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Bible Commentaries
1 John 3

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Verses 1-3

Children of God

1 John 3:1. In chapter 3 John continues describing the characteristics of the new life by which you can identify the children of God. Before he goes on with that it seems like he is overwhelmed by the thought that we have become children of God. Did that ever happen to you, that you are suddenly awed by the awareness of being a child of God? When you think about it like that, it can deeply touch you. That you are a child of God is a gift of the love of the Father! The Father expresses His love to you by calling you His child. He openly declares that you are His. You could never ever have invented or ventured that yourself. The fact that you definitely are a child of God, can overwhelm you with feelings of gratitude and admiration. You are really a child of God!

I address you as a child of God, in order to bring the message closer to you. Nevertheless it is right to point out that John speaks always about “children of God”, thus in plural. You are a child of God together with others who also are. Together with them you form the family of God. You belong to a company that is not known by the world. It doesn’t mean that the world would not know who you are, but that the world does not recognize you as someone who belongs to its company. That is because the world did not know the Lord Jesus. Since you belong to Him, the world doesn’t know you either.

However, that notably applies not only when you are faithful to the Lord and go your way separated from the world. It also applies when you – which is hoped not to be – would become unfaithful. You see that with Lot, who I believe is the most unfaithful believer that you meet in the Scripture. When he makes a disgusting proposal to his ungodly fellow citizens whom he even called ‘my brethren’, to stop them from committing a disgusting deed, they refer to him by calling him ‘a resident alien’ or one who ‘came to sojourn’ (Genesis 19:4-1 Samuel :). But also Peter, who has found himself in the company of enemies of the Lord Jesus, is being recognized as a person who does not belong there, but that he belongs to the Lord (Matthew 26:69-Susanna :).

1 John 3:2. Once again John speaks out the certainty of the fact that we are children of God. He emphasizes that it is indeed “now” already. By addressing them as “beloved” he underlines their common blessing. He loves them, and the Father and the Son love them even more. It is a love that is being enjoyed in the family circle of God. That’s something the world does not know anything about or has any insight in.

That will change when the Lord Jesus “appears”. Then the world will recognize that He has loved us (John 17:22-Isaiah :). That recognition is, because “we will be like Him”. When the world will see us then, they will see Him. And that we shall be like Him, is because we then “see Him just as He is”.

To be able to see Him as He is, it is necessary for us to be like Him. When we are like Him, the result will be that we will radiate His glory. Beholding Him will cause that transformation (2 Corinthians 3:18).

1 John 3:3. This hope that we have in Him, to see Him, can have nothing else than a purifying effect. If you think of Him and look forward to Him, you will definitely want to be pure “as He is pure”. You will inwardly sense that certain things cannot go hand in hand with the coming meeting with Him. Therefore you will remove all those things out of your life. In that way you already please His heart.

Now read 1 John 3:1-3 again.

Reflection: What effect does the thinking about the coming meeting with the Lord have on you?

Verses 4-12

Practice Righteousness and Brotherly Love

1 John 3:4. John speaks about committing “sin” and “lawlessness”. That forms a great contrast with the hope in Him and the cleansing that results from it, which you have read in the previous verses. Due to that contrast you feel the power of his argument. Cleansing and committing sin belong to two different worlds. He is talking about “everyone who practices sin”. That is not someone who once in a while commits a sin, but someone who commits sin as a way of life. He is doing it all the time, committing sin is the nature of his life. In such a person nothing of God is present. A believer can sin indeed, but as an incident. He does not live in sin; it is not his daily practice.

When a person has sin as a life principle, he is lawless. To be lawless means that he doesn’t consider any authority at all. His unbridled will is his only driving force. He does not matter about God at all. On the contrary, he lives in rebellion against Him (Job 15:25). Therefore lawlessness goes much further than violation of the law of God. If lawlessness was limited to transgression of the law, sin would be limited to the period of the law. But also before there was the law, there was sin in the world (Romans 5:13).

1 John 3:5. There has been one Man, Who had never sinned, because there is no sin in Him. That is the Lord Jesus. He was manifested – that is when He came to the earth – to take away the sins of others. He took away yours and mine and of all God’s children by taking them on Himself at the cross in the three hours of darkness. He was able to do that, precisely because there was no sin in Him.

1 John 3:6. The result is that you abide in Him now, meaning that you have been made one with Him because you have received Him as your life. That is why you do not sin. That is a strong statement of course. You will immediately say that that’s not true, for you know very well that you still do sin. But the point is that you should see yourself as John presents it here. He says that you abide in Him and that implies that he see the same features with you as he sees with the Lord Jesus. That what is typical for the Lord Jesus is now typical for you too.

John sees you in your new nature, separately from the extent in which your new nature is visible. That is one side of the truth. The other side is that “who sins” has no part in God and Christ at all. No one who sins has seen or known both God and Christ. Such a person has nothing in common with God, how wonderful his confession may be. His confession of a higher knowledge of God and a deep experience with God is a lie.

