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Bible Commentaries
1 John 3

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Verse 1

The Extent of God’s Love

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: The first verse in this chapter is a continuation of the thought advanced in the last verse of chapter two. In that chapter, the apostle discusses the fact that one’s constant life of righteousness is an indication that he has been born of God; in this chapter, he proclaims the wonder of God’s willingness to recognize us as his children. His beginning exclamation is quite expressive of his delight in sonship. "Behold" is eidete and means "to see, to look with intensive earnest consideration" (Paden 18). John, in essence says, "Look, everyone, and be impressed with what is before us!"

"What manner of love" is another expression intimating the enthusiasm experienced by this grand old apostle as he contemplates the immeasurable love of God. "What manner" speaks of both the quality and the quantity of a thing. John is carried away with the wonder and the marvelous nature of the love that God displays toward simple creatures of the dust. This is agape love, which we discussed above, a love of preciousness that responds to a value set and seeks the highest good of its object. Despite the fact that John has been an object of the love of God for many years, he continues to feel a sense of astonishment as he beholds such love. This love is not passive in nature; it has been "bestowed on us," literally meaning, "He gave His love to us." The gift of that love is "that we should be called the sons of God" or "the children of God."

That we are the children of God is the wonder of it all. Who are we that we should be named as God’s children with all the benefits such a relationship provides? Like John, we should live in constant awe of this grand privilege. The American Standard Version adds, "and such we are," further announcing the excitement that is felt when we realize that we are the children of the One Who dipped His hand in chaos and sprinkled a universe with worlds. We really are the children of God!

therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not: "Therefore" is translated "for this cause" or "for this reason" in other translations. The cause or reason is given after the word "because." "The world" refers to the people of the evil world-system, which militates against God and godly things (1 John 2:15-17). Those who are getting after the world with all their being do not and cannot "know us" who are pursuing the course of righteousness. "Know" is ginosko and speaks of a knowledge acquired through experience. The world cannot fully understand and appreciate Christian people, "because it knew him not." The people of this evil system did not know God nor Jesus Christ, His Son; how can they know God’s children? To know a person in this sense requires an intimate fellowship with that person. The world does not have or desire that fellowship. Lenski says,

The world has only fictional, false conceptions regarding our Father and regarding us, his children...Let no true spiritual child of God count on recognition from the world...Grieve not that the world does not know you; this is one proof that you are God’s child (Lenski 450-451).

Verse 2

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

Beloved, now are we the sons of God: "Beloved" is agapetoi, beloved ones, and speaks of the same agape love as bestowed by the Father. The apostle loves them in the same way God does. "Now" John fixes the minds of his readers on the present time. He insists that, at this present time, "we the sons of God." This declaration gives our status in this world and in this age. John is about to compare the present condition of the Christian with his future situation.

and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: This statement shows the lack of understanding of the heavenly situation on the part of even an apostle of the Lord. Vincent says, "The force of the aorist tense is, was never manifested on any occasion" (344). John does not know, and nobody on earth knows, what we are going to be like at the resurrection when Jesus comes again. This statement is the tenor of John’s words. Paul tells us that we will receive an immortal, incorruptible body (1 Corinthians 15:51-54); but he does not say what it will be like.

but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is: One thing we do know is that when Jesus appears on the scene again, we shall be like him. Our body shall be like His body. "For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself" (Philippians 3:20-21). Paul and John are in agreement: we shall be like the Lord. Our bodies shall be like his glorified body, a body wonderful, glorious, and eternal, perfectly adapted unto righteousness and fit for the heavenly world. We have not had the liberty to see Jesus in His glorified state; but when He comes in the clouds at that last day, we shall see Him as He is. The beauty of it all is that "we shall be like Him."

Three magnificent truths present themselves in this passage: Jesus is coming again, we shall be like Him when we see Him, and we shall see Him as He is. These gospel truths should be all the incentive anyone needs to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. This is the import of the next passage.

Verse 3

Sin’s Inconsistency With Purity

And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself: The phrase "and every man" lets us know that anyone who is willing to commit his life to the Lord can have this hope. "This hope" is the desire and expectation concerning the second coming of Jesus Christ--when we shall see Him, we shall be like Him. This hope is a tremendous incentive toward holiness in life. "In" is epi and literally means "upon." Our hope is resting upon the coming Christ. Vincent says that it is better rendered "set on Him." Christ is the foundation of our hope. This hope that hinges on Christ is the impetus that prompts the Christian to purify himself.

"Purifieth" is hagnizei, in the present active indicative, and connotes continuous action. A child of God who is motivated by this hope keeps on purifying himself and thus keeps his hope both "sure and stedfast" (Hebrews 6:19). While it is the precious blood of Christ that constantly cleanses the Christian of all sin (1 John 1:7), the Christian has a duty before God to purify himself on a continuing basis. We purify ourselves by abstaining from every form of evil, by living clean and chaste lives, and by keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. This code of conduct does not mean that we can live above sin. Chapter one, verses 8-10, has impressed upon us that there is no one who can claim total freedom from sin. "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41)

even as he is pure: Jesus is the perfect example of purity, even as He is our pattern in every other aspect of the Christian life. Jesus is pure, inherently pure. There is not a single trace of sin or impurity in Him. The word "is" does not refer just to His present posture of purity. Jesus was, is, and always will be the personification of purity. First, He is pure because that is the nature of deity; secondly, He is pure because He kept Himself pure during His human existence. For this last reason, He is a perfect and complete model for us to emulate. He not only tells us to be pure, but He shows us how to be pure.

Verse 4

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: John offers here the converse of the last verse in chapter two. The opposite of "doeth righteousness" is "committeth sin." Both are in the present tense and indicate continuous action, and, thus, the child of God keeps on doing righteousness while the transgressor keeps on committing sin. "Committeth" is poion and speaks of continually doing or practicing something. "Transgresseth the law" comes from the same word, plus anomian, lawlessness. Berry’s literal translation is: "Everyone that practises sin, also lawlessness practises" (Berry 612). Lawlessness reflects a life of nonconformity to law, either by breaking the law or by failing to come up to its standards. Anomia, lawlessness, is defined: "the condition of one without law...either because ignorant of it, or because violating it... contempt and violation of law, iniquity, wickedness" (Thayer 48). A lawless person before God is one who acts without the sanction of His law. Jesus, in His description of the last judgment, pictures religious people pleading their case before His judgment throne, to which He replies, "Depart from me ye that work iniquity (anomia, lawlessness)" (Matthew 7:21-23). Although they have done many things "in His name," they are accused of acting without law and are rejected by the Judge. It is dangerous to tamper with God’s law. "Sin" is hamartia, "a failing to hit the mark" (Thayer 30). One who sins is one who misses the mark God has set for him or deviates from that which is right. John says that whoever practices digressing from what is right is guilty of practicing lawlessness.

