The Art of Loving One Another

A study of 1 John 3:11-18

As we begin our look at this group of verses, it is noteworthy to mention some of what John had previously written.  Knowledge of God is evidenced by conduct.

The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  (2:4)

If you claim to be a Christian, you obligate yourself to conduct yourself as Christ would conduct Himself if He were in your stead.  Furthermore, John taught that being “born of God” is evidenced by our love for other believers.  In fact, the command to love other believers is actually the test of whether one is “walking in the light” or not.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.  (2:9-11)

This is the acid test of one’s confession of faith:  do they love the fellowship of other believers?  Of special note here is John’s emphasis on the word “brothers,” or “brothers and sisters” in the TNIV.  The proof of our relationship with Jesus Christ is how we treat others in the body of Christ.  Here John is not presenting a social gospel; of loving those outside the church.  Christians, of course, are not taught anywhere to hate the unsaved, but we are admonished many times in the New Testament to treat those within the church with a kind of special love and attention.

1.  Hatred of the world, 3:11-15

This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 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. Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

John begins his contrast of love and hate by first giving the command of mutual love within the body of Christ, followed by an example of hatred.

(a)  Love, verse 11

As noted by almost ever Bible scholar, love is not the application of the Gospel, it is the goal established from the beginning.  Believers experienced the love of Christ “from the beginning” of their relationship with Him, and they are to show that kind of love to others within the body of Christ.  It is to be a mutual love:  the command is to love one another.  Mutual love between Christians and the world is impossible, according to verse 13, since the world must hate us.

(b)  Hate, verse 12

When John mentions Cain, he points back to something he mentioned in verse 8:

He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.  (3:8)

It’s sad but true, but just as love was “from the beginning,” so also is hatred.  And Cain, who murdered his brother, is the perfect antithesis of the one who loves his brother.  Cain is representative of all who are not born of God; they hate their brothers and do not want fellowship with them.  While we know Cain murdered his brother, Abel, the Greek here literally says “Cain…cut his brother’s throat.”

Jesus said a similar thing to some Jews who opposed Him and exhibited the same kind of hatred toward Him that Cain expressed toward Abel.  The story is recounted in John 8:37-47, and there Jesus says to them that despite their claim to be children of Abraham,

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.”  (vv. 39-41)

“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning.  (vv. 42-44)

Cain proved that he did not belong to God by murdering his brother.  In fact, in the next two verses, John indicates that Cain’s hatred toward Abel was motivated by Abel’s righteousness!  We prove whether or not we belong to God by how we treat our brothers and sisters in the Lord.  This is John’s reasoning.

(c)  Hatred, verses 13-14

It should be natural, if not always evident, for Christians to love one another.  It is just as natural for those in the world to hate Christians.  It is always surprising when Christians are taken off guard by opposition from the world.  Yet this is, according to the teachings of Scripture, the normal reaction of a godless world to the Church.

At this juncture, we might have expected John to admonish Christians to love the sinful world.  He did, after all, pen the words of John 3:16, which were in response to the world’s hatred of the Christian.  Because he doesn’t, and this has led some to assume that Christians should hate the world.  Naturally, this is not what John is teaching at all.  John’s subject, and the point of this teaching, is the evidence of Christian character rather than the evangelistic concern which the Church should manifest for the salvation of the world.  Mutual love in the body of Christ is simply a better piece of evidence than love for a sinful world.  The reason is obvious:  if a Christian cannot love “the children of God,” how can he love “the children of the devil?”

(d)  Judgment, verse 15

In no uncertain terms, John says that any believer who lacks love for other believers has a heart filled with hate; there is no middle ground, and hatred will eventually end with its manifestation.  In Cain’s case, it was manifested in the murder of Abel.  Is John here saying that every single Christian who “hates” a fellow believer is a murderer?  Does hatred always lead to murder?  John Calvin’s observations provide some balance:

If we wish an evil to happen to our brother from some one else, we are murderers.

But John was not the first to link hatred with murder.  Jesus Himself said this in Matthew 5:21-22,

“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. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Glenn Barker observes:

To hate is to despise, to cut off from relationship, and murder is simply the fulfillment of that attitude.  Cain, because he murdered his brother, was cut off from the covenant community.  He received no promise.  So no murderer is within the community, nor anyone who “hates his brother.”

If you have hate in your heart, you have no place in the Church.  J.B. Phillips in his translation of this verse puts it like this:

The man without love for his brother is living in death already.  The man who actively hates his brother is a potential murderer, and you will readily see tat the eternal life of God cannot live in the heart of a murderer.  (vv. 14b-15)

2.  Love for each other, verses 16-17

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. 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?

John, as a pastor, uses the phrase “we know” in the perfect tense.  This means that “we,” members of the body of Christ,  have knowledge of a historical event, namely, the death of Jesus Christ.  How are we to love each other?  We look at the supreme example of this agape love:  Jesus, who willingly gave His life for others.  But John’s point is that we know what love is because we have heard the Gospel message.  Hearing the Gospel, knowing what Jesus did of His accord, what then is the believer’s obligation?  John writes that we “ought” to give our lives for our brothers.  In other words, love that costs nothing to give is not real real love.

John scorns mere talk about loving and demands the deeds and truth of love as evidence of spiritual life.  (White)

This passage of Scripture forces all who read it to examine their earthly relationships within the realm of the Church and to ask themselves this:  What am I willing to risk to love my brother?   According to Jesus, the chance of losing your life is an acceptable risk.  Is it so in your life?

For those of us find that question difficult to answer, it seems like John anticipates this and so adds that, perhaps losing your life won’t ever happen, but there are other ways  to show love to a fellow believer.  For example, we can be compassionate to him in his time of need.  But there are conditions for this.  John indicates that if we are in a position to see with our own eyes his need, then we must act to help alleviate that need.  This is an immensely powerful verse, because if we can deny a fellow believer help when we know for certain he needs it, then we deny the presence of God’s love in our hearts.

Kistemaker writes:

The command to “love the Lord your God” can never be separated from the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  These two go together at all times.

Conclusion, verse 18

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Without question, this is tough teaching!  Even from someone as tender-hearted as John, what he said would have been no less a big pill for his readers to swallow than it is for us, two thousand years later.  Perhaps John sensed this, so he addresses his readers as, “little children.”  He does not want his readers to throw up their hands in defeat, as though he were giving them an impossible admonition, rather, he wants to get a heart-felt response from them.  Love, real and genuine love is more than mere words.  It demands simple acts, from one person to another.

Must believers really give their lives for a fellow believer if need be?  Must a Christian render aid to another Christian when he himself is in dire straights?  Should a Christian buy shoes for a brother’s child when his own are in bare feet?  How far does a believer take this?  John Wesley, in answer to these kinds of questions, wrote this:

Give and lend to any so far (but not farther, for God never contradicts Himself) as is consistent with thy engagements to thy creditors, thy family, and the household of faith.

Truly, mutual love in the body of Christ is an art.

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