equally as beautiful and as tender whether they are Christians or not Christians?” The answer of course is, “Yes. Love is love.” The Bible never claims that Christians have a monopoly on love. But it does claim that love of the highest quality, love in its true aspect, begins to flow only in a Christian experience; that there is a difference between the love of a Christian and the love of a non-Christian, and it is a difference which is described in this very letter as the difference between death and life. We shall see, in Verse 14, that John says we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love, and he who does not love remains in death.
Well, what is this difference? We must, of course, recognize that all love is from God. God is love, John tells us. Love pours from God into human hearts like sunshine and rain, upon the just and the unjust alike. No human being would love if he were not in some relationship, in some contact, with the God who is love. All love comes from God; the love of parents for children, the love of friends for friends, the love of sweethearts for each other — all is a gift of God to the human race, like sunshine and rain, food, shelter and raiment, and all the other things that make life beautiful, happy and wholesome. But something happens to the love of God; this pure, unspotted love which comes from God’s heart upon mankind.
As the love of God comes into the twisted, distorted heart of fallen mankind, it becomes twisted and distorted, deflected from its true goal, and in fallen man it becomes love directed only toward himself. This is what happens to love before Christianity comes. It is self-centered love. There is nothing wrong with love itself; it is the direction it takes, the object upon which it focuses, which distorts it. Love comes from God, true; but love in the fallen heart is always twisted and distorted and centered upon self. Therefore, the love we show as non-Christians is really a love of ourselves. We love our children because they are extensions of us. We love our father or mother because our life is related to theirs. We love our relatives (presumably) because they are ours. We love our dog, our cat, our horse. We love the friends who please us, we love those who help us. If you observe human life you will see how true this is. Love is always directed to those who do something to, or for, or receive from us. Therefore, what we really love is the projection of ourselves in others. Thus, human love is self-centered.
Jesus recognized this in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:45). Why, even those despised tax collectors do that, he said to the Pharisees. If you love those who are kind to you, you are no different than anyone else. There is a quality of love which is manifest in human life, but it is always self-centered. But at Christian conversion something happens. At conversion there is born a different kind of love. When a person is born again he passes, as John says, “from death unto life,” and he begins to love those he never loved before, and to love those he has loved before in a different way. I have seen this happen many, many times, and you have too. One of the clearest marks of a genuine Christian conversion is that almost immediately the individual involved begins to express concern for someone else, usually someone that he has had difficulty loving before.
That brings John to the second thing about love, in tracing the course of it here. The origin of it, he says, is conversion. The pure, unadulterated love which God intended love to be, begins only at the new birth; and it is the evidence of a new life that has been imparted.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death. (1 John 3:14 RSV)
Now it is rather fascinating, is it not, that the apostle who wrote this has become known as the apostle of love. John says more about this great quality than any of the other writers, even though it was Paul who wrote that glorious paean on love in First Corinthians 13. But if you read the Gospel records of John, you will note that this is not his nature at all. He and his brother James earned from Jesus the title, “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), because they were constantly wanting to blast back at those who opposed them. It was John and James who came to the Lord when a village refused to have them come in and said, “Shall we not call fire down from heaven upon them?” Luke 9:54). It was John and James who were constantly quarreling with the other disciples. The temperament of this man, John, was not one of naturally showing love. But when he was born again, when he believed in the deity and lordship of Jesus Christ, there was born into his heart the life of God and this man began to show love. So mightily did he master the lesson that he became known as the apostle of love.
Such love is the sign of the new life. It is a love which not only loves those who love you, but which loves those who do not love you. It is a love which does not depend upon a reciprocal relationship, but loves anyhow, loving the unlovely, loving the unqualified, loving the ungrateful, and the selfish, and the difficult. To view people apart from the relationship of Christian love is to see them as either our friends or our foes, as either rivals or helpers, as those who can help us along to the object we want or as obstacles that stand in our pathway to keep us from it. In other words, we do not look at people as people like ourselves, we look at them as either obstacles or helpers for us. We see them always as related to us. But when Christian love is born, a change takes place and we begin to see people as people, people like ourselves, needing love, having problems, feeling fears and anxieties and experiencing troubles. We are able to empathize, to sympathize, to enter in. This, then, is the character of true love, and it is always evidence that a new life has come, the life born of God.
