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Bible Commentaries
1 John 3

Smith's WritingsSmith's Writings

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Verses 1-24

( 1Jn_3:1 ). Secondly, the apostle reminds us that we are called into the relationship of children, and, as such, are the objects of the Father's love. It has been pointed out that every relationship has its special affection, and that it is the affection peculiar to the relationship that gives sweetness and character to it. We are called to behold this love that was perfectly expressed in Christ on earth and has been bestowed upon the believer. When Christ was here, He was the Object of the Father's love and the world's hatred. He has gone, but He has left behind those whom He has set in His own place before the Father and before the world. In His prayer the Lord could say, “Thou ... hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me” ( Joh_17:23 ). Again, the Lord could say, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you” ( Joh_15:18 ). How good, then, to seek to enter into the consciousness that we are loved by the Father as Christ was loved, and are privileged to share with Christ His place of rejection by the world.

(V. 2). A third great truth is the blessed hope attached to the relationship in which we are set. Christ is going to appear, and when He appears, “we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” On earth, Christ was the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; His face was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men. For ourselves it doth not yet appear what we shall be, for we bear the marks of age and care and sorrow, but we look on to His appearing. For a moment the apostles saw His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, and by faith we “see Him as He is”, crowned with glory and honour, and “we know” we shall be like Him, not as He was, but “as He is”.

Moreover, when we are like Him, we shall see Him face to face. While we are in these bodies of humiliation, to see Him as He is would be overwhelming. The apostle John himself fell at His feet as dead when, in the Isle of Patmos, he saw the Lord in His glory. But when at last we are like Him,

How will our eyes to see His face delight,

Whose love has cheered us through the darksome night!

(V. 3). If, then, we walk in righteousness, according to the instincts of the new nature, if, as children, we walk in the consciousness of the Father's love, if we keep apart from the world that knew not Christ, if we walk in the enjoyment of the hope that when Christ appears we shall be like Him, then, indeed, we shall not be ashamed before Him at His coming, for every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as Christ is pure.

Our hope is in Christ, for it is only by His power that we shall at last become “like Him”, as we read, “Who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory, according to the working of the power which He has even to subdue all things to Himself” ( Php_3:21 , N.Tn.). We cannot do without His past work to settle every question between our souls and God; we cannot do without His present work on high to maintain us day by day; we cannot do without Him to bring about the last great change; and, when in the glory, we shall need Him for all eternity. Our blessing, our joy, our all, is linked with Christ for ever and ever.

Furthermore, while waiting for the last great change, the one who has this hope in Christ will become morally like Him. This hope will have a transforming effect. We are not yet pure as He is pure, but the blessed effect of this hope will be to keep us from evil and purify us according to the perfect standard of purity set forth in Him.

(b) The characteristics of the new life that mark the children of God in contrast with the children of the devil ( 1Jn_3:4-16 )

This portion of the Epistle clearly shows that the new life possessed by the children of God is manifested in a walk marked by righteousness and love, in contrast with the lawlessness and hatred that mark the children of the devil. In verses 4 to 9, the apostle speaks of righteousness in contrast with lawlessness; in verses 10 to 23, he speaks of love in contrast with hatred.

(V. 4). The apostle then contrasts the lawlessness of the old nature with the righteousness of the new nature that believers possess as born of God. He states that, “Every one that practises sin practises also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (N.Tn.). Sin is not simply transgressing a known law, as the defective translation of the Authorised Version suggests. The principle of sin is lawlessness, or doing one's own will apart altogether from any law. As another has said, “Sin is the acting without the curb of law or restraint of another's authority - acting from one's own will” (J.N.D.).

(V. 5). Having defined sin, the apostle immediately turns to Christ to bring before us the One in Whom there “is no sin.” Becoming flesh, He was entirely subject to the will of the Father. Coming into the world, He could say, “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God” ( Heb_10:9 ). Passing through the world He could say, “I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me” ( Joh_5:30 ). Going out of the world, He could say, “Not My will, but Thine, be done” ( Luk_22:42 ). We know, too, that it is by the will of God that believers have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all ( Heb_10:10 ). So the apostle can say, “He was manifested to take away our sins.” In Him, then, there was no sin, or principle of lawlessness.

(V. 6). Partaking of this nature, and abiding in Him, we shall not sin. To abide in Christ is to see Him by faith, know Him by experience, and walk under His influence. The one that sinneth hath not seen Him, nor known Him. The apostle thus contrasts the two natures: the old nature is lawless; the new nature cannot sin. The two natures coexist in the believer; thus the apostle can say in one passage, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” ( 1Jn_1:8 ) and, in this passage, “Whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him.”

