From our previous passage (1 Jn. 3:1-9) we learned that because of the Father’s love for us and His image in us, our new life in Christ will be evident. This passage speaks to what the evidence looks like: Sacrificial love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
John reiterates that unrighteous living comes from unrighteous souls. Then, he insists that sacrificial love for our brothers and sisters in Christ is evidence of authentic Christianity (also, 2:7-11). Our parentage is demonstrated by how we treat the Parent’s family.
Although John states that we can know if others are authentically Christian or not (also, 2:3-6), we must not exclude an honest look at ourselves.
An Appeal to Love, (3:11-15)
In language similar to 2:24, John makes a strong appeal for us to love God’s family. Just as the identity of Jesus is unalterable, so are the implications of genuine faith in Jesus: We are to love one another!
Because the biblical background would have been familiar to his readers, John gives a negative example in Cain (Gen. 4:1-8; Mt. 23:35; Heb. 11:4; Jude 11). What John reveals about Cain that the other references don’t:
- Abel’s righteousness actions exposed Cain’s evil actions most likely causing Cain to resent Abel.
- Abel’s righteous offering done in and by faith spotlights Cain’s wickedness (see esp. Hey 11:4).
- Cain is a murder because he belongs to the Devil and not to God (see esp., Jn. 8:44).
Cain’s resentment quickly grew into hatred. Therefore, Cain’s slaying of Abel exemplifies a resentment that turns to violent hatred toward one’s fellow human being (see Matt 5:22). Abel’s murder is the paradigmatic expression of love’s antithesis!
In telling us not to be like Cain, John tells us not to be like the world. Hence, John parallels Cain and Abel with the world and God’s people. Cain is to Abel as the world is to believers. Or, Abel was to Cain what believers are to the world.
To Consider: While the essence of love is sacrificing self for others, the essence of hatred is sacrificing others for self.
This marked contrast is intended to be an inspiration to us because “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.” Our love for others is clear evidence that we have eternal life.
To Consider: We have an obligation to focus on our spiritual family, as well as our biological family!
The Activities of Love (3:16-18)
After pointing to the negative example of Cain, John turns to the positive example of Christ. Love is purposeful; it accomplishes good for another. Love is sacrificial; it goes well beyond convenience and generosity.
The supreme example of sacrifice is Christ; the simple, achievable application is meeting the needs of others with unfeigned devotion to their good. Love, says John, is not austere action, nor is it trite passion. In fact, pity without action is mere sympathy, whereas action without pity is only duty. One without the other falls short of biblical love. God’s love is always expressed with compassion and with action. When actions speak louder than words and sincerity is apparent in it all, then divine love has been communicated.
The Assurance of Love (3:19-22)
John knows we will, at times, waiver in our assurance before God. He understands that, due to our human frailties, we are often unable to see the evidence of our new life in Christ. So, he writes to assure us with God’s all-knowing character.
God not only knows more about us, He knows us perfectly. The confidence John has in mind depends upon the greatness of God, not the whimsical nature of our hearts. It is God’s knowledge that we can rest in. Praise God that He is more merciful to us than we are to ourselves (Jm. 2:13)!
One of the ways our confidence is expressed is by making requests to God. Answered prayer is conditioned upon obedient living and love for God’s family. Passing the moral and social test is not simply a one-way ticket to heaven, it results in a potent prayer life!
To Consider: The fruit of genuine Christianity is love for others and the fruit of love is confidence. Do you want to bolster your faith? Love one another. Do you want to have a more effective prayer life? Obey God and seek to please Him in all you do.
The Authenticity of Faith (3:23-24)
These verses summarize much of what has been said thus far in John’s epistle. Three tests indicate authentic Christianity: Belief in Jesus as God’s fully divine, fully human Son, obedience to God’s commands, and love for one another.
John gives us one other source of confidence: The Spirit of God. The presence of God’s Spirit is the primary way to authenticate faith (Rom. 8:12-14). Although John does not say how the Spirit communicates to us, he does say that the Spirit communicates (“we know”).
The experience of God’s Spirit, however, must not become more important than the reality of His presence. And, God’s Spirit is not a reward for obedience, but our Enabler in obedience. Moreover, the Spirit’s manifestation in believers’ lives, according to John, is objectively realized in obedient living and love for others. Our personal relationship with God is continually mediated by the Spirit’s presence in us.