for sin is the transgression of the law: Solomon says that "the thought of foolishness is sin" (Proverbs 24:9); Paul says that "whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23); James says, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17); and John, in the latter part of this epistle, says, "All unrighteousness is sin" (1 John 5:17). Whether John intends to give a definition of sin or not is immaterial; he does give us one. "Sin is lawlessness; lawlessness is sin." The sentence can be read backwards and forwards and teach the same truth. Wuest says that the "Greek construction makes sin and lawlessness identical" (Wuest, I John 147). When one sins, he is lawless; when one is lawless, he sins. Sin is no trivial matter: it separates from God and damns the soul. Lawlessness is no small matter either; it places one in opposition to the Lawgiver Who will deliver the lawbreaker to receive the reward of unrighteousness. God has a law, called the "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25), which must be studiously respected by all of God’s people. "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty" (James 2:12). John, doubtless, has the Cerinthian Gnostics in mind as he writes these words. They considered themselves as the spiritually elite who lived above the law and owed no allegiance to it. John says, "You are lawless sinners."

Verse 5

And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.

"Know" speaks of absolute knowledge. These readers know as a matter of fact that Jesus came into this world to "take away our sins." "Manifested" refers to the personal manifestation, or appearance, of Jesus when He came to live among men. Vincent says, "The idea of manifestation here assumes the fact of a previous being" (346). The One Who had been with the Father from eternity "was manifested," or made visible, when He took on human flesh, a fact the Gnostics vigorously denied. John gets in another jab in his fight with the false teachers just by using this word "manifested." John presents two reasons, based upon the appearing of Jesus in human flesh, for abstaining from a life of sin. First, Jesus appeared "to take away sins." "Take away" is in the aorist tense and supports the idea of a once-for-all act by which our Lord has fulfilled His mission now and forever. The Hebrew writer says that "now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26). The results of that sacrifice continue to live on as people respond in obedient faith to the gospel of Christ. Jesus "bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24) so that we do not have to bear the guilt of our sins all through life. To live a life of sin is to make void the very purpose of our Lord’s coming, and it nullifies the reason for His sacrifice for sin on Calvary. It is an insult to all His efforts on our behalf. It is to undo all He did for us on the cross. John, in effect, is saying, "If sin does not matter in our lives, as the Gnostics say, why did Jesus come to atone for the sins of men?"

The second reason John gives in this verse to discourage making sin the order of our lives is couched in the words, "and in him is no sin." Sinful conduct ignores His sinless perfection. Vincent says that it means "literally, in Him sin is not. He is essentially and forever without sin" (347). In His words, deeds, life, and death, Jesus is sinlessly perfect. He has never taken a wrong step, struck a wrong note, or done a wrong deed. Once, He challenged those who had known Him from His boyhood days, "Which of you convicteth me of sin?" (John 8:46) There was not an answer to that question then, and there has not been one since. Jesus "did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22), and "in Him is no sin." He is neither a sinner nor is He sinful. What an impeccable justification for transcribing into our lives the characteristics of the wonderful Christ! To follow Him is to live on the highest possible plane of human life.

Verse 6

Fellowship With God Forbids The Practice of Sin

Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: "Abideth" is meno and means to settle down and be at home. It is one of John’s terms for fellowship. Vincent says, "To abide in Christ is more than to be in Him, since it represents a condition maintained by communion with God and by the habitual doing of His will" (348). "Abideth" is present tense and suggests persistency in remaining in Christ. It literally means "whosoever keeps on abiding in Christ." Jesus urges this persistent abiding in Him in His illustration of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-6). Now, John says, the person who remains in persistent fellowship with the Lord "sinneth not." This passage has afforded some difficulty to Bible students who read it without comparing other passages or inquiring into the meaning of the term "sinneth." Does this passage mean that a real Christian never sins? Does it teach perfectionism? If it does, then the Bible contradicts itself, for John himself says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us...If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:8-10). If the Bible contradicts itself (as some door-to-door religionists say), we might as well throw our Bibles in the river and live as we please because it cannot be the word of an all-powerful God. Beloved, the Bible does not contradict itself, here or elsewhere. The simple solution to this apparent, but not real, contradiction is settled in the tense of the verb, "sinneth." As has been noted several times in the study of 1 John, the present tense in the Greek speaks of continuous action, or habitual practice. This is the tense of the verb, "sinneth." John says, "Whoever keeps on abiding in Christ does not keep on sinning as a regular routine of life." He is not referring to one-time acts of weakness but to a habitual way of life. The Christian who returns to a life of sin deprives himself of fellowship with God. As Wuest says, "Character is shown by one’s habitual actions, not the extraordinary ones" (147). A momentary lapse in one’s faith that results in sin does not give indication of the true character of a man. It is when he lapses completely into sin as a habit of life that his character changes from that of a Christian to a sinner. Such a person has "fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4; 1 Corinthians 10:12). He has "forsaken the right way" and shall receive "the wages of unrighteousness" if he does not return to the Lord in repentance (2 Peter 2:15).

whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him: The same tense of the verb is used and could be translated, "whosoever keeps on sinning...." It indicates a habit of life. This person "hath not seen" nor "known him" (that is, the Lord). "Seen" is eoraken, meaning "to see with discernment" (Wuest, I John 148). "Known" speaks of knowledge by experience. Since these verbs are in the perfect tense, some authorities seem to think that this passage signifies one who has never at any time seen the Lord spiritually or known Him in intimate fellowship. Woods disagrees with this view, saying,

The Greek perfect tense denotes action absolutely past, which lasts on in its effects. It is the function of the Greek perfect to indicate the result which follows the action, the action, meanwhile, dropping out of view. In this respect it differs greatly from the English perfect which keeps the action in view and in which the past idea predominates. When, for example, we say, ’I have known,’ the mind instinctively attributes the time of knowing to the past; in this, the true function of the English perfect is seen. In the Greek perfect, however, the time element is lost sight of, and the force of the tense is to point to an existing state produced by the action which has already terminated. Thus, the significance of ’I have known,’ regarded from the view point of the Greek perfect, is ’I know’ (now). Thus, in the study of this verse if we keep in mind that the verbs seen and knoweth, as here used, express result, the meaning becomes clear. ’Whosoever continues to abide in him does not keep on living a life of sin; whosoever does keep on living such a life, does not see him or know him.’ Obviously, one who has lapsed into a life of habitual sin, such as characterized him before his conversion, no longer sees (enjoys) God, nor knows (recognizes) God in his life (266).

