By Sam E. Stone
Love is the hallmark of God’s community. It is also the theme of the apostle John’s epistles. The first-century believers to whom John wrote received tremendous encouragement as well as great challenge from his inspired words.
Love as Action
1 John 3:11-18
In the verses just before our printed text, John affirmed the greatness of the Father’s love for his children: “Now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known” (v. 2). Christians have a unique relationship with the heavenly Father. Being like him is essential as we respond to his commands. From the beginning we are taught to love one another. After applying the test of righteousness (vv. 3-9), John mentioned again the test of love.
Do not be like Cain. Scripture records that Cain killed his brother Abel because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. John cited Genesis 4:8 to explain the reason for Cain’s action. (See also Hebrews 11:4.) All evil begins in the heart (Matthew 15:18-20).
For the follower of Christ, it should not be surprising when he is hated by those in the world. The wicked cannot abide those who are righteous (John 15:18-25; 17:14). Peter offered similar counsel (1 Peter 4:12-19). Obedient love is the dividing line. We know we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. If a person does not love others, he remains in death. Love is the preeminent Christian virtue, listed first with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23). Jesus’ love is our supreme example. If one hates his brother or sister, he is a murderer. Such a person does not have eternal life in him, as John had previously stated in his letter (1 John 2:9, 10).
Jesus is our supreme example in loving one another. Like him, we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (John 3:16; 10:11, 17, 18; Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Peter 2:19-23). John cited Cain as the supreme example of hate, but presented Christ as the supreme example of love. While Cain’s hatred resulted in death, Christ’s love brought life.
Love is shown by how we use our material possessions. If one sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? We may not be called upon to die physically for others, but we will certainly have opportunities to help them as we live (James 2:15, 16). We put feet on our love when we assist others. Deeds, not words, are the real test of love.
Love as Truth
1 John 3:19-24
The way to confirm that we belong to the truth is when our hearts are found at rest in God’s presence. God is greater than our hearts. He knows everything. The devil accuses us even when we are not guilty (Revelation 12:10). Despite our inadequacies and mistakes, however, we can still put our trust in the all-knowing and merciful God (Psalm 103).
John R. W. Stott said, “The inner voice is not to overcome us. We are rather to assure our hearts before him, that is, we must be able to do so in the sight of God.” Although we are not sinless, by God’s grace we can come into his presence because of Christ (Hebrews 4:16). As Westcott put it, “The fruit of love is confidence.”
John then tied together these two obligations: Believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ and love one another as he commanded us. These two statements summarize the Lord’s will for his children. If we obey his commands, he lives in us. This is confirmed by the Spirit he gave us. Obedient trust in Jesus brings the presence of his Spirit into the life of each believer (Acts 2:38; John 14:23, 24). He empowers us to live a holy life and to love others (Galatians 5:16).
Stott concluded, “With this verse John unites the various strands which he has been unfolding separately in these first three chapters of his Epistle. No one may dare to claim that he abides in Christ and Christ in him unless he is obedient to the three fundamental commandments which John has been expounding, which are belief in Christ, love for the brethren and moral righteousness.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.