As far as the practice is concerned, it is certain that you do not sin if you remain in fellowship with the Lord in your daily life, whereby you inquire of His will and obey His Word in everything. Nevertheless, that is not the issue here. It is not about two kinds of believers, faithful ones and unfaithful ones, but about two sources out of which they live. The source out of which the believer lives is a totally different one than the source out of which the unbeliever lives. That is what John is talking about.

1 John 3:7. John is addressing his spiritual “little children” and is warning them for the deceivers. Deceivers want to sow doubt about Christ and His work and they will even deny it. They seek to make you uncertain about the characteristics of the children of God. Do not let yourself be influenced by them, but hold on to the clear statements of God’s Word. Do not depend on your feelings. Of course they have their place, but they are not a basis for knowing the truth of God.

You are a child of God and you have the same nature like God and the Lord Jesus. If He, that is Christ, is righteous, then you too are. Jesus Christ is the Righteous, He has laid down His life for you and you abide in Him. He is the absolute measure. If you see a person who practices righteousness, which means who does what is right according to God, you see somebody who does what the Lord Jesus is. Such a person is therefore also righteous.

1 John 3:8. The opposite of practicing righteousness is committing sin. In someone who commits sin you recognize the devil. The origin of sin lies with the devil. The devil sins from the very beginning of his existence as devil. He is the father of sin. He who sins, exposes the traits of that father (John 8:44). The devil cannot do anything else than sin; it is his nature and he cannot do anything else but act accordingly. From the beginning he has men under his control through sin. Each man who is under his control, sins like he does. Therefore no man is able to escape from the control of the devil or to liberate another man from his control.

But the devil does not have the last word and he is not the victor. The victory belongs to the Son of God. What John says about Him, sounds like a victory call: “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” Every time that somewhere on earth someone comes to conversion, a work of the devil is being destroyed. You who believe are a proof of that. That’s the reason why the Son of God came to the earth and finished the work on the cross.

1 John 3:9. The opposite of ‘being of the devil’ and ‘committing sin’ is ‘being born of God’ and ‘not committing sin’. “Who is born of God”, has life that has its origin in God. That life comes in a person without any contribution of himself. That life has its own characteristics. These characteristics are typical for the seed of God. What comes out of a seed corresponds to the same seed (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:38). Sin is totally alien to the seed of God. From that seed no sin is being produced; it does not cause anyone to commit sin and it cannot sin, just like in Him, the Lord Jesus, there is no sin. He could not possibly sin. He is absolutely separated from sin (Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26).

If you are born of God, it is the work of God’s Word and God’s Spirit (John 3:5). That is the seed John is talking about here (1 Peter 1:23). The seed is the new life principle that God has planted in you. In order to plant that seed, God’s Word was preached and it came to and within you through the power of the Holy Spirit. In that way you were inwardly purified and the new life has come within you, where it is developed and growing (cf. James 1:18; James 1:21).

1 John 3:10. Therefore a person belongs to the children of God or to the children of the devil. Here you see two families opposite to each other. These two families is where the whole human race consists of. Both families have their own typical family characteristics. John indicates what is not present with the children of God. When you notice that someone is lacking the practice of righteousness and also brotherly love, then it is obvious that you are not dealing with a child of God but with a child of the devil. Children of the devil have no new life and are therefore in no way able to practice righteousness and to love the brothers.

Practicing righteousness and brotherly love are two separate characteristics of the new life, but they belong together. They cannot even do without each other. Here you see the characteristics of the essence of God of Whom John says that He is light and love. Therefore wherever righteousness and brotherly love are not to be found there is nothing of God to be found, but the devil is revealed.

1 John 3:11. To this statement John attaches the message “that we should love one another”. You have heard this message from the beginning. Nothing else has ever been told to you. In the Old Testament there was the command to love your neighbor. Due to that the question arose who then was your neighbor. To the Israelite it was his compatriot. The Gentiles were hated as a whole. The Israelites were not supposed to love them, but they had to eliminate them. In the New Testament you come across a new order of dealing with matters. There you come across the term ‘brothers’. Throughout this term a particular dignity can be heard.

The Lord Jesus speaks about His own as “My sheep” and “My friends” (John 10:27; John 15:14), but only in John 20 He speaks about “My brothers” for the first time (John 20:17). He does that after He has risen. He calls His disciples like that in His message which He by Mary Magdalene conveyed to them. In that way He puts them on the level before His Father and His God that He Himself has. His Father has become their Father too and His God is now their God. That is something totally new. It is no longer about ‘the neighbor’ of an earthly people, but there is mention of a new, heavenly company: the family of God.