We may conclude that any person who makes sin his habitual practice in life either is not a Christian or has fallen away from His Lord.

Verse 7

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.

Little children, let no man deceive you: John’s often-used term of endearment, "little children," prefaces a word of warning to his beloved readers. "Deceive" simply means to "lead astray." The thrust of John’s writings is to protect his "children" from the false teachings of the "antichrists" who were fostering a doctrine so corrupt that it would rob them of their relationship with the Lord. The advice rings down the corridors of time to us today, "Let no man," be he preacher, parent, or pal, "deceive you" and lead you away from the true teachings of God’s word. These Gnostics pretended great learning and wisdom. It is often easy to be deceived by those who feign great knowledge and speak with seeming authority. The radio and TV waves are full of such men. Beware! Let no man deceive you!

he that doeth righteousness is righteous: The false teachers were promoting the doctrine that one could be righteous before God without fulfilling God’s way of righteousness. The antinomian view of freedom from law in any sense was the doctrine of the Cerinthian Gnostics. John informs his readers that the proof of righteousness before God is found in doing righteousness. What is righteousness? The word is used variously in the scriptures to refer to justification or to a right relationship with God (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 1:17), purity of life (2 Timothy 2:22), and right action (Romans 6:13-22; Acts 10:34-35). It is in the latter sense that John uses it in this verse. "Doeth" is present tense and speaks of the practice of right conduct. John is showing the character of the person who is truly righteous in the sight of God. It is the person who continually practices doing right. This is the simple test of righteousness: Doing is the test of being.

even as he is righteous: Jesus is the perfect model of righteousness. As He said to John the Baptist, "thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). The Amplified Bible translates Jesus’ words, "to perform completely whatever is right." This philosophy was the order of Jesus’ life; He always did what was right. What was right was God’s will. "Thy will be done" was the guiding principle in His earthly existence. "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God" (Hebrews 10:9) were the words He lived by when He came to this earth. And thus, He left "us an example that we should follow His steps" (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus is the only man Who ever lived Who could say without any reservation, "Follow me." We will never achieve the sinless perfection He exhibited, but we can aspire to follow Him and never be satisfied with less than total imitation of the greatest life ever lived.

Verse 8

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

He that committeth sin is of the devil: What a charge! What a contrast! He that practices righteousness is righteous like Jesus, but he that practices sin is "of the devil." Vincent quotes Augustine: "The devil made no one, he begot no one, he created no one; but whosoever imitates the devil, is, as it were a child of the devil, through imitating, not through being born of him" (348). "Committeth sin" is present tense just as "sinneth" is present tense in verse 6 and designates a life of sin. "Of" is ek, out of, and is ablative of source. The person who carries on a life of sin as the general practice of life has his origin in the devil. The conformity of his life to the traits of the devil gives evidence that he belongs to the devil in an unholy alliance. Jesus accuses the Jews, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do..." (John 8:44). The words and deeds of these Jews caused Jesus to so charge them.

for the devil sinneth from the beginning: In John 8:44, quoted above, Jesus went on to say, "He (the devil) was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him." The same kind of language is used here by this disciple of Jesus as he warns against the practice of sin. "Sinneth" is present tense here; therefore, sin is the habitual practice of the devil, and he has been sinning since he first introduced sin. Vincent says, "He sinned in the beginning, and has never ceased to sin from the beginning, and still sinneth" (348). One who engages in constant sinning is of the devil because the devil is sin’s source.

For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil: John is determined to keep the physical coming of our Lord into this world before his readers so that he might answer the ridiculous claims of the false teachers who denied the appearing of the Son of God in human flesh. The Son of God was "manifested," or made visible, for a definite purpose. "Destroy" is luse, from luo, "to loosen, dissolve, sever, break, demolish" (Vine 302). "The works of the devil" has reference to all the evil accomplishments that the devil has wrought in his efforts to defeat God’s purpose for the human race. Vincent quotes Westcott:

The works of the devil are represented as having a certain consistency and coherence. They show a kind of solid front. But Christ, by His coming, has revealed them in their complete unsubstantiality. He has ’undone’ the seeming bonds by which they were held together (349).

Jesus came to undo all the devil has done to the human race. His coming was predicted in the twilight of time when God promised to overthrow the power of Satan through the "seed of the woman," which is Christ (Genesis 3:15). This purpose was fulfilled on Calvary when the devil "bruised the heel" of Christ by a bloody crucifixion while, at the same time, Jesus dealt a crushing blow to "the head of the serpent" and rendered his authority useless against those who would trust in Christ. At the second coming of Christ, all the pain and sorrow that Satan has brought upon mankind will be destroyed, and sin and the curse of sin will no longer haunt us.

Verse 9

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin: "Born" is from a form of the Greek word, gennaw, meaning "to beget." Thayer, commenting on the appearance of the word in this verse, says that a peculiar quality in John’s gospel and first epistle is the intimation that God confers on men the very "nature and disposition of His sons." By His own holy power, he prompts and persuades "souls to put faith in Christ and live a new life consecrated to himself" (113).

Vine agrees with Thayer’s comment: "It is used metaphorically (a) in the writings of the Apostle John, of the gracious act of God in conferring upon those who believe the nature and disposition of ’children,’ imparting to them spiritual life, John 3:3; John 3:5; John 3:7; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18" (109). Some prefer "begotten of God" rather than "born of God." The person who has been begotten of God and has the life of God flowing through him "doth not commit sin." It is important to note that this phrase is in the present tense and conveys the idea of continuous, incessant, and habitual sinning. The person who is born again does not continue in sin as a habit of life.

for his seed remaineth in him: Here John gives a reason that the one begotten of God does not keep on sinning as a regular practice of life. "Seed," sperma, means a "principle of life" according to some writers. The better explanation comes by allowing the Bible to interpret itself. "The seed is the word of God" (Luke 8:11), Jesus says. The word is the begetting seed in the new birth according to Peter: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever" (1 Peter 1:23). James reports that God "of his own will begat he us with the word of truth..." (James 1:18). Stott makes a brilliant comment: "John insists in this passage that the reception of the divine sperma causes a new birth which asserts itself against sin and manifests itself in righteous conduct" (129).

