David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
1 John 3
1 John 3:1-24 - THE LOVE OF GOD AND THE LIFE OF LOVE
A. The destiny of our relationship with God.
1. (1 John 3:1) The glory of God’s love.
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
a. Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Having just mentioned being born of Him, John speaks in amazement about this manner of love that makes us children of God. He wants us to behold it - that is, look at it and study it intently.
i. It is of great benefit to the Christian to take a good, intense look at the love of God bestowed on us.
ii. Bestowed on us speaks many things. First, it speaks of the measure of God’s love to us; it could more literally be translated lavished on us. Second, it speaks of the manner of God’s giving of love; bestowed has the idea of a one-sided giving, instead of a return for something earned.
iii. What is it that makes us slow to believe the love of God? Sometimes it is pride, which demands to prove itself worthy of the love of God before it will receive it. Sometimes it is unbelief, which cannot trust the love of God when it sees the hurt and pain of life. And sometimes it just takes time for a person to come to a fuller understanding of the greatness of God’s love.
iv. Behold means that God wants to see this and He is not ashamed to show it to us. “‘There,’ he says, ‘you poor people that love me you sick people, you unknown, obscure people, without any talent, I have published it before heaven and earth, and made the angels know it, that you are my children, and I am not ashamed of you. I glory in the fact that I have taken you for my sons and daughters.’” (Spurgeon)
b. That we should be called children of God: The greatness of this love is shown in that by it, we are called children of God. As God looked down on lost humanity, He might have merely had a charitable compassion, a pity on our plight, both in this life and in eternity. With a mere pity, He might have set forth a plan of salvation where man could be saved from hell. But God went far beyond that, to call us the children of God.
i. Who calls us the children of God?
· The Father does (“I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty,” 2 Corinthians 6:18)
· The Son does (He is not ashamed to call them brethren, Hebrews 2:11)
· The Spirit does (The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, Romans 8:16)
ii. There is a sense in which this is a totally “unnecessary” blessing that God gives in the course of salvation, and a demonstration of His true and deep love for us. We can picture someone helping or saving someone, but not going so far as to make them a part of the family - but this is what God has done for us.
iii. In this, we gain something in Jesus Christ greater than Adam ever possessed. We never once read of Adam being called one of the children of God in the sense John means here. He was never adopted as a son of God in the way believers are. We err when we think of redemption as merely a restoration of what was lost with Adam; we are granted more in Jesus than Adam ever had.
iv. If we are truly children of God, then it should show in our likeness to our Father, and in our love for our “siblings.”
v. It is important to understand what it means to be the children of God, and that everyone is not a child of God in the sense John meant it here. God’s love is expressed to all in the giving of Jesus for the sins of the world (John 3:16), but this does not make all of humanity the children of God in the sense John means it here. Here he speaks of those who have received the love of Jesus in a life of fellowship and trust with Him; But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. (John 1:12)
c. Therefore the world does not know us: Because of our unique parentage from God, we are strangers to this world (or should be).
i. This shows the great danger of a Christianity that works so hard to show the world just how much like the world they can be; we can not be surprised or offended to find out that the world does not know us.
d. Because it did not know Him: Ultimately, we should expect the world to treat us as it treated Him - rejecting Jesus and crucifying Jesus. While it is true that Jesus loved sinners and they, recognizing that love, flocked to Him, we must also remember that it was the world that cried out crucify Him!
2. (1 John 3:2) The destiny of God’s children.
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
a. Now we are children of God. Our present standing is plain. We can know, and have an assurance, that we are indeed among the children of God. Romans 8:16 tells us, The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. If you are a child of God, you have an inward assurance of this.
b. It has not yet been revealed what we shall be: Though our present standing is plain, our future destiny is clouded. We don’t know in the kind of detail we would like to know what we will become in the world beyond. In this sense, we can’t even imagine what we will be like in glory.
i. “What we are does not now appear to the world; what we shall be does not yet appear to us.” (Stott)
ii. “If I may use such an expression, this is not the time for the manifestation of a Christian’s glory. Eternity is to be the period for the Christian’s full development, and for the sinless display of his God-given glory. Here, he must expect to be unknown; it is in the hereafter that he is to be discovered as a son of the great King.” (Spurgeon)
c. We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is: We are not left completely in the dark about our future state. When Jesus is revealed to us, either by His coming for us or our coming to Him, we shall be like Him.
