In last week’s discussion, we finished 1 John 2. For tonight, we will be reading through 1 John 3. John’s discussion which begins with his warning against the antichrist in 1 John 2:18, reaches its conclusion in this chapter. The discussion of 1 John 3:1-10 is here.
TWO ORIGINS (vv.11-15)
Within the context of this overall discussion of the anti-christ, John has a short discourse on the two origins of love, light, and life versus hate, darkness, and death. The theme is that love is life-giving whereas hatred is death-dealing. John starts with the statement that the message “from the beginning” is to “love one another.” The primordial commandment which forms the very foundation of existence is to “love one another.”
In opposition to the foundation of light, life, and existence, John gives us the example of Cain. Cain is a type of the antichrist that John previously discussed. John assumes his audience knows the story as recorded in Genesis 4:1-16. Cain becomes jealous of his brother Abel, and that jealously leads to hatred which leads to the first murder. When God inquires of Cain as to Abel’s whereabouts, Cain responds “Am I my brother’s keeper?” For the antichrist, the answer is “no.” Hatred leads to death and it leads to a denial of our responsibility to others. (Of course, Jesus’ teaching is similar. Matt. 5:21-26.) To abide in hatred is to abide in death. (v.14b). Hatred leads to the darkness and the non-existence that precedes creation (i.e death).
LOVE IN ACTION (vv.16-18)
John gives us the example of Cain to show us that just as hatred is not an abstraction but has this-world consequences, so does love. In verse 16, John reminds us that Jesus’ love for us has this-world consequences. “There is no greater love than someone who lays down his life for his friends.” John 15:13. Love is not an abstract idea – just look at the Cross. Out of love, Jesus intentionally and deliberately set aside his life for others, or as Paul says “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7). Jesus is our keeper.
John implicitly asks God’s question of Cain to his own community and to us: “Are you your brother’s keeper?” Our love is also not an abstraction and there are this-world consequences of loving one another. John writes “If any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (v.17). Our love is not simply to be spoken of but to be acted upon. (v.18) Caring for the least of these is the essential condition of abiding in Christ. Matt. 25:31-46, Gal. 2:10, James 2:14-17. We are our brother’s keeper.
ACTION AS REASSURANCE (vv.19-24)
John concludes his discussion of the antichrist with a message of reassurance. (vv.19-24). We have all experienced an inward condemnation of ourselves. We know that we have all fallen short. How then do we know whether we are of Cain or of Christ? How can we persuade our hearts as to our origin when our feelings and inner experiences are often troubled and untrustworthy? (At least for me, an experiential revivalist faith leads to a very cainitic dark place.)
John tells us that we know we are of Christ based upon the reality of God’s character and our actions. First, “God is greater than our hearts.” (v.20). God is greater than our feelings or our spiritual experiences, or lack thereof. God’s objective greatness is independent of any of our subjective experiences or our consciousness. God loves us objectively. Second, John tells us that we know this through our acts of love. (v.19) A branch can only bear good fruit if it is a part of a good vine. John 15:5. We cannot do good works unless we are abiding in the Good itself. Therefore, our very acts of love in being our brother’s keeper objectively demonstrate that we abide in Christ and not in Cain.
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is chicken cacciatore. Discussion about 7:30 followed by Compline. Hope to see you here!
Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.1 John 3:18