"Remaineth" is the word for "abide" that appears several times in this epistle. It is noteworthy to mention that this is the word used in 1 John 2:24 where John encourages his readers to allow the message, which they had heard from the beginning, to "abide" in them. "The anointing," it seems to me, is the word of God that we should allow to "abide" or settle down and be at home in our hearts. If this anointing dwells in the Christian’s heart as an established resident, he will not give himself to a life of constant sinning. David says, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee" (Psalms 119:11). Paul exhorts, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly..." (Colossians 3:16). The indwelling word is protection against a life of sin. This teaching means more than just memorization of God’s word: it requires an internalization of truth insomuch that it has a decided effect on our conduct. This passage is just one more example of the supernatural power of the "quick and powerful" word of God (Hebrews 4:12).

and he cannot sin, because he is born of God: "Cannot" is ou-dunatai and bespeaks moral inability. It does not necessarily mean that it is impossible. E. M. Zerr gives three examples of the word in which "cannot" does not mean that it is impossible (Matthew 5:14; Mark 2:19; Luke 11:7). He concludes,

And so the word in our verse does not mean that the child of God has come to the place where he is physically unable to do any wrong, but that he is morally restrained from it, just as a good man who is asked to join another in some crime would reply, ’O no, I couldn’t do anything like that (284).

"Sin" is in the present tense and means that the child of God cannot practice the habit of sinning. We should make this point clear: John does not say that the Christian will never sin. John is not discussing what a man may do occasionally or incidentally in a moment of weakness or ignorance. He is saying that one who is begotten of God and who allows the word-seed to remain resident in his life will not engage in the activity of a habitual sinner. He will not repeatedly, continually, day after day, pursue the course of sin. John accentuates his opening remark in this verse by concluding, "because he is born of God." It is the character of one who has his spiritual origin ek, "out of", God that he will not practice a life of sin. Like his Father, by whom he is begotten, he hates iniquity and loves righteousness (Hebrews 1:9). To engage routinely in sin would be inconsistent with his parentage and contrary to his upbringing.

Verse 10

In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: "In this" refers to the statement John is about to make. In this statement, John addresses two opposites, the only place in the Bible where these two descriptive titles are used side by side in reference to God’s children and the devil’s children. John draws a distinct line between the two. A person is either a child of the devil or a child of God: there is no middle ground that exists between God’s people and Satan’s people. There is no half-and-half nor either-or in the spiritual world. "Manifest" means to make visible or clear. John says that it is clear who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are.

whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God: It is a clear sign that a person is not a true child of God when he does not practice righteousness as a consistent way of life. In chapter two, verse 29, John states that "every one that doeth righteousness is born of him." He now says the same thing in a negative way. The clear import of this statement is that everyone who does what is right before God as a regular habit of life is a child of God, and everyone who fails to do habitually what is right is a child of the devil. Now, a child of the devil might occasionally do something that is right, but that does not make him a child of God; and, conversely, a Christian might occasionally do something that is wrong, but that does not make him a child of the devil. John is concerned about the general course of a person’s life, not his intermittent good or bad deeds.

neither he that loveth not his brother: The apostle adds an additional sign of sonship here. While the love of one’s brother in Christ is a part of righteousness, John gives it special mention because of its fundamental importance in Christian living. The Christian religion is peculiarly a religion of love. It was planned by a loving Father Who loved us so much that He sent His Son to die in our stead; it was executed by a loving elder Brother Who was willing to sacrifice Himself in our place; and it was successful among men because all of its adherents emulated the love of God and His Christ. Positively speaking, a sign that one is a child of God is exhibited by his continuing love for his brethren. Negatively speaking, as John does in this passage, one who does not demonstrate continuing love for his brethren in Christ proves that he really belongs to the devil and is his child. Woods’ thought-provoking observation is worthy of our consideration:

We are taught here that he who does not love his brother actually has no brother to love, for in his failure to comply with this normal and natural principle, he demonstrates that God is not his Father. In refusing to love one of God’s family, he simply excludes himself from the family itself! (274)

Verse 11

Cain, the Example of Hate

For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

John continues to refer to the "message," or proclamation, which these Christians have heard from the beginning of their relationship with the Lord. This special message is the new-old commandment of chapter two, verses 7-8, "that we should love one another." Jesus says that His disciples are to love one another with the same intensity that characterized His love for them (John 13:34-35). Why does John stress the love of one Christian for another? Are not we to love all men? Truly, we are to love the world, even as our Lord did; but there is a special degree of love for our brethren that is taught by Jesus and the apostles. Paul commanded by the authority of Christ, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10). We are left with no doubt that while a Christian is to love everybody, there is a unique and extraordinary love that is due our fellow laborers in the kingdom. It is imperative today that we restore the same magnitude of love to the family of God that was exhibited by the early church.

Verse 12

Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.

Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one: The contrast between the love one Christian has for another and the hatred that motivated Cain to kill Abel is an extreme one. The story, recorded in Genesis the fourth chapter, is well-known and often repeated. The sacrifice of Abel was accepted by God while the sacrifice of Cain was rejected. The fury of Cain, inflamed to the highest degree, culminated in his taking the life of his own brother. John says that Cain "was of that wicked one," which is his distinctive description of the devil himself. "Wicked one" is from poneros, which means "evil in active opposition to the good" (Wuest, I John 151). It describes one who is not only corrupt and evil but is bent on bringing everyone else down to corruption and total devastation. He is that "roaring lion" who stalks about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Cain was ek, out of, the devil; the source of his wickedness was the "wicked one" himself. There is an implication here that the murder of Abel did not make Cain bad; he was bad before he proved it by this horrendous deed.

and slew his brother: "Slew" is sphazo and means "to slay, slaughter, butcher by cutting the throat" (Wuest, I John 151). This is the word used by the ancients of the killing of sacrificial animals (Leviticus 1:5). It is obvious that John goes out of his way to indicate the method Cain used to take the life of his own brother. No wonder God said, "The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground!" (Genesis 4:10). Cain cruelly cut the jugular vein in Abel’s throat and allowed his righteous blood to cover the ground.

And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous: The question comes ringing down through the centuries, "Why, O why?" What prompted this ancient son of Adam to slaughter his own brother so sadistically? Wuest translates it, "And on what account did he kill him?" (151) The answer is on the tip of John’s pen, "because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous." The answer lies in the heart of Cain; he was jealous of God’s recognition of his brother’s sacrifice while his own sacrifice was unrecognized and, in fact, displeasing to God. The Bible says, "And in the process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect" (Genesis 4:3-5). Why was this so? The explanation is found in the word, "faith." "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it be being dead yet speaketh" (Hebrews 11:4). Since "faith comes by hearing" the word of God (Romans 10:17), it is evident that God had specified a blood sacrifice in words these young men could understand. Abel chose to act by faith and obey the Lord’s will; Cain chose to act on his own volition and offer a sacrifice that pleased himself. God blessed the act of faith on Abel’s part and rejected the act of will worship (Colossians 2:23) on Cain’s part. The record says that "Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell" (Genesis 4:5). It was the green-eyed monster of envy that rankled in Cain’s heart like poison that moved him to commit his terrible crime. Lenski says, "The devil’s children hate God’s children just because the righteous works of these condemn their own works as the wicked works that they are" (467). Abel did right before God, making Cain’s disobedience even more apparent. Cain responded with hatred and murder. Those who hate their brethren today are imbibing the spirit of Cain.