Many of you remember from World War II the story of Jacob De Shazer, one of the members of Doolittle’s crew who bombed Tokyo early in World War II. He was captured by the Japanese and put in prison. He hated his Japanese captors and was so violent and vicious that his captors feared him because he himself feared nothing they did to him. They kept him in solitary confinement because of the hatred with which he lashed out against them. But in a remarkable way he obtained a copy of the Bible, and began to read it through. Reading through that book, in the loneliness of his cell, he came to realize the life that is in Jesus Christ. There came an amazing change over this man. His hatred of the Japanese changed completely. He began to love his captors and to show love toward them, and they were utterly astonished by what had happened to him. Instead of burning with wrath, resentment, and viciousness against them, he became the most docile of prisoners, eagerly cooperating with his captors, and praying for them.
Eventually, the story of his change of heart was written up in a little tract, and, after the war, it fell into the hands of a young Japanese, Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who led the air raid against Pearl Harbor, and who gave the command to drop the bombs on that fateful day of December 7. Mitsuo Fuchida was a hero in Japan after the war because of that exploit and others, but his own heart was empty. Somehow he read the tract that told the story of De Shazer’s amazing change of heart. He was arrested by the story and puzzled by it. From somewhere he obtained a New Testament and began to read it with growing interest and amazement. At last he came to the story of the crucifixion. When he read the Lord’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), his heart broke. He realized that this One who could love his enemies and pray for those who persecuted him and despitefully used him, was manifesting a quality of life that no natural human being could possibly show. Mitsuo Fuchida became a Christian. Some of you may remember that he gave his testimony in the early days of Peninsula Bible Church, while we still met at the Community Center. Now he is an evangelist going up and down Japan telling forth the story of a love that can change human hearts.
Love like this is the sign of a converted heart. As John says, “if we do not love, we remain in death.” If there is not this quality of love in us which can make us love those that ordinarily we would not love, then we remain in death. Of course, the most obvious place for it to show is with our brethren, with other Christians, for the hardest people to love are those closest to us. I have often quoted that jingle,
To dwell above with saints we love
O, that will be glory;
But to dwell below with saints we know —
Well, that’s another story!
It is true that it is difficult to love those who are close to us. It is those who are close to us who can get to us to irritate us. The ordinary encounters we make with nasty baggage-handlers and bell boys we can easily pass off. They do not bother us because they are remote from us. But the ones who are near to us, if they mistreat us, we find it difficult to show love. But this is the test of true love.
Can you love those that are near you, those that are your brethren? Well, if you cannot, you remain in death, for this is the mark of new life.
In February, I was privileged to be in Bellingham, Washington, at a conference of non-Christian couples meeting together. We had a wonderful time presenting the story of the gospel in a very simple and open way to these couples. This last week I received a letter from one of those couples, telling of their reactions during the week. At the end of the week they had made a commitment of faith in Jesus Christ, but they did not say anything to anyone at the time. Later, when they went home with the couple that had brought them, they acknowledged to them that they had come to faith in Jesus Christ. They wrote me to tell me about this and to thank me for being an instrument of God in bringing the gospel to them. Then they added a P.S. that set my heart to rejoicing. In one line they said:
P.S: Our two younger children, sensing the change in us, have asked to become Christians too.
That is the mark of new life — a change, the change of love. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one to another,” John 13:35). Now, because there are many attempts to imitate this valuable quality, John goes on to trace for us the essence of love.
By this we know love, that he [and it is as though the Lord Jesus is standing right there, and he points to him, ‘that one’] laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16 RSV)
That is the essence of true love. It is a laying down of life, a giving up of self-interest; that is the quality that marks God’s kind of love. “He laid down his life for us,” John says. That was a once-for-all laying down, and he uses the aorist tense here which asserts that. Once-for-all he poured out his soul unto death, laid down his life for us. Now, because of that, we ought to be laying down (and here he uses the present continuous tense) our lives for each other, our brethren. Not in the same way he did for we cannot die for another, but we can live for one another. The “laying down” here means the giving up of self-interest, the voluntary surrender of the right to meet our own needs in order that we might meet the needs of another. It is the giving up of self in order that we might minister to another. That is the quality that marks genuine love. As he goes on to show, it will manifest itself, not in word, but in deed.