i. The Bible speaks of God’s great plan for our lives like this: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29) God’s ultimate goal in our lives is to make us like Jesus, and here, John speaks of the fulfillment of that purpose.
ii. This does not mean that we cease to be ourselves, full of the distinct personality and character God has given us. Heaven will not be like the Nirvana of Eastern mysticism, where all personality is dissolved into God like a drop into the ocean. We will still be ourselves, but our character and nature will be perfected into the image of Jesus’ perfection. We will not be “clones” of Jesus in heaven!
iii. The Christian should long to be like Jesus, yet remember that God will never force a person to be like Jesus if they don’t want to. And that is what hell is for: people who don’t want to be like Jesus. The sobering, eternal truth is this: God gives man what he really wants. If you really want to be like Jesus, it will show in your life now, and it will be a fact in eternity. If you don’t really want to be like Jesus, it will also show in your life now, and it will also be a fact in eternity.
iv. We shall be like Him: This reminds us that even though we grow into the image of Jesus now, we still have a long way to go. None of us will be finished until we see Jesus, and only then truly we shall be like Him.
d. We shall see Him as He is: Perhaps this is the greatest glory of heaven: not to be personally glorified, but to be in the unhindered, unrestricted, presence of our Lord.
i. Paul said of our present walk, For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Corinthians 13:12). Today, when we look in a good mirror, the image is clear. But in the ancient world, mirrors were made out of polished metal, and the image was always unclear and somewhat distorted. We see Jesus now only in a dim, unclear way, but one day we will see Him with perfect clarity.
ii. Heaven is precious to us for many reasons. We long to be with loved ones who have passed before us and whom we miss so dearly. We long to be with the great men and women of God who have passed before us in centuries past. We want to walk the streets of gold, see the pearly gates, and see the angels round the throne of God worshipping Him day and night. However, none of those things, precious as they are, make heaven really “heaven.” What makes heaven heaven is the unhindered, unrestricted, presence of our Lord, and to see Him as He is will be the greatest experience of your eternal existence.
iii. What will we see when we see Jesus? Revelation 1:13-16 describes a vision of Jesus in heaven: He was dressed in a long robe with a golden [breastplate]; His head and His hair were white as snow-white wool, His eyes blazed like fire, and His feet shone as the finest bronze glows in the furnace. His voice had the sound of a great waterfall, and I saw that in His right hand He held seven stars. A sharp two-edged sword came out of His mouth, and His face was ablaze like the sun at its height. (J.B. Phillips translation) This isn’t the same Jesus who walked this earth, looking like a normal man.
iv. At the same time, we know that in heaven, Jesus will still bear the scars of His suffering on this earth. After Jesus rose from the dead in His glorified body, His body uniquely retained the nail prints in His hands and the scar on his side (John 20:24-29). In Zechariah 12:10, Jesus speaks prophetically of the day when the Jewish people, turned to Him, see Him in glory: then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. Zechariah 13:6 continues the thought: And one will say to him, “What are these wounds between your arms?” Then he will answer, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
e. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is: John made the connection between seeing Him as He is and our transformation to be like Jesus. We can say that the same principle is at work right now. To the extent that you see Jesus as He is, to that same extent, you are like Him in your life.
i. We can say that this happens by reflection. “When a man looks into a bright mirror, it makes him also bright, for it throws its own light upon his face; and, in a much more wonderful fashion, when we look at Christ, who is all brightness, he throws some of his brightness upon us.” (Spurgeon)
3. (1 John 3:3) Knowing our destiny purifies our lives right now.
And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
a. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself: Knowing our eternal destiny, and living in this hope will purify our lives. When we know our end is to be more like Jesus, it makes us want to be more like Jesus right now.
i. Having the anticipation of being with Jesus, of the soon coming of Jesus Christ, can have a marvelous purifying effect in our lives. It makes us want to be ready, to be serving Him now, to be pleasing Him now.
b. This hope in Him: Ultimately, our hope is not in heaven or in our own glory in heaven. Our hope is in Him. We must never set our hope on other things; not on a relationship, on success, on mutual fund, on your health, on your possessions, or simply just on our self. Our only real hope is in Him.