Verse 13

Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.

Because of the construction in the Greek, Wuest says that this should be rendered, "stop marvelling" (152). John is saying to these Christians who continue to be shocked that the world hates good people, "Stop being astonished and cease being surprised when you discover that the world hates you." John has just shown that this attitude is as old as the human race; Cain displayed this attitude in the morning of time. Jesus says, "These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:17-19). John echoes the words of Jesus as he introduces Cain as the prototype of a world that naturally hates righteous people. Barclay says, "Righteousness always provokes hostility in the minds of those whose actions are basically evil. The reason is that the good man is a walking rebuke to the evil man, even if he never speaks a word to him, and even if there is no direct contact between the two." He gives the example of a very wicked person who would say to Socrates, "I hate you, because every time I meet you, you show me what I am" (101). Please take note that John addresses his readers as "brethren" instead of his usual "little children." It is only fitting that he so address them as he talks about the marvelous subject of brotherly love.

Verse 14

Love: Evidence of Transition to Life

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren: Vincent says that "we know" is "Emphatic; we as distinguished from the world" (350). "Know" conveys the concept of absolute knowledge; the song writer would call it "blessed assurance." Regardless of the animosity of the world toward the child of God, he has the security of knowing that he is in the realm of "life."

"Passed" is metabaino, "to pass over from one place to another, to migrate" (Wuest, I John 152). "From death" is ek tou thanatou, "out of the death," suggesting a separation from "the death." The article, "the," is used before both death and life, indicating two spheres, states, or domains. The apostle, therefore, says, "We definitely know that we have migrated from a state of death into a state of life." "Death" is a term used in scripture to refer to the condition of one away from God. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that when they were "dead in trespasses and sins," they were saved and made alive through the grace of God (Ephesians 2:1-5). The same apostle declares that the child of God who lives in the pleasure of sin "is dead," spiritually, even though he may be alive physically (1 Timothy 5:6).

because we love the brethren: This confident assurance signals one’s love for his fellow brethren in Christ. The apostle is not establishing the conditions for becoming a Christian, even though those conditions are well documented in other portions of God’s word. Jesus gave them in the great commission shortly before he exited this earthly scene (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47). Peter carried out that commission on Pentecost when he answered the question of the people who believed his message and cried out, "What must we do?" In obedience to Jesus’ orders, he said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). In verse 14, John is not giving the prerequisites to becoming a Christian: he is giving one sign by which one can know whether he is a Christian or not. Vincent says that it signifies "The sign of having passed into life; not the ground" (351). If one habitually loves his brothers and sisters in Christ with the love portrayed by Jesus, this is evidence that he is spiritually alive; he has passed over the line from a sphere of death to a blessed state of life.

He that loveth not his brother abideth in death: The person who refuses to love his fellow Christians gives testimony to the fact that he is making his home in the sphere of spiritual death. The apostle has used "abideth" several times, a word meaning "to settle down permanently." The settled state of the loveless Christian is one of spiritual death or separation from the fellowship of God.

Verse 15

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: "Loveth not" in verse 14 is equivalent to "hateth" in this verse. The absence of love is evidence of the presence of hate. It is sobering to know that one who does not love his brother hates him, according to John. "Hateth" is in the present tense, suggesting the continual hating of a brother. Does John mean that one who hates his brother is guilty of actually murdering him? Woods rightly comments: "What is meant is, he has exhibited the disposition and spirit of a murderer; he has allowed passions to arise in his heart which, when carried to their ultimate ends, result in murder" (279). Coffman quotes W. N. Sinclair: "His full argument is: where love is not, there is hatred; where hatred is, there is murder; where murder, there can be no eternal life" (406). Jesus indicates that God is as concerned about the motivation of the heart as he is the actual committing of the deed (Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:27-28). A brother-hater is a brother-murderer at heart.

and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him: "Know" speaks of absolute knowledge. Every Christian definitely knows that an unrepentant murderer can never enjoy eternal life. John says that he should also know with equal certainty that an impenitent brother-hater is also lost. "Hath eternal life" implies that eternal life is a present possession. Every child of God looks forward with eager anticipation to experiencing everlasting life in heaven. John seems to indicate that he has that life in the present, "abiding in him," or, remaining as a settled resident in his heart. We know that eternal life is a future blessing; however, there is a quality of life possessed by the Christian that is reminiscent of that future bliss. Jesus calls it an abundant life (John 10:10). This is "the life" that is arrayed against "the death" in verse 14. It is life in the highest measure that one can enjoy this side of heaven. John says, no murderer has this quality of life as a resident in his existence; and, consequently, neither does a brother-hater, who is a murderer at heart. He is lost until he changes his attitude.

Verse 16

Jesus, the Example of Love

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

Hereby perceive we the love of God: "Hereby" means "in this," suggesting the truth that is about to be stated. "Perceive" is the translation of the word for experiential knowledge. "Of God" is not in the original text, which leaves us with this rendition: "In this we know by experience the love." Notice the definite article before love that emphasizes "the love that is love indeed" (Lenski 470). Children of God know love in the highest sense, its outstanding intensity, its vast extent, and its exalted purpose.

because he laid down his life for us: "Laid down" is the same word used when our Lord "laid aside his garments" and washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:5). Jesus uses the same language when he says "the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.... I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10:11; John 10:17-18). The voluntary death of Christ on the cross demonstrated love in its fullest sense and highest degree, for Jesus freely and voluntarily laid aside his life for us. "Life" is psuche, which is often translated "soul," and it refers here to the natural life of our Lord. He willingly laid His natural, physical life aside. "For" is huper and means "in behalf of, instead of" (Moulton 414). The death of Jesus was a substitutionary death, for He died in our place. Since the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and since all have sinned (Romans 3:23), we all deserve eternal separation from God, which is the meaning of "death" in Romans 6:23. By the shedding of His blood on Calvary, Jesus saved us from this eternal death or from hell and in the same sacrificial act displayed the supreme example of love. It is indeed a love that has a height without top, a depth without bottom, a length without end, and a breadth without limit. It is the love "which passeth knowledge."