(V. 7). We are then warned against all deception. The possession of the new nature is proved, not by profession that people make, but by the way they act. “He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.” If we partake of His life, it will show itself in a walk characterised by righteousness, even as He is righteous.

(V. 8). In contrast with the one that doeth righteousness and is born of God, the one that “practises sin is of the devil” (N.Tn.). Alas! through carelessness the believer may fall into sin, but the one that lives in sin shows clearly that he has the same nature as the devil, who sins from the beginning of his history. The Son of God was manifested to undo the works of the devil in order that believers, with a new nature, might come under the sway of Christ, and, abiding in Him, act in righteousness, even as He is righteous.

(V. 9). In contrast with the one that shows he is of the devil by practising sin, the one that is born of God does not practise sin. There is in him a new seed - divine life - and that life which he has, as born of God, cannot sin. It is true that the flesh is in the believer; but the new nature is a sinless nature, and the believer is viewed as identified with the new nature.

(Vv. 10, 11). With verse 10 the apostle passes on to speak of love. He has shown that “righteousness” in contrast with “lawlessness” distinguishes the children of God from the children of the devil. Now he shows that “love”, in contrast with “hatred”, is a second great characteristic of the new nature. From the beginning of the manifestation of Christ in this world, we have heard that we should love one another. Thus, as the apostle has already turned our thoughts to Christ as the One in Whom righteousness was perfectly expressed (verses 5-7), so now he reminds us of the message that we have heard concerning Christ, for in Him we see the perfect setting forth of divine love.

The life of Christ reproduced in believers will lead us not only to avoid sin, but to manifest the new life by loving one another. It has been truly said, “Mere amiable nature can be found in dogs and other animals, being animal nature; but the love of the brethren is a divine motive. I love them because they are of God. I have communion in divine things with them. A man may be very unamiable naturally, and yet love the brethren with all his heart; and another may be very amiable, and have no love for them at all” (J.N.D.).

(V. 12). In Cain the two evil principles are set forth. Partaking of the nature of the wicked one, he hated his brother; and the root of his hatred was the lawlessness that marked his own life, in contrast with the righteousness that characterised the works of his brother.

(V. 13). The consciousness that Abel's works were good and his own evil stirred up a jealous hatred in the heart of Cain. We need not marvel, then, if, for the same reason, believers are hated by the world.

(V. 14). The world, of which Satan is the prince, is marked by lawlessness and hatred, and is in a condition of moral death. But “we”, those who are believers, “know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” Love is the practical proof of divine life. We meet a child of God, who hitherto has been a perfect stranger to us, one perhaps who may be socially far above us or, on the contrary, in a much more humble sphere of life, or who may be of another land and speak a different tongue, but at once our love goes out the one to the other and we are on more intimate terms than with our relations after the flesh. The reason is simple; we have the same life - eternal life - with the same Object, Christ; we enjoy in common the same affection for Christ and the same desires after Christ.

(Vv. 15, 16). The apostle then shows us the extreme expression of hatred in contrast with the greatest expression of love. Hatred, if unchecked, will lead to murder. The one who hates is in spirit a murderer, and no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

In contrast, we see in Christ the perfect expression of love, in that His love led Him to lay down His life for us. Having His perfect example before us, we should be prepared, in the power of the new life marked by love, to lay down our lives for the brethren. This does not necessarily mean actual death, but the letting go of the life here for Christ's sake ( Mat_16:25 ).

Thus, in the course of this passage, we are reminded that fallen man is under death, marked by lawlessness, hatred and violence. The lawless man is always self-centred, seeking only to gratify himself by doing his own will, apart from all restraint. This, of necessity, leads to the hatred of every one that thwarts his will; and hatred leads to violent acts, expressed in an extreme form by murder.

These are the evil principles that first came to light in the history of Cain and that have ever since marked the course of this world. At the outset of the history of the race, men gave up God as the centre of their thoughts; they became self-centred. God having been given up, there was no bond to hold men together, with the result that they were scattered abroad. The nations into which they were divided became a centre to themselves, each seeking to carry out its own will, and in con-sequence hating all that opposed. Thus jealousy and hatred arose among the nations, leading to violence and war.

Thus all the misery of the world can be traced to the solemn fact that man became a centre to himself, independent of God, or “lawless”. It is plain, then, that the whole world system is marked by these three things: lawlessness, hatred and violence.