B. Sin: An Attack on Relationship.
1. (1 John 3:4-5) The nature of sin and Jesus’ work in removing our sin.
Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.
a. Sin is lawlessness: John defines sin at its most basic root. It is a disregard for the law of God, which is inherently a disregard for the law Maker, God Himself.
i. We often fail in the battle against sin because we won’t call it for what it is: lawlessness, an offense against the Great Law Maker, God. Instead, we say things like “If I’ve done anything wrong . . .” or “Mistakes were made . . .” and so forth. Call it for what it is: sin and lawlessness. “The first step towards holy living is to recognize the true nature and wickedness of sin.” (Stott)
b. You know that He was manifested to take away our sins: John here defined the mission of Jesus Christ at its most basic root - to take away our sins. The angel Gabriel promised Joseph regarding the ministry of Jesus: you shall call His name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sin. (Luke 1:21)
i. Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of taking the penalty of our sin. This is immediately accomplished when one comes by faith to Jesus.
ii. Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of taking the power of sin away. This is an ongoing work in the lives of those who walk after Jesus.
iii. Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of taking the presence of sin away. This is a work that will be completed when we pass into eternity and are glorified with Jesus.
c. He was manifested to take away our sins: This is the work of Jesus in our life. It is a work we must respond to, but it is His work in us.
i. We cannot take away the penalty of our own sin. It is impossible to cleanse ourselves in this way. We must instead receive the work of Jesus in taking away our sin.
ii. We cannot take away the power of sin in our lives. This is His work in us, and we respond to that work. Someone who comes to Jesus does not have to clean themselves up first, but they must be willing to have Him take away their sin.
iii. We cannot take away the presence of sin in our lives. This is His work in us, ultimately accomplished when we will be glorified with Him.
d. In Him there is no sin: Jesus had no sin to take away; therefore He could take away our sin, taking it upon Himself.
2. (1 John 3:6) Abiding in sin or abiding in God.
Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.
a. Whoever abides in Him does not sin: Since sin is lawlessness, a disregard for God (1 John 3:4), and since Jesus came to take away our sins (1 John 3:5), and since in Jesus there is no sin (1 John 3:5), then to abide in Him means to not sin.
i. It is very important to understand what the Bible means - and when it does not mean - when it says does not sin. According to the verb tense John uses, does not sin means does not live a life style of habitual sin. John has already told us in 1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. In 1 John 1:8, the grammar indicates John is speaking about occasional acts of sin. The grammar of 1 John 3:6 indicates that John is speaking of a settled, continued lifestyle of sin. John is not teaching here the possibility of sinless perfection.
ii. “The present tense in the Greek verb implied habit, continuity, unbroken sequence” (Stott); the NIV has the right idea when it translates these verbs with phrases such as keeps on sinning, continues to sin, and he cannot go on sinning.
b. Whoever abides in Him does not sin: John’s message is plain and consistent with the rest of the Scriptures. It tells us that a life style of habitual sin is inconsistent with a life of abiding in Jesus Christ. A true Christian can only be temporarily in a life style of sin.
i. Paul’s teaching in Romans 6:1-23 is a great example of this principle. He shows us that when a person comes to Jesus, when their sins are forgiven and God’s grace is extended to them, they are radically changed - the old man is dead, and the new man lives. So it is utterly incompatible for a new creation in Christ to be comfortable in habitual sin; such a place can only be temporary for the Christian.
ii. In some ways, the question is not “do you sin or not?” We each sin. The question is, “How do you react when you sin? Do you give into the pattern of sin, and let it dominate your lifestyle? Or do you humbly confess your sin, and do battle against it with the power Jesus can give?”
iii. This is why it is so grieving to see Christians make excuses for their sin, and not humbly confess them. Unless the sin is dealt with squarely, it will contribute to a pattern of sin that may soon become their lifestyle - perhaps a secret lifestyle, but a lifestyle nonetheless.
iv. What is important is that we never sign a “peace treaty” with sin. We never wink at its presence or excuse it by saying, “Everybody has their own sinful areas, and this is mine. Jesus understands.” This completely goes against everything we are in Jesus, and the work He has done in our life.
c. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him: To live a lifestyle of habitual sin is to demonstrate that you have not seen Him (in a present sense of the ultimate “seeing Him mentioned in 1 John 3:2), and that you have not known Him. There are some people so great and so wonderful that seeing them or knowing them will change your life forever. Jesus is that kind of person.
