Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 1 John 3:11–15
Love and Hatred, Life and Death
We concluded last week's study with a realization that genuine believers — those born of God — are to practice righteousness and love. This week's "love" study will extend to looking at and appreciating our need to practice righteousness and love on fellow believers. But what exactly does the act of "loving someone" entail? Giving someone a warm hug? Sending an appropriate gift? Volunteering to do something special? What is it that comes to mind when you're asked or told to "Love somebody"? . . .
Hopefully you've now got an idea of what's needed to "love somebody." It's now time to ponder what it will take for you when you're asked to "Love someone you hate!" . . . It sure would be easier if we expressed our love for those whom we hate by simply opening our arms and giving that hated person a long-lasting hug, right? Well, loving someone whom we hate is much more challenging! It requires a continual, hearty "love" effort, because our success at loving people we hate depends upon our putting other people ahead of ourselves, which is bound to be a huge undertaking. Jesus, as well as John here, want us, God's children, to know what we must do when we're to love someone we hate. And once we get that ominous task accomplished, it'll be a piece of cake for us to love others, including fellow believers. Let's get started studying "love" and "hatred."
The World’s Hallmark of “Hatred” (1 John 3:11–13)
As we learned in our introductory study (see week 1's summary,) John didn't hesitate to use key words repeatedly in all three of his letters to drive home essential themes. In his three epistles, he used "love/loves/loved" fifty-two times [in the NIV]. He's already reminded us (his dear children) of Jesus’ old commandment made new (2:7–11); coming up, he'll yet earmark a substantial portion of chapter 4 (vv. 7–21) to his "God's love and our love" theme. Most notably, numerous times in First and Second John, he cites Jesus’ command that we believers and followers of Lord Jesus "love one another" (1 John 3:11, 23, 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 5).
More on Love and Hatred
11For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do 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 (3:11–12).
In today's first two verses, John demonstrates (again) a test of whether each of us is truly a child of God: Do you believe and follow the message that God has provided from the beginning, that is, do you love your brothers and sisters? But before we can successfully love one another, we must catch ourselves when we resort to thinking first about "self," which is very easy to do, since we've probably been doing that without difficulty for countless years. It's up to us, if and when we truly commit to making an effort to "love one another," to heed John's wise counsel herein. He wants to make the false teachers vulnerable to their errors. So he compares the world's hallmark of hatred with the church's hallmark of love.
The "love" that the Elder speaks of in v. 11b is exemplified in the supreme, self-sacrificing example of Jesus laying down his life for us (John 3:16). He sacrificed himself because he lovingly cared for us. He was committed to seek our highest good, namely, that ultimately we might share his glory. Today, Jesus continues to care for and love us beyond measure.
Referencing v. 11's "from the beginning," John might have had in mind the love that had been created, shared, and enjoyed in the Garden of Eden's early days. He might also have been referring to the beginning of the New Testament Era that began with Lord Jesus' incarnation, leading up to his death and resurrection. Remember what Jesus had told the Twelve in the upper room the night before his crucifixion. He'd first showed his love for his disciples by washing their feet the way a servant would have done. Then he gave them this command: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34–35). In effect, Christ Jesus told them: Do you see the agape love that I've shown you here and that I'll soon display to you on the cross? I want you to show others this same love.
It's human nature for us to remove ourselves from uncomfortable situations, but we're called to embrace the uncomfortable so we can truly love others well. God calls us to bravely share his love with all who come into our lives. Jesus wants his followers to care for each other on the deepest levels. A distinguishing feature of us Christians should be our love for one another, which ought to flow out of our love for God, as a result of God's love for us that John will soon accentuate in 1 John 4:19. And at Pentecost, with the Holy Spirit's help, people from other nations, with a variety of interests and backgrounds gathered. They had a lot in common, worshiped at the temple, broke bread in their homes, and generously supported each other by lovingly giving to those in need (Acts 2:42–47).
Jesus gives many more "love one another" models: We're to love unconditionally (Romans 5:8), love sacrificially (2 Corinthians 5:21), love with a tolerance of one another (Ephesians 4:2–3), love with the intent to forgive (Eph. 4:32), love as an act of following God's law (Leviticus 19:18; Rom. 13:8), love in fellowship with God (1 John 4:12–13), and love forever (Rom. 8:38–39); remember that he and his love are holy (Hebrews 7:26). We're also to love each other, our neighbors, even our enemies (Matthew 5:43–48). In 1 Cor. 13:4–8, we find a beautiful description of what Christ’s agape love will be like in and through the believer who walks in the Spirit. We're to "love one another" like that.
Successfully loving one another — the same way that Christ loves us — is only possible, thanks to the supernatural power of God (2 Peter 1:3–8). Jesus gives us the command to "love one another," while also giving us the power to do that by listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit of Jesus.