In contrast with this world, God has brought to light an entirely new world - the world to come - of which Christ is the centre, and, taking its character from Christ, it is marked by righteousness, love and self-surrender. To enter into God's new world of blessing, we must know Christ that is from the beginning. Hence the apostle insists so constantly on “that which was from the beginning” ( 1Jn_1:1 ; 1Jn_2:7 ; 1Jn_2:13 ; 1Jn_2:14 ). This expression, so characteristic of the apostle's writings, indicates that, from the moment Christ came upon this scene, there was an entirely new beginning. From that time the whole world system begins to pass away, and there comes into view that which abides. “The world is passing, and its lust, but he that does the will of God abides for eternity” ( 1Jn_2:17 , N.Tn.). Christ is the centre of God's great universe of blessing. He is the Word of life, the One Who has perfectly expressed God. We look at Christ and we see that God is light and God is love. But more, Christ not only brings God into the light, He also fits the believer for the light by His blood which cleanseth from all sin.

If Christ is the centre of God's new world of blessing, all in that world must depend upon Him. There are three different circles of blessing, but Christ is the centre of all: the Christian circle comes first; then Israel will be restored and blessed; finally the Gentile nations will come into millennial blessing. The secret of blessing for every circle will be that all are recovered from lawlessness by being brought into dependence upon Christ.

Having set forth Christ from the beginning as the great Centre of God's new universe, the apostle shows how God has wrought with believers to bring them into blessing. In sovereign grace we are born of God, brought into relationship with God, loved with a love that is proper to the relationship, and, at last, we shall appear in the likeness of Christ. In the meantime, as we abide in Christ, we shall be characterised by righteousness, love and self-surrender, seen in its highest form by laying down our lives for our brethren.

(c) The practice of love and its effects (Vv. 17-23)

(Vv. 17, 18). The apostle concludes this portion of his Epistle with a practical application of the truths of which he has been speaking. With the flesh in us it is easy to make a profession of love in word and in tongue. Our deeds, however, will show whether our words are true. If it is in our power to help a brother whom we see to be in need, and yet decline to do so, it will be manifest that our profession of love is vain.

(Vv. 19-21). Walking in love, we shall be free and happy in our intercourse with God. The child that is conscious of disobeying the father's wishes cannot be happy in the father's presence. If our conscience condemn us, we know that God knoweth all things. He is perfectly aware of that which we know to be wrong, and, until the wrong is confessed and judged before God, we cannot enjoy fellowship with God, nor can we have confidence in turning to Him.

Here it is no question of eternal forgiveness or salvation, for the apostle is writing to those who are forgiven and who are in the relationship of children. It is a question of being able to walk in happy liberty with God as children. To have this confidence we must so walk that our hearts do not condemn us for failing in practical love.

(Vv. 22, 23). Walking in the happy confidence that we are doing those things that are right in His sight will give great liberty in turning to the Father in prayer. Keeping His commandments, we shall ask according to God's will and shall be able to count upon an answer to our prayers. If it is guidance for our path, or power to overcome some snare, or sustaining grace for a trial, we shall ask and receive from One Whose power is as great as His love, and Whose ear is ever open to the cry of His children.

His commandments can be summed up by faith in His Son Jesus Christ and love to one another. In the spirit of these commandments the apostle Paul could give thanks for the Colossian saints, praying with confidence for them, for he says,

“We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints” ( Col_1:4 ).


Abiding In God And God In Us

( 1Jn_3:24 - 1Jn_5:5 )

The apostle has presented the two great characteristics of the new nature - righteousness and love. He has exhorted us to live the practical life of love in order that we may walk in confidence before God. He now shows that a walk marked by practical love to one another and confidence before God is only possible as we abide in God and God in us. That these are the leading truths in this portion of the Epistle becomes manifest as we read the passage. In 1Jn_3:24 the apostle writes, “He that keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him”; in 1Jn_4:12 , “If we love one another, God abides in us”; in verse 13, “Hereby we know that we abide in Him, and He in us”; in verse 15, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God”; in verse 16, “He that abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (N.Tn.)

(V. 24). The passage opens by bringing before us the immense privilege that God has given to the believer, whereby it is possible for him to abide in God, and God in him. If walking in obedience to God, we shall abide in Him. This surely means that we abide in the unclouded enjoyment of all that God is in His love and power and holiness, and thus walk before Him in confidence. Moreover, God by His Spirit dwells in us, so that we not only have life, but we have the power to live the life of love and communion.

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 John 3". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/1-john-3.html. 1832.
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