3. (1 John 3:7) Righteousness will show in a person’s life.
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.
a. Let no one deceive you: This tells us that John wrote against a deception threatening the Christians of his day.
b. He who practices righteousness is righteous: John did not allow us to separate a religious righteousness from a life of righteousness. If we are made righteous by our faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22), it will be seen by our righteous lives.
i. The most important thing a person can ever do is make sure they are righteous before God. This simply means they are held in right standing before God. It’s more that saying, “not guilty.” It is more like saying, “Not guilty and in right standing.” It speaks of the presence of good, not just the absence of evil.
ii. John is not saying that we are made righteous before God by our own righteous acts - the Bible clearly teaches that we are made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. Yet that righteousness in Jesus will be evident in our lives.
iii. Apparently, there were those who taught that you could be righteous before God with no evidence of righteousness in your life - John is rebuking this idea. Charles Spurgeon said it well: “The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.”
c. Just as He is righteous: We can live lives characterized by righteousness, not sin, because we have been given the righteousness of Jesus, and He is righteous. We have the resource we need to live righteously!
4. (1 John 3:8-9) The root of sin and the root of righteousness.
He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
a. He who sins is of the devil: People who are settled in habitual sin are not the children of God - they are of the devil, and Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil and free us from our bondage to the devil.
i. “Well, labor under no mistake, sir. ‘He that committeth sin is of the devil.’ It is no use making excuses and apologies; if you are a lover of sin, you shall go where sinners go. If you, who live after this fashion, say that you have believed in the precious blood of Christ, I do not believe you, sir. If you had a true faith in that precious blood, you would hate sin. If you dare to say you are trusting in the atonement while you live in sin, you lie, sir; you do not trust in the atonement; for where there is a real faith in the atoning sacrifice, it purifies the man, and makes him hate the sin which shed the Redeemer’s blood.” (Spurgeon)
b. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil: John gave us one reason why Jesus came in 1 John 3:5 (He was manifested to take away our sins). Now, John gives us another reason: that He might destroy the works of the devil.
i. We can just seen the heart of God grieving over the destruction the devil has wrought over this earth, and grieving that man has allowed the devil to do it all. Jesus came to put a stop to all that by overcoming the devil completely by His life, His suffering, His death, and His resurrection.
ii. Note the purpose of Jesus: to destroy the works of the devil. Not to neutralize them, not to alleviate them, or not to limit them. Jesus wants to destroy the works of the devil!
iii. Many people are unnecessarily afraid of the devil, fearing what he could do against them. If they only knew that as we walk in Jesus, the devil is afraid of us! As we walk in Jesus, we help in seeing Him destroy the works of the devil!
c. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him: The change from being of the devil to being children of God comes as we are born of God; when this happens, our old nature, patterned after the instinctive rebellion of Adam, dies - and we are given a new nature, patterned after the instinctive obedience of Jesus Christ.
i. John here is simply emphasizing what it means to be born again. It means that a change comes into our lives - it is a change that will be worked out into every area of our lives as we grown in Christ, but it is a real, observable change.
ii. It is the same message Paul preached, saying that as believers we are to put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and that we are to put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:24)
d. Does not sin . . . he cannot sin: Does not sin and cannot sin each have the same verb tense as does not sin in 1 John 3:6, meaning a continual practice of habitual sin. John tells us that when we are born again - born into the family of God - there is a real change in our relation to sin.
C. Hatred: An Attack on Relationship.
1. (1 John 3:10) Two essentials: righteous conduct and love for the brethren.