Paul prays that Christians might be strengthened by God’s Spirit in the inner man that they "may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge..." (Ephesians 3:14-19). He prays that they might know the unknowable love. John says that we can know that love by experience because Jesus unveiled it at Calvary, and we share in its benefits. Stott says, "As Cain has been given as the supreme example of hate, Christ is presented as the supreme example of love... This, then, is the ultimate contrast: Cain’s hatred issued in murder, Christ’s love in self-sacrifice. Indeed, true love, agape, is self-sacrifice" (143).

and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren: "Ought" is opheilo and indicates a moral obligation. Every Christian who has benefited from the substitutionary death of Jesus owes a great debt to his fellowman, especially to his brethren and sisters in Christ. Paul says that he was a "debtor" (from the same Greek word) to men of every kind and caste and was ready to preach the gospel to them (Romans 1:14-16). He felt a moral obligation to share the gospel, which brought salvation to him with everyone in the world. John expresses the same principle here when he says that we are morally obligated to lay down our lives for fellow Christians since Jesus loved us so much that He laid down His life for us. Bible students may seek to ameliorate the extreme requirement of this statement, but the fact remains that Jesus’ example of matchless love places a sobering duty upon every child of God toward his brother. Christians during the first century often had the opportunity to prove their love to this extent, and they met the challenge with grace. Christians today should so grow in their love toward God and all men that they will be prepared to meet the supreme test of love when the occasion demands.

Verse 17

Love Is Always Active

But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

But whoso hath this world’s good: John has considered the supreme test of a Christian’s love, laying down one’s life; now, he turns to the every day test. "Good" is bios and literally means "life," the organic life that we share with other creatures on this earth. Wuest says that it refers to "the necessities of life such as food, clothes, and shelter" (154). "Hath" is present tense and speaks of habitual possession. "World" does not refer to the evil system of chapter two, verse 15, but to this terrestrial realm. The statement, therefore, alludes to a Christian who is routinely in possession of the necessities of life. He is not necessarily rich, but he has plenty of this earth’s goods and is relatively comfortable.

and seeth his brother have need: "Seeth" is theoreo, "to look with interest and purpose" (Wuest, I John 154). The verb is in the present tense and suggests that this brother, who is reasonably supplied with earthly goods, is seeing his brother’s condition over a period of time. "Have need" is self-explanatory. Here is a fellow Christian who is suffering for the bare necessities of life. He might be destitute or merely suffering a temporary setback. Notice that John changes from the plural "brethren" in verse 16 to the singular "brother" in this verse. Sometimes it is easy to love our brethren in general but difficult to love a brother in particular. Stott quotes Lewis on this thought: "Loving everybody in general may be an excuse for loving nobody in particular" (143). We must love and care for that one brother who grates on our nerves and bores us to tears as well as all for our lovable brethren in general.

and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him: "Shutteth" is kleio and is used of slamming a door or snapping a lock. Just as one would shut a door in another’s face, this well-to-do Christian shuts the door of his compassion in the face of his needy brother. "Bowels" refers literally to the organs of the intestines, but ancients considered them the seat of the affections, and it is so used in scripture. "Bowels of compassion" is a Hebraism, suggesting that one is moved in his inward parts on the behalf of another. In this verse we have one who closes off his feelings toward his impoverished brother and consequently renders no aid.

how dwelleth the love of God in him?: The question is a rhetorical one: the answer is contained in the question. The love that characterized God when He gave His Son and that Jesus demonstrated when He laid down his life does not dwell as an inhabitant in such a stingy person. Wuest translates this question: "how is it possible that the love of God is abiding in him?" (154) The answer is conspicuous: the love of God does not dwell in him. "The love of God" is clearly the love of the Christian that exhibits the qualities of God’s love. In this verse, John concerns himself with the practical aspects of Christianity. One may never be called upon to suffer martyrdom, however heroic that deed may be; but he will be invited often to administer to the needs of those less fortunate than he. That, after all, might turn out to be the supreme test of one’s love. One might be willing to make the ultimate once-and-for-all sacrifice of his life but balk at the day-to-day self-denials.

Verse 18

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue: With his term of endearment, John charges his beloved "children" in the gospel to express their love in deeds, not just in words. Actions always speak louder than words. Genuine love is always active, never passive. "Word" is something that we say; "tongue" is the instrument used in saying something. John says that we are not to express our love merely in words spoken by the tongue. It is good to say, "I love you," and we need to say it more and more; however, if that is all there is to our love, it is a lifeless and meaningless love. It is a love of pretense and is totally inadequate.

but in deed and in truth: Robertson suggests that words may be comforting and cheering, "but warm words should be accompanied by warm deeds..." (Quoted in Wuest, I John 155). "In deed" indicates something positive and active done to prove the words spoken. "In truth" shows the genuineness of the act of love. Paul exhorts, "Let love be without dissimulation." The Amplified Bible translates it "[Let your] love be sincere--a real thing...." Love that only expresses itself in words is not the true, sincere love of God. "God loved," and He did something to prove it (John 3:16).

Verse 19

And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.

And hereby we know that we are of the truth: In this verse, "hereby" refers to what John stated in the preceding verses concerning the exercise of true love. If we love as Jesus loved and are willing to prove that love by laying down our lives for the brethren and by sharing our means, then we are continually knowing by experience that we are "of the truth." In verse 18, John says that we must love "in truth"; and here he says if we do so, we can know that we are "of the truth," meaning that we can know that we are genuine Christians and that our lives conform to God’s word (John 17:17). Woods says that it means the same thing as being "of God" (283). Stott makes an interesting comment: "Truth can only characterize the behavior of those whose very character originates in the truth so that it is by our loving others ’in truth’, that we know that we are ’of the truth’ " (145).

and shall assure our hearts before him: "Assure" is peitho and means primarily "to persuade," and then to "tranquillize" (Thayer 497). David Smith translates it, "to pacify, win with confidence, soothe the alarm’ of our heart." (Wuest, I John 155) Vincent suggests the words, "assure, quiet, conciliate" (352). The idea expressed by John is that when we love as God loves we convince ourselves that we are true Christians and our hearts are assured, tranquillized, and pacified as we stand in the presence of God. "Before him" literally means "in his presence." "Heart" is used in this context to indicate the conscience of man that sits in judgment on his actions, either condemning or approving his actions. It is important in the interpretation of this section to keep this point in mind. John is discussing the assurance given to the conscience of the child of God.