…if any one 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? (1 John 3:17 RSV)
That is not God’s love. If we can see others in need — physically, emotionally, or spiritually — and pass them by unconcerned, then all our words and our fine talk about love are as Paul says nothing but “a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1 RSV), a loud noise, a mere banging upon metal.
Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:18 RSV)
It is this easy talk about love but an actual withdrawing from contact with those who are in need that constitutes the phoniness that is so widespread in evangelical circles and which is turning so many away from Christ.
On the way home from my trip I stopped off at a Christian College where several of us talked with hundreds of students there. In so many cases we found them reflecting an attitude of disinterest and even burning resentment against Christianity. Why? Because, as they put it, “it’s nothing but a fellowship of phoneys.” I pointed out to some of them that they were as phoney as the ones they were complaining about. But what they had to say was often all too true. The great sickness of fundamentalism lies right here. We have talked much about love. We have uttered glowing words about God’s love for us, and our love for men, but we have built barriers of isolation around ourselves, and refused to let others see our inner lives, and refused to seek out and find them. Because we have become isolated units, refusing to blend hearts together, we have lost the glory of body-life through which Jesus Christ intends to manifest the glory of his Spirit at work. God only works through a body, and therefore it is absolutely essential that we:
Take down these isolating barriers, and stop pretending to be something we are not; to be willing to admit our faults and our failures, and to pray together, and to stop being critical and judgmental, pointing the finger at those among us who fall or stumble, and gathering our skirts of righteousness about ourselves to pass by on the other side, lest we be contaminated by them. That is phoniness. John says so, does he not?
If you see a brother in need, and you shut your heart against him, and go on in your isolated way, how does God’s love abide in you? It is but talk, it is word, but it is not deed. Therefore, comes the exhortation, “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth.” When this special kind of love which is not based upon the loveableness of an individual, but loves for Christ’s sake, and puts up with difficulties and irritating qualities about another, is shown, it becomes the most powerful force in all the world. When it is seen, it hits with amazing impact.
Yesterday I heard a young Jewish convert give the story of his life. It is a most amazing story:
His name is Arthur Katz and he is a teacher in the public schools in Berkeley. He was raised as an atheist, even though he was of Jewish descent. Early in his life he became a Marxist, a committed Communist. He was always a left-wing radical, a trouble maker, at the heart of every uprising that was going on.
At the close of World War II he happened to be in Germany with the American Army and personally saw the gas chambers at Dachau and Buchenwald. He came away from them shocked and sick at heart, filled with hatred, first toward the German race, and then, realizing that this was not merely a national problem but a human problem, filled with an all-pervading sense of disgust and loathing for the whole human race. He came back to Berkeley and tried to give himself to education, but more and more he realized that education was not the answer. Education could not change hearts, education could not and did not touch the basic problems of human beings. Finally he gave it all up and resigned his position. His wife lost her mind, and was put in a mental institution. Divorced, footloose, and fancy-free, he went out to wander up and down the face of the earth, hardly knowing where he was going.
One rainy wet day he was in Greece, hitchhiking, with a week’s growth of beard upon his face, and a dirty rucksack on his back, standing in the wind and the rain thumbing a ride. Of course, no one wanted to pick him up. He stood there for hours when at last a big Cadillac came by, and stopped.
To his amazement the man did not merely open the door and gesture for him to get in; he got out of his car, came around, and began to pump his hand and to welcome him as though he were some kind of king. He took the dirty rucksack and threw it on the clean upholstery. Art said he winced himself when he saw that. Then the man invited him to get in the car, and they drove on. The man treated him as though he were a welcome guest. Art Katz could not understand this. He was taken to a hotel and the man bought him a room and cleaned him up and gave him some food.