In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.
a. The children of God and the children of the devil: John has already introduced the idea of being a child of God (1 John 3:1, that we should be called the children of God and 1 John 3:9, born of God). He has already written of some being of the devil (1 John 3:8). But here, he makes it plain: some are children of God and some are children of the devil.
i. John doesn’t spend time trying to prove or explain the existence of the devil. He knows the reality of the devil is a Biblical fact. Some today lack John’s wisdom and either deny the devil’s existence or they are obsessed with the devil.
ii. Some might think John is far too harsh in saying some are children of the devil, supposing perhaps that John did not love people as Jesus did. But Jesus called people children of the devil also in John 8:41-45. In this passage, Jesus’ point was important, establishing the principle that our spiritual parentage determines our nature and our destiny. If we are born again, and have God as our Father, it will show in our nature and destiny. But if our father is Satan or Adam, it will also show in our nature and destiny - just as it showed in these adversaries of Jesus.
b. Are manifest: John gave a simple - though not easy - way to identify who the children of God and the children of the devil are. Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.
i. Both of these are essential. Righteousness without love makes one a religious Pharisee, and love without righteousness makes one a partner in evil.
ii. How do righteousness and love “balance”? They don’t. We are never to love at the expense of righteousness, and are never to be righteous at the expense of love. We aren’t looking for a balance between the two, because they are not opposites. Real love is the greatest righteousness, and real righteousness is the greatest love.
iii. Love and righteousness are each most perfectly displayed in the nature of Jesus. He was both righteous, and completely loving.
2. (1 John 3:11) The need to love one another.
For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
a. This is the message that you heard from the beginning: John had already emphasized the command to love as being the word which you heard from the beginning (1 John 2:7). In remembering this message to love one another, he remembered the command of Jesus in John 13:34.
b. That we should love one another: The basic Christian message has not changed. Perhaps some have thought that because Christians talk about a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” that it is only us and Jesus who matter. But how we treat others - how we love one another - really matters before God.
3. (1 John 3:12) An example of hatred: Cain.
Not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.
a. Not as Cain: As a negative example, John presents Cain, who was not right with God (his works were evil) and who hated his brother. When there are two children of God who are both right with God, there will be love.
b. Who was of the wicked one: Cain is a good example of the failure to love.
i. We can presume that Cain had a godly upbringing that should have equipped him to love, but he chose not to.
ii. Cain’s disobedience came from a lack of faith (Hebrews 11:4) which resulted in first disobedience, then hatred.
iii. Cain’s disobedience and hatred was based in pride (Genesis 4:5).
iv. Cain’s disobedience and hatred made him miserable (Genesis 4:5).
v. Cain refused the warning God gave him, and gave into the sin of hatred (Genesis 4:6-7).
vi. Cain’s sin of hatred led to action against the one he hated (Genesis 4:8).
vii. Cain was evasive about his sin of hatred, and tried to hide it. But God found him out (Genesis 4:9).
4. (1 John 3:13-15) Love as the evidence of the new birth.
Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
a. Do not marvel: We shouldn’t be surprised when the world hates us; but we should be surprised when there is hatred among the body of Christ.
b. We know: John insists that the believer can come to a place of genuine assurance. “I have, heard it said, by those who would be thought philosophers, that in religion we must believe, but cannot know. I am not very clear about the distinction they draw between knowledge and faith, nor do I care to enquire; because I assert that, in matters relating to religion, we know; in the things of God, we both believe and know.” (Spurgeon)
c. We know that we have passed from death to life: A love for the people of God is a basic sign of being born again. If this love is not evident in our lives, our salvation can be questioned. If it is present, it gives us assurance.
i. We can know we have passed from death to life by our love for other Christians. The place of hatred, of jealousy, of bitterness you find yourself in is a place of death. You need to pass from death over to life.
ii. This means knowing two things. First, we know that we were dead. Second, we know that we have passed to life from death. To pass from death to life is the reverse of the normal. We all expect to pass from life to death; but in Jesus, we can turn it around.
iii. This speaks to our pursuit of fellowship. If we love the brethren, we will want to be with them - and even if we have been battered and bruised by unloving brethren, there will still be something in us drawing us back to fellowship with the brethren we love.
iv. “Do you love them for Christ’s sake? Do you say to yourself, ‘That is one of Christ’s people; that is one who bears Christ’s cross; that is one of the children of God; therefore I love him, and take delight in his company’? Then, that is an evidence that you are not of the world.” (Spurgeon)
d. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer: 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.