Verse 20

Assurance of Conscience

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

For if our heart condemn us: Vincent contends that it should be rendered, "shall assure our heart before Him whereinsoever our heart condemn us because God is greater than our heart" (352). The Christian needs reassurance from time to time in his daily pursuit of a loving life. There may be times when he will say, "Have I been as loving as I ought? Have I reached the heights of love that God desires? Have I done and been all that I need to do and be?" And the answer always returns with a resounding, "No!" for we all fail to reach the heights of God’s love. At those times, our conscience goads and condemns us.

God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things: Keep in mind that John promises assurance. This phrase has often been used to rob us of assurance instead of giving assurance. Some interpret it to mean that if our own conscience condemns us, God is greater than our conscience and will condemn us even more. As Vincent says, such an explanation suggests that "God who is greater than our heart and knows all things, must not only endorse but emphasize our self-accusation" (353). We ask, "Where is the assurance?" Vincent then gives his preferable interpretation of John’s statement: "the sense is: when our heart condemns us we shall quiet it with the assurance that we are in the hands of a God who is greater than our heart--who surpasses man in love and compassion no less than in knowledge" (353). Truly, God knows the best and the worst of us. We have no secrets from Him. God not only knows our failures, He knows the intentions of our hearts, and He is not so much concerned about where we are spiritually as He is about the direction our life is taking. If he knows that the general tenor of our life is toward Him and that we are trying to grow in Him day by day, He will keep our conscience clear. God overrules the judgment of our conscience when we fall short and forgives us anyway. He assures us that "if we walk in the light, as He is in the light...the blood of Christ is (constantly cleansing) us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). John gives his "children" assurance that, in spite of their faults and failures, the condemning judgment of their hearts can be answered and silenced.

Verse 21

Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.

This passage must be explained in light of verse 20 where John gives the basis for our assurance before God. Since we have the assurance that God is greater than our consciences and understands our plight and keeps our consciences clean before Him, we have no reason for our consciences to continue to condemn us. As Stott says, "John turns from the curse of a condemning heart--and how to reassure it--to the blessing of a heart which has been made tranquil or which does not condemn" (148). The result is "confidence toward God." "Confidence" is parresia and means "freedom in speaking, unreservedness in speech, free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance" (156). This word indicates the right of a free man to speak. A bondman does not have this right. The Christian is a free man because he is a child of God and his conscience is kept free and clear. "Toward" is pros, "facing, toward, thus, face to face" with God" (Wuest, I John 156). The assurance of a clear conscience, made possible because of God’s greatness in knowledge and understanding, makes the child of God bold in speech when he stands face to face with God. The next verse tells us how we show this boldness when we appear before God in prayer.

Verse 22

Confidence in Prayer

And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him: "Ask" is aiteo, "to ask for." It is in the present tense and thus denotes continuous action. It is therefore translated, "Whatever we keep on asking for." "Receive" is in the same tense, suggesting that if we continue asking we continue receiving from God’s hand. The reason that we can continually ask God for blessings and continually receive those blessings goes back to the boldness that comes from a clear conscience in the previous verse. The Christian should never be afraid to ask God for any reasonable blessing; he should come boldly into God’s presence like a trusting child would approach his parent.

because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight: Answer to prayer is not unconditional. We can come before God with a clear conscience and boldly ask Him for the things we need "because" we do two things: keep his commandments and do those things that please Him. "Keep" is present tense in the Greek and indicates, as Vincent says, "Watchful discernment and habitual practice" (354). If we expect God to answer our prayers constantly, we must be very careful to obey His commandments constantly. What is the difference in keeping His commandments and in doing those things that are pleasing in his sight? There are some wishes of God that are not spelled out in so many words, but our relationship with God is such that we know in our hearts what He wants, and we gladly do what pleases Him. Love motivates the Christian to go beyond the demands of duty and to commit himself totally to doing those things that he knows will gladden the great heart of God. It should be the desire of every Christian to "do always those things that please" the Father (John 8:29).

"Sight" is enopion and means a "penetrating gaze" (Wuest, I John 157). The Christian must ever be aware that he lives under the penetrating gaze, the all-seeing eyes, of the Father. In the desert place, Hagar said, "Thou God seest me" (Genesis 16:13). An awareness of a God who knows all and sees all will prompt us to conduct our lives in a manner that pleases God and satisfies His will.

Verse 23

The Twofold Commandment

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.

And this is his commandment: The apostle uses "commandment" in the singular number, combining into one the two instructions that follow and showing that they are essentially coupled in fulfilling our responsibility to please the Lord. This statement only intensifies the importance of the two directives and stamps on our minds the fact that believing and loving are inseparable in serving God.

That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ: This clause is the first portion of "his commandment." Wuest states: "’Should believe’ is aorist subjunctive, its classification, constative aorist, viewing the entire course of a Christian’s life in one panoramic view. That is, the whole tenor of a saint’s life should be Christward" (157). " ’The name’ is dative case ...they are to believe the Name of Jesus Christ" (Wuest, I John 157). Name stands for everything that Jesus is; it is the sum total of all the qualities that distinguish Him in nature and character. Vine says that name is used "for all that name implies, of authority, character, rank, majesty, power, excellence, etc., of everything that the name covers...." (100). Barclay says, "The Psalmist writes: ’Our help is in the name of the Lord’ (Psalms 124:8). Clearly that does not mean that our help lies in the fact that God is called Jehovah; it means that our help is in the love, the mercy, the power, the compassion that have been revealed to us as the nature and the character of God" (104). To "believe the name of his Son Jesus Christ" is to believe and trust everything about this One Who has always been but Who came to the womb of the virgin and became the Son of Man as well as the Son of God. It is to trust Him Who came as our Savior (Jesus) and our Messiah (Christ).

and love one another, as he gave us commandment: The other half of "the commandment" is to love our brethren and sisters in Christ with agape love, which has been so adequately defined and described by John. Someone has observed that the dual commandment to believe and love is equivalent to the sentiment of the old, old song, "Trust And Obey." This idea agrees with the affirmation of the apostle Paul that the faith that avails is the "faith which worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6). Woods remarks, "Belief, in order to bless, must eventuate in love; love, without belief, is an impossibility" (285). John mentions again the fact that the love of one another comes from Jesus who "gave us commandment." This is His instruction in John 13:34 that we should love each other "as" He loved.