Finally he asked him what he was doing, and where he was going. There came pouring out of this young Jewish atheist all the pent-up heartache, misery, and resentment of his life. He told him the whole thing, just pouring it all out. The man sat and listened, and when he was all through, he spoke one sentence. He said, “You know, Art, what the world needs? — those who are willing to wash one another’s feet.” Art Katz said, “I never heard anything more beautiful than that. Why do you say that?” And the man said, “‘Because that’s what my Lord did.”
For the first time in this young atheist’s life he heard a Christian witness. That was the beginning of the end.
I do not have time to tell the whole story of how this young man came to know Jesus Christ. But the thing that arrested him and broke through all the years of hatred, all the pent-up resentment and bitterness of his heart and life was one act of kindness which manifested to an apparently undeserving young man, genuine courtesy and kindness in the name of Jesus Christ. “By this,” Jesus said, “shall all men know that you are my disciples,” (John 13:35 RSV). That is the path of love. If life is there, that kind of love will be there. Now, let it show, is John’s exhortation. “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth.”
Our Father, may these words come home to our own hearts with great power. May we realize that we are not to love others because they love us, we are not to be kind to people because they are kind to us, we are not to be friendly to other people because they show some friendship back to us; but a Christian is to love because he has been loved by God, and he has in him a life which loves despite any reason to love. Grant to us that we may let that life show. Let us respond to the feelings that well up within us from you, to the impulses to be kind, to be courteous. Make us quick, Lord, to respond to these. We ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who loved us with that kind of love, Amen.
The Path of Love
SERIES: MAINTAINING LOVE
APRIL 23, 1967
AUTHOR: RAY C. STEDMAN
Message transcript and recording © 1967 by Ray Stedman Ministries, owner of sole copyright by assignment from the author. For permission to use this content, please review RayStedman.org/permissions. Subject to permissions policy, all rights reserved.
5. Love in Action (1 John 3:11-24)
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Max Hegele (1873-1945), “St. John” mosaic, Karl-Borromäus-Kirche (1908-1911), Vienna Central Cemetery, Austria.
John begins the next section of his letter with his central theme — love:
“This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” (3:11)
It’s amazing that we Christians need to hear the message, the command, of love so often — and still we don’t get it. Our churches are full of selfish, bickering people. The world knows the church for its judgmentalism and rigidness, not for its love and joy. How very sad.
So it is important, my brother, my sister, that you don’t let the message of love slip off your consciousness like water off a duck’s back. Don’t be waterproof to God’s message for you!
It’s likely that John’s opponents in Ephesus were characterized by their hatred of the faithful, orthodox Christian community. But it’s also likely that the true Christians were responding in an unloving manner, too.
Hated Because of Righteousness (3:12-13)
John begins this teaching by exploring the relationship between love and hatred, and between hatred and the spirit of murder.
“12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.” (3:12-13)
Cain Slays Abel out of Jealousy (Genesis 4:2-8)
John refers, of course, to the ancient and familiar story of the brothers Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:2-8). Cain was a farmer; Abel was a herdsman. When it came time to make an “offering” to the Lord, Cain offered the fruit of the ground, while Abel offered an animal sacrifice. The word is minḥâ, with the basic meaning of “gift, tribute,” used to describe gifts of tribute to human rulers and as well as to God. While minḥâ usually referred to cereal offerings, in Genesis 4:4-5 its meaning encompasses both agricultural as well as animal sacrifices.1
We’re not told why Cain’s offering was rejected while Abel’s was accepted. There seems to be no inherent reason in this instance why a cereal offering would have been inferior to an animal sacrifice. The reason Cain’s offering was rejected seems to stem from his unrighteous actions, his sins, since God exhorts him:
“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)
Cain hadn’t repented of his sins, but is angry and jealous that God favors the sacrifice of his righteous brother Abel. In a fit of jealousy Cain slays Abel — and that is John’s main reason for introducing the story here.