i. John seemed to have in mind the teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount regarding the true fulfillment of the law. (Matthew 5:21-22)
ii. “In the heart there is no difference; to hate is to despise, to cut off from relationship, and murder is simply the fulfillment of that attitude.” (Barker)
iii. “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.” (Spurgeon)
e. You know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him: To live in the practice of murder - or to have a life style of the habitual hatred of our brethren - is a demonstration that we do not have eternal life abiding in us, that we are not born again.
i. There are many people for whom being a Christian is a “none of the above” sort of thing. They consider themselves Christians because they are not Moslems, or Jewish, or Buddhists, or atheists. But being a Christian is never a “none of the above” kind of thing.
ii. Being a Christian is more than saying, “I am a Christian.” There are in fact some who claim to be Christians who are not. How can we know if we are one of these? John’s reply has been constant and simple. There are three tests to measure the proof of a genuine Christian: the truth test, the love test, and the moral test. If we believe in what the Bible teaches as true, if we show the love of Jesus to others, and if our conduct has been changed and is becoming more like Jesus, then our claim to be a Christian can be proven true.
D. What love is and how we should love one another.
1. (1 John 3:16) The objective reality of love and how it shows in our life.
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
a. By this we know love: What is love? How we define love is important. If we define love the wrong way, then everyone passes, or no one passes, the love test. To understand the Biblical idea of love, we should begin by understanding the vocabulary of love among the ancient Greeks, who gave us the original language of the New Testament.
i. Eros was one word for love. It described, as we might guess from the word itself, erotic love. It referred to sexual love.
ii. Storge was the second word for love. It referred to family love, the kind of love there is between a parent and child, or between family members in general.
iii. Philia is the third word for love. It spoke of a brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. It might be described as the highest love that is capable of without God’s help.
iv. Agape is the fourth word for love. It described a love that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting re-payment. It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing. It is love that loves even when it is rejected. Agape love gives and loves because it wants to; it does not demand or expect repayment from the love given - it gives because it loves, it does not love in order to receive.
v. Many people confuse the four loves, and end up extremely hurt as a result. Often a person will tell another, “I love you” meaning one kind of love, but the other person believes they mean another kind of love. Often a man has told a woman, “I love you,” when really he had a selfish love towards her. Sure, there were strong feelings in the heart - but they were feelings that wanted something from the other person.
vi. “It’s true you can say to a girl, ‘I love you,’ but what you really mean is something like this: ‘I want something. Not you, but something from you. I don’t have time to wait. I want it immediately.’ . . . This is the opposite of love, for love wants to give. Love seeks to make the other one happy, and not himself.” (Walter Trobisch in I Loved a Girl, cited by Boice)
b. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us: Real love isn’t merely “felt” as an inward feeling; it is also shown by demonstration - and the ultimate demonstration was the giving of Jesus on the cross.
i. The exact same idea was expressed by Paul in Romans 5:8 : But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
ii. It isn’t the death of Jesus in itself that is the ultimate demonstration of love; it is the death of Jesus together with what it does for us that shows the epitome of love. If I am on a pier, and a man jumps in the water and drowns, and cries out with his last breath, “I’m giving my life for you!” I cannot really comprehend that act as an act of love - it just seems strange. But if that same man jumps in the water to save me from drowning - and gives his own life that I may survive - then I can fully understand how the giving of his life was a great act of love.
iii. In a sermon titled “The Death of Christ for His People,” Charles Spurgeon drew three points from this great sentence:
· How great must have been our sins
· How great must have been His love
· How safe the believer is in the love of Christ
c. By this we know love: There is a real sense in which we would not know what love was all about if not for the work of Jesus on the cross. We have an innate ability to pervert the true meaning of love, and pursue all kinds of things under the guise of looking for love.
i. Nature can teach us many things about God. It can show us His wisdom, His intelligence, and His mighty power. But nature, in and of itself, does not teach us that God is a God of love. We needed the death of God the Son, Jesus Christ, to ultimately demonstrate that.
ii. David Scott Crother died of AIDS in early 1993, but not before he infected his unnamed partner, who pressed charges against Crother. The woman said in an interview: “This is not an assault. It is murder . . . All I wanted is someone to love me, and now I’m going to die for that. I don’t think I should have to die for that.” We all have that craving for love, but we look for it in the wrong ways and in the wrong places.