Verse 24

The Indwelling God

And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him: John continues to stress the importance of continually keeping the commandments of the Lord. He returns to the theme of fellowship with God and affirms that obedience is absolutely essential to that fellowship. "Dwelleth" is menei, which has been translated "abide" and "remain" and "continue" in this epistle. The word, which means to take up residence and permanently settle down in, suggests the union and fellowship we have with God. There is some disagreement about whether this passage is talking about the indwelling of God or of Christ. A careful reading of verses 21-23 seems to indicate that it refers to God. Whether it refers to the indwelling of God or Christ presents no difficulty to the interpretation of the passage because to have God in you is to have Christ in you, and to have Christ in you is to have God in you. This is wonderful unity of the Godhead.

John now adds another aspect of this fellowship: there is a mutual indwelling involved in Christian fellowship; that is, we dwell in God, and God dwells in us. We are in Him, and He is in us. Vincent quotes Bede: "Therefore let God be a home to thee, and be thou the home of God; abide in God, and let God abide in thee" (354). There is an intimate union that exists in fellowship with God that makes possible a communion or joint participation between the Christian and God. Paul indicates there is blending of God’s Spirit with our spirit: "He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:17). Someone might ask, "How can this be?" It might be illustrated by pouring ink into water. The ink is in the water; the water is in the ink. Actually, there is a blending of the two. When one is joined unto the Lord in baptism (Galatians 3:27), he becomes "one spirit" with Him. "What a fellowship! What a joy divine!"

And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us: "Hereby," or "in this" that follows, we know of God’s indwelling. The "we" here is the same "we" of verses 19, 21, 22, and 23, referring to John and his Christian readers. "Know" is ginoskomen and indicates knowledge by experience as opposed to sheer head knowledge or factual knowledge. "Abideth" is present tense, indicating that God continues to abide in us. The "us" refers to the same people as the "we"--John and his readers. "By" is ek, which usually means "out of," but, in this case, speaks of agency or instrumentality (Moulton 121) and is translated by most translators with the word "by." (Among them are Goodspeed, Williams, Berry, Alexander Campbell, Amplified, Twentieth Century, Montgomery, NKJ, NASB, and NIV.) Knox translates it, "This is our proof that he is really dwelling in us, through the gift of his Spirit." Moffatt renders it, "And this is how we may be sure he remains within us, by means of the spirit he has given us." Phillips says, "and the guarantee of his presence within us is the Spirit he has given us." It is difficult to decide whether "by" goes with "know" or "abideth." In either case, John teaches a grand truth concerning the indwelling of God in relationship to the Holy Spirit and the Christian. If "by" goes with "know," then John is saying that these Christians experientially know "by" the Spirit, Whom God has given to them, that God continues to dwell in them. This knowledge by experience would include the help and aid that the Holy Spirit gives each day. Haas suggests that a question may be under consideration: "How do we know that he abides in us? (We know it) by the Spirit he has given us." (98) In other words, we have proof that God dwells in us by the Spirit He has given us. That proof is objective proof, rather than subjective. It does not come through some "better felt than told" feeling but through something observable in the life or experience. The objective proof comes daily to the Christian through the help and aid of the Holy Spirit Who indwells his heart (Galatians 4:6). The Spirit dwells in us to strengthen the inner man with power to perform Christian responsibilities (Ephesians 3:16), to take hold with us in the midst of our "infirmities" or weaknesses (Romans 8:26), to help us produce the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22), to pour out the love of God into our hearts (Romans 5:5), to "quicken" and enliven us (Romans 8:11), and to work providentially in our lives (Romans 8:28). This evidence is not always discernible at the time it is happening because, while the power of the Spirit in the life of the Christian is supernatural, it is not miraculous. The miraculous age of the church has passed (1 Corinthians 13:8-13), but the power of God (and all of God’s power is supernatural) continues to work in the lives of His people. Sometimes we have to come to the end of an experience and look back before we can see the hand of God in that experience. Barnes says, "No man can be a true Christian in whom that Spirit does not constantly dwell, or to whom he is not ’given.’ And yet no one can determine that the Spirit dwells in him, except by the effects produced in his heart and life" (325-326). These effects are experienced as the Spirit "helpeth our infirmities," or to use the definition of the word, "helpeth," as He takes hold with us in our weakness (Romans 8:26).

If the causal word "by" goes with "abideth," the apostle is saying that God continues to abide in us "by the Spirit which he hath given us" as the medium of His indwelling. While the scriptures teach that both God and Christ dwell in us, they dwell in us through the Holy Spirit as their representative (Ephesians 2:22; 1 John 4:13). To have the Holy Spirit in your heart is to have God and Christ dwelling within you. This assurance impresses upon us the unity of the Godhead. Perhaps this is one reason the Holy Spirit is called the "Spirit of God" and the "Spirit of Christ." He has been sent as their agent in accomplishing many divine purposes. He was sent by God; he was also sent by Christ. Jesus promised the disciples in John 14, 15, , 16 that He would send the "Comforter" to them. He even said that it was "expedient," or profitable, that He do so (John 16:7). Yet, after saying that He would send the Spirit, He declares, "I will come to you" (John 14:18). How was Jesus to come? In person? The context indicates that He was saying that he would come in the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

the Spirit which he hath given us: Peter promised the "gift of the Holy Spirit" to "everyone" who would "repent and be baptized" (Acts 2:38). He further specified that this promise is to "even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39). Since we are called by the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14), when anyone answers that call in obedience to the gospel’s conditions, he receives the Holy Spirit as a gift. Coffman says in reference to this phrase,

In Christians, this refers to "the influence of the Spirit renewing their nature, sanctifying their wills, and directing their actions." We have called this the ’Gift Ordinary’ of the Holy Spirit, given to Christians as an earnest in consequence of and subsequently to their being baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38 ff and Ephesians 1:13). This is also called in the NT the "earnest" of the Holy Spirit (412).

"Given" is better translated "gave." God "gave" the Holy Spirit to these Christians when they obeyed his conditions of salvation because He is truly a gift Who is given unto the obedient believer (Acts 5:32; John 7:39; Romans 5:5; 1 John 4:13; 2 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:8).

John teaches so much about our relationship with God in this short passage of scripture. Our fellowship depends on obedience to the commands of God. That fellowship is represented by a common dwelling, we in God and God in us. We know by experience that God continually dwells in us through the agency of the Holy Spirit Who is God’s gift to us when we obey the gospel. That knowledge grows as the Spirit helps us in maintaining that intimate relationship with God. Paul prayed for the Ephesians that God would strengthen them with "might by His Spirit in the inner man...that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith" (Ephesians 3:13-17). The medium of strength and the indwelling of deity, in Paul’s words, is the Holy Spirit who dwells in the inner man.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 John 3". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/1-john-3.html. 1993-2022.
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