Jealousy toward the Righteous (3:12b-13)
“And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.” (3:12b-13)
John is explaining why the opponents hate the believers — and why the world hates them. They can see the stark difference between the believers’righteous behavior compared with their own. John’s teaching echoes Jesus’words:
“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.” (John 15:19-21)
The world says that it hates Christians because they are “holier than thou” and a bunch of hypocrites. And I am sure that these charges are often true. But the real reason for the hatred is that when Christians seek to live righteously, it exposes the sin and corruption of those not committed to Jesus, stimulating both shame, anger, hatred — and persecution energized by a spirit of murder.
Don’t miss the important link here between anger and murder. That’s why John calls on the story of Cain and Abel.
Q1. (1 John 3:12-15) Why did Cain resent Abel? Why did Cain kill Abel? How does the story of Cain and Abel illustrate Jesus’explanation of why the world hates us?
Passed from Death to Life (3:14)
Love, says John, is a mark that we are different from the world.
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” (3:14)
There’s an echo here of Jesus words:
“Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me … has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)
The common word in these verses is metabainō, “to transfer from one place to another, go/pass over,” here, figuratively, “to change from one state or condition to another state, pass, pass on.”2 Love from the heart is a true indication — not subject to counterfeit — that something has changed deep within us.
Notice that this love first manifests itself in the Christian community itself, “because we love our brothers” (3:14b). This, too, echoes Jesus’words:
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)
Sadly, churches are so often loveless places. We sing, we pray, we worship, but we do not love. I have no complaint with the rise of large churches. Praise God! But unless people connect with a small group within these churches, they are doomed to a loveless model of the Christian congregation. We cannot afford the outward show of success, if at the core of the church we are missing the essential element of “love for the brothers and sisters.”
My dear Christian friend, if you really love the brothers and sisters in your church, how does that love show itself in your actions? If it doesn’t show up in actions, how do you know it is a real love?
Hate Drives Murder (3:15)
Now John goes back to murder that he introduced with the story of Cain and Abel:
“Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (3:15)
Certainly there’s a difference between hatred (an attitude) and murder (an action). But the spirit that underlies both hatred and murder is exactly the same spirit. Recall Jesus’own troubling teaching on this from the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment….” (Matthew 5:21-22a)
This hits home for us when we begin to catalog the people with whom we are angry. Inside we seethe with anger when we suffer unrighteousness — or even blows to our pride. Anger, of course, is a common, God-given response to cause us to take action. Vital, but dangerous.
Anger comes and goes with the situation. But when we hold onto this anger, it becomes a resident bitterness within us. It produces an unforgiving spirit that Jesus warns us against. Following his teaching on the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says:
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Of course, full forgiveness can be granted when there is full repentance (Luke 17:3). But we are required to flush our souls of the unforgiveness that manifests itself in harbored anger — which is in us the spirit of murder. We must! So long as we hold anger towards another, we cannot love him or her as Jesus calls us to.
Q2. (1 John 3:15) How can anger turn into hatred in our hearts? In what ways do anger and hatred relate to murder? How can we get rid of stored-up anger in our hearts so that we may love those who have offended us?
Laying Down Our Lives for Our Brothers (3:16)
To teach this subject, John is going back and forth, from the positive to the negative and back to the positive again.
“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.” (3:16)
Here he defines love as “laying down one’s life”3 “on behalf of”4 one’s brother or sister. This, of course, is another echo of Jesus’teaching on love that we considered above:
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)
Love Requires Acts of Compassion (3:17-18)
What does this kind of sacrificial love look like in real life? John says,
“17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (3:17-18)
We’re so afraid that people will take advantage of us or scam us that we try to suppress our compassion. Certainly we need to be wise. But we must give out, if God has given to us. This is the most natural thing that love can do. This is loving “with actions and in truth” (3:18).
St. James brings the same message in his letter.
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)
Of course, our most powerful example of pouring out our lives in love is found in our Savior, Jesus Christ:
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Q3. (1 John 3:16-18) What does it mean to “lay down your life for your brothers”? What are some concrete examples of this kind of love in action within the Christian community? If you are in a large congregation, how can you get to know other members so you’ll be able to lay down your life for them — and they for you?
Loving “in Truth” (3:18-20a)
It’s one thing to love in action. Now John’s thoughts turn to loving in “truth.”
“18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us.”