d. And we also: Since we are sent with the same mandate Jesus was sent with, we must demonstrate our love by laying down our lives for the brethren. Jesus’ words As the Father sent Me, I also send you (John 20:21) seem to be ringing in John’s ears.
i. Stott on laid down and lay down: “It seems to imply not so much the laying down as the laying aside of something like clothes . . . It is, in fact, used in John 13:4 of Christ taking off his outer garment.” (Italics added)
e. We also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren: The focus here is on loving the brethren. Of course, we are also called to love our enemies and those who hate us (Matthew 5:44), but John calls us to a more basic test - if we can’t even love our brethren, what kind of Christians are we?
f. Lay down our lives: John also reminds us that love, and its demonstration, often involves sacrifice - the laying down of our lives for others. Wishing to be more loving won’t do, because it won’t sacrifice where it is necessary.
i. And if we take the analogy from Jesus’ love for us, sometimes the cost of love will make us feel like we are dying - but that is what it means to lay down your life. “Love means saying ‘No’ to one’s own life so that somebody else may live.” (Marshall)
ii. We often consider ourselves ready to lay down our lives in one great, dramatic, heroic gesture; but for most of us, God calls us to lay down our lives piece by piece, little by little in small, but important ways every day.
iii. Simply put, John is telling us to do the same thing we read of in Philippians 2:3-4 : Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
2. (1 John 3:17-18) What it means to love in real life.
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
a. Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth: John will not allow us to merely talk about love; real love is demonstrated in actions (though it is also often evident in our feelings).
b. And shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? If you have the capability to meet a brother’s needs, and do nothing to meet that need, then how can you say you love that brother? How does the love of God abide in you?
i. “ Here is a test of this love; if we do not divide our bread with the hungry, we certainly would not lay down our life for him. Whatever love we may pretend to mankind, if we are not charitable and benevolent, we give the lie to our profession.” (Clarke)
ii. What is the limit to this kind of love? The only limit is the one that love itself imposes. When giving to a person, meeting their perceived or immediate need, does them harm instead of good - then the loving thing to do is to not give them what they ask for, but to give them what they really need instead.
c. My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth: We can substitute talk for love, for talking about meeting people’s needs instead of actually meeting them.
i. Stott quoting Lewis: “It is easier to be enthusiastic about Humanity with a capital ‘H’ than it is to love individual men and women, especially those who are uninteresting, exasperating, depraved, or otherwise unattractive. Loving everybody in general may be an excuse for loving nobody in particular.”
3. (1 John 3:19-21) The assurance this love brings.
And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.
a. Assure our hearts: When we see this love at work in our lives, we can know that we are of the truth - and this brings assurance to our hearts before God, that we are standing in Him.
i. Gayle Erwin tells a wonderful story about a man he knew when he was a boy. The man’s name was Jake, and he was the meanest, drunkest, man in town. He would come to church from time to time, but that was only to beat up the elders. One Wednesday night, Jake came to church - but not to beat anybody up. Remarkably, Jake gave his life to Jesus. He walked down the aisle of the little church and kneeled down at the altar. The next night there was another meeting at the church, and the pastor asked if anyone wanted to share what God was doing in their lives. Jake stood up, and said: “I have something to say. Last night when I came here, I hated you people.” Heads nodded in agreement. “But something happened to me and I don’t understand this, but tonight I love you.” And even though he only had one tooth, he smiled really big. This is a wonderful assurance that we are born again.
ii. Assurance is essential - who wants to wait until it is too late to know if they are really saved or not?
b. And shall assure our hearts before Him: Our assurance is two-fold. First, God already knows everything about you and He loves you, He cares for you, He desires you; second, God knows all things, and knows who we truly are in Jesus Christ. If we are born again, than the real self is the one created in the image of Jesus Christ.
c. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things: But what if we have been walking in love, yet our heart still condemns us before God? John assures us that God is greater than our heart, and so reminds us that we cannot base our relationship with Him purely on how we feel in His presence.
i. Condemnation can well up inside us that has nothing to do with our standing before God. It may be the work of the enemy of our souls (who, according to Revelation 12:10 accuses the brethren), or the work of an over-active conscience. At those times, we trust in what God’s Word says about our standing, not how we feel about it.