That "love" in v. 11b is less an "airy fairy feeling," more an outright willing act, which John will zero in on next week when we look closely at 1 John 3:18. But John doesn't allow us to determine what such a love effort is to entail. So, in v. 12, he warns his readers not to "love your brother" the way Cain did by murdering Abel, because Cain's works were evil while his brother's were righteous. John is instructing believers to not behave like Cain, who was envious and jealous; if we do, that will be a sure sign that God's love isn't in our hearts. In vv. 14 and 15, John tells those of us who murder others by our hatred of them us that we'll ultimately lack eternal life.
The world's hallmark is hatred. After telling his church members that they "should love one another," John warns them not to be the hater that Cain was. He attributes the lack of brotherly love in Cain's experience to his parentage; he wasn't a child of God, he was of that wicked one, Satan (v. 12a). He was hostile towards brother Abel because Abel was right with God and Cain wasn't. John immediately highlighted the love that they were to have and express outrightly for one another, contrasting that with Cain’s murder of his brother. Next read this follow-up forewarning in v. 13.
13Don't be surprised, my brothers and sisters [believers who are in God's family], if the world hates you (3:13).
John knew well of the world's hatred. He'd personally heard Jesus speak intimately to him and the Twelve while in the upper room, similar words about how the world hated the disciples (John 15:18–19). Using "the world" in v. 13b, John was generally referring to the unbelieving world of which Satan currently had control. Specifically, he was directing his aim at those who'd left the church and resorted to promoting false doctrine about the person and gospel of Jesus. Going forward in this first epistle, John will make it clear that many false prophets "have gone out into the world" (4:1), live and act by "the spirit of the antichrist, which . . . is even now in the world” (4:3), and “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them” (4:5).
More on hatred Steve Cole says this in his "Hatred or Love" commentary: "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. To the world, self-sacrifice is crazy."
Next we come to the element in today's passage that deals with death and life.
14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him (3:14–15).
The first half of v. 14 provides words of assurance to believers. In John's "We know," he insists that believers can achieve genuine assurance. Knowing that "we have passed from death to life" speaks to the assurance of salvation. One's outright love of the people of God is a basic sign of being born again. If this love isn't readily apparent in our lives, our salvation comes into question. But if such love is actively present, we can be assured that we've "passed from death to life" as evidenced by our love for other Christians.
Verse 14a tells us that true children of God who love others have eternal life. In v. 14b, John speaks of the dire consequence of a lack of brotherly love: We'll remain spiritually dead without eternal life. Fortunately there's a life-changing option for everyone: Our love for brothers and sisters demonstrates that we've passed from spiritual death to life. Where there's no love of others, there's no life. If you don't love your brother, you're a spiritually dead murderer like Cain was and you lack eternal life. Now that doesn't mean that murderers can't be saved allowing them to spend the rest of time with Jesus, continually glorifying him. But one can't be forgiven a murder sin, whether done through the heart or hands while continuing to hate one's brother or sister.
In his commentary on this passage, David Guzik writes: "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."
And Charles Spurgeon (English Baptist preacher, 1834–1892) wrote this about those who hate his or her brother: “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.”
John iterates five realizations and truths about hatred in our five-verse passage; note how each of them is in direct conflict with the essence of God’s love that's to be lived out by true believers: (1) hatred is characterized in Adam's firstborn; (2) hatred starts by and through Satan (3:12, 15); (3) hatred divides people and can result in murder (3:12, 15); (4) personal sin is a prime motivator of hatred (3:12); and (5) a life of selfish hatred precludes being born again in Christ (3:14, 15). As John demonstrates, living by the world's hallmark of hatred is detrimental to one's spiritual life: It it leads to murder. Following his gruesome depiction of that self-centered, "Me first!" world that's stimulated by Satan's hatred, John is about to refocus his epistle on the benefits of living a life that has "the church's hallmark of love." Stay tuned; we'll jump into that discussion next week.
Few people would want to think of themselves as murderers. It’s one of those sins about which many say, Well, I’m an OK person; it’s not like I’ve ever killed anyone! But the Apostle John, here, puts forward the topic of murder convincingly. Equating a hateful heart with a most heinous crime is the difficult reality that he presents before the church. You might as well be Cain is the message he presents to those who'd want to set aside a concealed contempt for a brother. John’s main idea: The one who doesn’t love his brother hates him. We can hate or love one another; there's no option in God's law. The fruit that will be born from a hateful or loving heart will naturally depend on the nature of the vine.
What do you mean when you say, “I'm a Christian.” Some people claim to be a Christian but aren't. How can we know if we're one of them? John’s epistle has been clear and consistent. We're to take and pass three tests that prove Christian authenticity: the truth test, the morals test, and the love test (described in detail in week 2's summary). That is, if we believe that what the Bible teaches is true, if our conduct has been changed and is becoming more like Jesus, and if we demonstrate Jesus' love to others, then we'll have passed the three tests and our claim to be a Christian can be proven true.
To love one another is to love fellow believers the same way that Christ loves us. Those who love as Christ loves, utilizing the Holy Spirit’s power, will confirm that they're active Christian disciples — learners and followers — of Jesus Christ.
- Q. 1 How does "the world" define "love"?
- Q. 2 What results when Christians truly love others?
- Q. 3 How might you practice Jesus-like love of others this week? Whom will you love?
1 John 3:11–15