“Truth” in verses 18 and 19 is alētheia, from the root idea of “hiding nothing.” The word is often used in the New Testament in the sense of “truthfulness,” as well as the content of what is true: “truth,” and especially of Christianity as the ultimate truth, as in verse 19 — “we belong to the truth,” that is, the true faith, as opposed to the twisting and half-truths of their opponents in Ephesus. But there is also a sense in verse 18 (“with actions and in truth”) that John uses the word with the idea of “reality.”5
Phony love talks about compassion; real love does something to express that compassion.
Assuring Our Troubled Hearts (3:19-20)
Have you ever struggled with a crisis of guilt? How can God accept me, as weak and sinful as I am? How do I know that I’m even a true Christian? The answer, says John, is by the objective fact that we truly love our Christian brothers and sisters:
“19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn6 us. For7 God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (3:19-20)
These are difficult verses to translate and to understand. For details see the commentaries, but here is the gist of the meaning. “This” in verse 19 seems to look back to true love that loves the brothers and sisters as manifested in deeds of love. “Heart” in these verses seems to refer to the conscience.8
“Set … at rest” (NIV), “reassure” (NRSV), “assure” (KJV) is peithō. The verb usually means “convince, persuade.” But here the context seems to require the rarer meaning of “conciliate, pacify, set at ease/rest,” such as found in Matthew 28:14. God seeks to reassure our sometimes troubled hearts. We don’t always measure up to his high standard of holiness and we are sometimes troubled with doubts. But the reality of our love for the brothers and sisters is an objective standard upon which we can rely — and that reassures us.9
In verse 20, the clause, “for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (NIV, NRSV) is puzzling. Of course, the conscience isn’t perfect. It can be educated, seared, or even become overly tender to the point of causing excruciating doubt. However, it is God’s judgment that counts (1 Corinthians 4:3-5), not that of a troubled conscience. John’s meaning here can be reduced to two possibilities:
1. Comfort. God is more merciful than the self-recrimination of our consciences, since he sees the big picture and knows our love for him.
2. Challenge. God is more rigorous in his judgment than our own consciences, since he knows the full scope of our sin.
But John’s purpose in these verses is “to heal the wounded conscience, not to open its wound wider.”10 Therefore, it is more consistent to see this clause as giving comfort rather than challenge. Marshall observes:
“No matter how much his heart may condemn him, God still welcomes and forgives the man who seeks his forgiveness and casts himself upon his mercy. And even when we are no longer capable of conscious faith in God and tread the dark valley of severe physical or mental illness, this God will still hold us in his hand. ‘The Lord knows those who are his'(2 Timothy 2:19).”11
To summarize, assurance for a troubled conscience comes from two sources: (1) love in action and (2) trust in the omniscience and mercy of our God.
The Blessings of a Confident Heart (3:21-22)
John turns from healing a wounded conscience to the blessings of the heart that has been reassured.
“21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (3:21-22)
The blessings are two-fold: (1) communion with God that is characterized by confidence and (2) answered prayer. “Confidence” (NIV, KJV), “boldness” (NRSV) is parrēsia, “a state of boldness and confidence, courage, fearlessness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank,”12 a word we already saw in 2:28.
Obedience and Answered Prayer (3:22)
Verse 22 raises a question in a Christian culture that views everything through the lens of grace.
“[We] receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (3:22)
Do we receive answers to prayer because of our obedience? That’s what St. John is saying. In contrast to the heretics, who had disconnected obedience and righteous living from their religion, John underscores the importance of holy living.
Is this contrary to grace? No. We know that God doesn’t “owe” us anything. Our salvation is entirely by grace. But our continued Christian life requires our participation with God’s grace.
If one of your children had been petulant and disobedient, would you be inclined to grant his requests? No, that would only encourage his rebellion. Parents usually grant non-essential requests only if the child is obedient. Grace maintains our relationship as children of our heavenly Parent. But for answers to our extra requests, obedient living is required. That’s part of wise child-rearing.
Q4. (1 John 3:22) We know that God doesn’t “owe” us anything. So what is the relationship between obedience and answered prayer? Do we “earn” God’s favor through obedience?
