John spoke about our sinful nature and sinful acts in 1 Jn. 1:8-2:2. In this passage our inspired author gets more specific and spells out how it is that sin manifests itself, namely in disobedience, hatefulness, and materialism. Primarily he is addressing Christian readers telling us that these vices cannot be habitually true of God’s people.
Passing the Moral Test: Obedience (vv. 3-6)
The expression “We know” is used seven times in 1 John (2:3, 5, 18; 3:24; 4:6, 13; 5:2) and “we have come to know” three times (2:3; 3:16; 4:16). Some were claiming they could have knowledge of God without that knowledge influencing their moral or ethical behavior. John says “Not!”
“If we obey his commands” is not a condition for knowing God, but it is a characteristic of knowing Him. Biblical obedience is always the product of a loving relationship, not a condition for it.
Can we know who is or is not a believer? Verse 4 clearly says that we can know. However, “knowing” for John is based upon reasonable certainty, not absolute certainty; it is rooted in the observable evidence (cf., also Mt. 13:18-23; Titus 1:16).
To Consider: A necessary presupposition for all evangelism is knowing who is or isn’t a Christian. Although we do not have God’s inerrant perspective, we must not be caught up by the spirit of agnosticism and conclude that we can never know who is or is not born from above. John says our viewpoint is sufficient if it is firmly established upon the inerrant biblical criteria of right belief and consistent obedience.
John insists (2:5) there is a relationship between love and obedience (see also, Jn. 14:15, 21, 23; 1 Jn. 5:3). Our obedience to God displays a mature love for God (see NIV footnote on alternative translation or TNIV).
To Consider: Love is to obedience as motivation is to activity. Obedience without love is mere duty, while love without obedience is pure sentimentalism. The former depersonalizes intimate relationships, and the latter demoralizes them. We obey because we love and not vice versa (Mt. 22:37-40).
John has said that passing the moral test indicates we have an authentic relationship with God. Now he exhorts us to love one another as a sure sign of genuine fellowship with God.
Passing the Social Test: Loving Others (vv. 7-11)
John switches from “commandments” (plural) to the “commandment” (singular) probably because he sees the whole of God’s Law summed up in the command to love (Mt. 22:36-29; Rom. 13:10; Gal. 5:14; Jm. 2:8).
The “old” command John had in mind was likely the command Jesus gave at the Last Supper (Jn. 13:34). It was new when Jesus gave it because at no time before the cross had God’s self-giving, sacrificial love been demonstrated to humankind like Jesus’ sacrifice. Although it was “new” when Jesus gave it, the command is old because, like John’s readers, we have had this command “since the beginning” of our Christian lives. The newness is displayed by our continual devotion toward one another (Jn. 13:35; 1 Pt. 1:22). John is not just concerned about the absence of sin, but the continuing presence of God’s love in our lives.
To Consider: Contrary to popular notions, Christ taught us that we must love others more than ourselves, not merely as much as ourselves.
Plainly, John urges that if we claim to be in the “light,” then we will show it by love for one another. Living in darkness is not only characterized by disobedience, but by hate for one another. It’s important to note that for John any demeanor toward our fellow brother or sister in Christ not manifested by sacrificial love is “hateful;” there is no gray matter here.
The genuineness of saving faith is seen, not only in right relation to God, but in right relation to God’s people. John does not write, “Whoever says he loves his brother . . .” His primary concern is actions, not declarations.
To Consider: Hate produces darkness and darkness results in the loss of moral and spiritual discernment. Those who do not know God are willfully ignorant. Ironically, unbelievers cannot see because they will not, and they will not see because they cannot (cf., Jn. 12:36-40; 2 Cor. 4:3-6). John’s opponents hate because they do not know God, but think they do. Hence, their blindness is validated!
As a shepherd, John is just as concerned about true assurance as he is false assurance. So, in this passage he encourages his flock with their position before God. To encompass all levels of spiritual and chronological maturity, John addresses three groups of people. He reminds us of some essential truths:
- The great Promise Keeper has completely granted our already-forgiven status (v. 12).
- A genuine relationship with God is an enduring one (v. 13a).
- Because God is victorious over Satan, our strength to live the Christian life is in God (v. 13b).
Although Verses 13c-14 contain some differences so as not to be monotonous, the repetition is essentially for emphasis. Upon reminding us that we are forgiven by God, have a relationship with God, and our victory is in God, John exhorts us not to be overly confident. We are still subject to temptation.
John told us who to love (God and our Spiritual family). Now he tells us what not to love: the world. This is a timeless truth that warns us against worldliness (cf., Deut. 8:11-18; see also Philip 3:7-8).
“Love” means the attractions of a life lived in opposition to God; the incessant desire to find pleasure in material comfort (cf., Mt. 6:24; Jn. 12:42-43; 2 Tim. 4:10; Jm. 4:4).
“World” means that temporary system of values, goals, relationships, and material things that exclude or marginalize God. Three areas of temptation to guard against:
- Pleasure: the sole pursuit of self-sufficiency and self-gratification
- Greed: seeing the world as a marketplace for all our happiness; the attitude that “more is better.”
- Arrogance: self-aggrandizement; intentional exaggeration, despite reality to the contrary.
The future must affect our present as God’s children. Our hope should never be comfort in this passing world (Heb. 12:1-3; 1 Pt. 2:11; 2 Pt. 3:11; 1 Jn. 3:2-3). Instead, our hope is in God’s kingdom yet to be fully realized in this world.
We often seek God’s will for our lives. This passage is clear about God’s will: Obedience that is motivated by love and coupled with a determination to reject worldliness results in confidence and assurance of eternal life.