ii. “Sometimes our heart condemns us, but, in doing so, it gives a wrong verdict, and then we have the satisfaction of being able to take the case into a higher court, for ‘God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.’” (Spurgeon)
d. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God: Yet, when we are in fellowship with God, and our heart does not condemn us, we know that we can have confidence toward God and our standing with Him.
i. If someone is in true fellowship with God - not deceiving themselves, as mentioned in 1 John 1:6 - then the assurance that comes to their heart while fellowshipping with God is a precious thing. It is what Paul spoke about in Romans 8:16 - The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
e. We have confidence toward God: How precious is the confidence we can have in Jesus Christ! There is such a thing as a false confidence, a confidence in self or in illusions; but there is also a glorious confidence we can have in Jesus.
i. “The word rendered confidence stood in ancient Greece for the most valued right of a citizen of a free state, the right to ‘speak his mind’ . . . unhampered by fear or shame.” (Barker citing Dodd)
4. (1 John 3:22) Fellowship in God’s love means the assurance of answered prayer.
And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
a. Whatever we ask: The person who walks in the kind of obedience and love John speaks of will also experience answered prayer. This is not because their love and obedience has earned them what they ask, but their love and obedience comes from fellowship - the key to answered prayer.
i. John seems to be quoting Jesus’ idea from John 15:7 - If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
b. Because we keep His commandments: Keeping God’s commandments is important to answered prayer. But we should make a distinction between the prayer of the man who is saved, and the cry of the heart seeking mercy from God in Jesus. For the sinner who comes to Jesus in prayer, seeking mercy, the only requirement is sincerity of heart. God does not demand our obedience before He saves us.
i. The key to prayer is being in such close fellowship with God that we ask for the things that are on His heart; we take up His agenda with our requests and intercession.
ii. The spirit of true prayer is Thy will be done, not My will be done - we turn to prayer to call into action what God desires; even knowing that some of the things God desires will directly and personally benefit me.
c. And do those things that are pleasing in His sight: The person who is in fellowship with God will want to do those things that are pleasing in His sight. We should have hearts that just want to please the Lord in everything that we do.
i. It is sobering to look at our lives and see how much we do to please ourselves and how much we do to please the Lord. We shouldn’t think that the two are opposites; God is glorified when we enjoy His goodness and His good things. Yet, the godly life will have special focus on just pleasing God, even if it doesn’t particularly please us at the moment.
5. (1 John 3:23-24) The commandment of Jesus.
And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
a. And this is His commandment: The idea of keeping His commandments in the previous verse led John to speak specifically about what His commandment is. Simply, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another.
i. Here, John does not refer to these two aspects of obedience as two commandments, but as one commandment. Grammatically, he may not be officially correct, but spiritually, he is right on. These two are one. When Jesus spoke of the greatest commandment, You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, He added another saying: And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) The are two commandments, but like one another.
b. We should believe on the name of His Son: Again, John seems to have quoted Jesus’ idea from John 8:29 - This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent. The first commandment and the greatest work we can do, is to believe on Jesus.
i. This is not simply believing that Jesus is, or even believing that He did certain things such as die on a cross. To believe on the name of Jesus means to put your belief on Jesus in the sense of trusting in Him, relying on Him, and clinging to Jesus. It isn’t about intellectual knowledge or understanding, it is about trust.
c. And love one another: The second commandment is also a quoting of Jesus’ idea from John 15:12 - This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. The love of the brethren is not an option for some Christians; it is a commandment for all.
d. Abides in Him: Those who abide in Jesus know they are abiding in Jesus, because of the presence and assurance of the Holy Spirit. John again is giving the same idea as Romans 8:16 (The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God).
i. Romans 8:9 tells us that anyone who belongs to Jesus has the Spirit in them; that indwelling Holy Spirit gives us assurance. You can’t be abiding in Jesus and not know it, though you may be attacked with doubt from time to time.
ii. The one who does not keep God’s commandments does not have the ground of confidence that he abides in Jesus. As well, they do not truly have the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their life.
iii. To know if you really have this assurance can take spiritual discernment, and that is what John deals with in the very next verse. But God has already given us another basis for assurance: seeing if we love one another (1 John 3:19).
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