Believe and Love (3:23-24)
Now John returns full circle. The apostle reiterates the command to which obedience is required — the prime directive: Love.
23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (3:23-24)
The Spirit as Our Proof (3:24; 4:13)
Verse 24 and a similar one in 4:13 are given as a proof of our relationship to God: The Holy Spirit.
“And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave13 us.” (3:24)
“We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” (4:13)
For many Christians today the Holy Spirit is mysterious and mystical. They have no real grasp of who or what the Spirit is.
However, for John to twice use the presence of the Holy Spirit as a proof that God lives in us clearly demonstrates that the recipients of this letter were well-taught concerning the Spirit and well-acquainted with his working. In this letter the Holy Spirit is spoken of figuratively as:
1. The “anointing” that gives us knowledge of the truth (2:20, Lesson 3) and teaches us (2:27), and
2. The cause of being “born of God” which causes God to “abide/continue” in us (2:29-3:2, Lesson 4).
3. The “seed” of God in us that keeps us from habitual sin (3:9; Lesson 4).
4. The “witness” or “testimony” in one’s heart (5:10), an inner assurance of God’s presence. “The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16).
It’s likely that John’s recipients experienced and ministered in the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, but those “evidences” aren’t what John points to. Rather, he is saying that you know the Spirit’s presence from his teaching, leading, sanctifying, and assuring work in your lives.14
The study is available as a free e-mail Bible study, or as an e-book or paperback book at a modest cost.
One way we can make the Holy Spirit less mystical to the present and next generation of Christians is to continually teach, preach, and rely on the Holy Spirit in our lives as individuals and in our congregations.
John’s heretical opponents could talk like Christians, but they didn’t love like Christians. In this section, John has taught his “little children”:
1. The significance of letting go of anger so that it doesn’t turn into hatred,
2. The importance of deliberate acts of compassion that demonstrate our love, and
3. The blessings of keeping Christ’s command to love one another.
4. The assurance of the Holy Spirit with us.
Father, perfect your love in me, I pray. Keep me on a short leash so I don’t hold on to anger. Show me how to lay down my life in practical ways, in acts of love for my Christian brothers and sisters. Teach me to love as you do. In Jesus’name, I pray. Amen.
“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.” (1 John 3:16)
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)
“[We] receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (1 John 3:22)
1. G. Lloyd Carr, minḥâ, TWOT, #1214a.
2. Metabainō, BDAG 638, 2b.
3. The verb is tithēmi, “put, place.” Here it is used in the sense of, “take off, give up” (BDAG 1003, 1bβ).
4. The preposition “for” is huper, “a marker indicating that an activity or event is in some entity’s interest, for, in behalf of, for the sake of someone or something” (BDAG 1030, 1aε).
5. Alētheia, BDAG 421.
6. Kataginōskō, “condemn, convict” (BDAG 515).
7. Hoti is often translated “that,” as in verse 19. But the context of verse 20 (“For God is greater than our hearts”) seems to require the common meaning of a “marker of causality, because, since” (BDAG 732, 4a).
8. In Hebrew thought there is no separate word for conscience, for example, 1 Samuel 24:5 (Marshall, Epistles of John, p. 198, fn. 5; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 202).
9. “‘We can be sure we belong to the truth,’John affirms, by our obedience to the love command” (Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 200).
10. Stott, Epistles of John, p. 148.
11. Marshall, Epistles of John, p. 199.
12. Parrēsia, BDAG 781, 3b.
13. “Given” in 4:13 and “gave” in 3:24 translate the very common verb didōmi, “to give.” The phrase “of his Spirit” (4:13) uses the preposition ek, “out from,” specifically, a “marker denoting origin, cause, motive, reason, from, of” (BDAG 296, 3).
14. There is a helpful discussion of various alternative interpretations in Brown, Epistles of John, pp. 465-466, 483-484. Possibilities: (1) The Spirit inspires love, (2) the Spirit inspires gifts, such as prophecy, (3) the Spirit brings an interior witness with our spirits, and (4) the Spirit inspires our confession of faith.
Discipleship Lessons from John’s Letters
Copyright © 2022, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor
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