1 John 3:12. As an example of a lack of brotherly love and what it leads to, John quotes, as an exception, a history from the Old Testament. He refers to Cain. That man had no brotherly love, but was “of the evil one”. He revealed that too by killing his brother. His brother is Abel. John doesn’t mention that name, because he wants to fully emphasize that he killed his brother. That deed was one of his evil works, while the works of his brother were righteous. He who is from the evil one, practices evil works. By also mentioning the works of his brother, which were righteous, John shows that Cain was driven by hatred.

In the New Testament you read three times about Cain: about the sacrifice of Cain (Hebrews 11:4), the works of Cain (here) and the way of Cain (Jude 1:11):
1. From his sacrifice his self-centered religiosity, his indifference towards God’s holiness, appears.
2. From his works his anger, the lack of brotherly love, appears.
3. From his way it appears that he turned his back to God.

That is how it went from bad to worse with Cain. That is the result when a person, who has no life from God, is confronted with righteous works. That confrontation shows the lack of these works.

Now read 1 John 3:4-12 again.

Reflection: What characteristics do you see with someone who is of God and what characteristics do you see with someone who is of the devil?

Verses 13-18

The Practice of Love

1 John 3:13. In 1 John 3:12 you have seen what Cain did to his brother. Just like Cain dealt with his brother, the world deals like that with you. You are someone who is born of God. That’s why the life from God is within you and becomes visible. That stirs up the hatred of the world, for it feels condemned thereby. Even if you do not say anything, your whole life is a testimony against the world that does not consider God. The world doesn’t want to have anything to do with God, but because of you it cannot avoid Him. You are going through the same experience like Abel did and also like the Lord Jesus. The hatred mainly comes from the religious world. Cain was a religious person when he murdered his brother. The Lord Jesus was murdered by the religious leaders of His people.

The world where you will experience intolerance and hatred the most is the religious world where nominal Christians are in control. You may probably be surprised when that happens. You do not need to, John says here (cf. Revelation 17:6-Judges :), because you belong to a company, which he for only once in his letter addresses here with “brethren”, with which he indicates both brothers and sisters. This name radiates the warmth of the family relation in contrast to the cold hatred of the world.

1 John 3:14. Due to this family relation and the appreciation of it you know that you have been transferred from death into life. You love your brothers. That love may be put to the test at times and you may feel more affection for the one than for the other person but that love is certainly there. If you consider that the Lord Jesus has died for you as well as for your brother and that your brother also loves the Lord Jesus, then there is that ‘match’. You are on the territory of life and not on the territory of death anymore. Brotherly love belongs to life and not to death. On the territory of death, death is in control; people are being murdered there. On the territory of life there is a sphere of life and you are surrounded by the sphere of love.

“He who does not love”, has no part in that, but “abides in death”. Needless to say that here it is about someone who uses the word ‘brother’, but has no new life. Such a person lives in death, abides in death, the sphere and aroma of death is around him. However, he is not only surrounded by death, but death characterizes him, it is also within him.

1 John 3:15. A person who does not love his brother and who abides in death is also a person who hates his brother. He looks at his brother with eyes that are full of lethal hatred. His mind is that of a “murderer”. He does not seek the life of his brother, but he seeks his death. You know that such a person has no eternal life abiding in him. He never had, it is totally absent within him. False teachers do not seek to nourish the new life but they seek to poison the faith of God’s children with false teachings.

1 John 3:16. With love it is totally different. That does not seek the death but the life for the brothers. Love even goes that far that it even enters death to give life to others. Love is something you are to know first yourself in order to be able to love others. The only way to learn to know love is by receiving it. You are not able to love if you yourself have not received love, if another person has not shown love to you first. You have learnt to know love through the Son of God, by what He did for you on the cross (Galatians 2:20). He has laid down His life for you.

An example. When you see that someone is almost drowning and another person rescues him, but in the course of rescuing him the rescuer himself drowned, you see love. However, that is love at a distance. You observe it, but you are not involved. If you, however, are almost drowning and a person rescues you at the cost of his own life, then you personally will surely experience what love is.

The Lord Jesus has laid down His life for you. That is the highest expression of love. There is no greater proof of love possible (John 15:13). And what is the result of that deed of love? Life. Do you see the full contrast to what motivates Cain and the world and what is inspiring the false teachers? Their inspirer is the devil. The devil lives in the sphere of death and breathes hatred in his instruments in order to murder as many people as he possibly can. With Christ belongs life; He is the center of the territory of life.

Christ was killed by murderers. Nevertheless it is not presented like that here. Here it is said that He “laid down” His life. It is a deed of Himself. He gave His life. That is the highest and absolute proof of love that a person has for another. He is love, His nature, His Being, is love and you have experienced that love, for He had mercy on you. At the same time that is the measure for your love towards your brothers and sisters. If He is your life, then it works in you in the same way as it works in Him. Then you ought to lay down your life for your brothers and sisters as well. That goes very far, isn’t it?

1 John 3:17. But do you think that this will really be expected of you in practice? As far as I am concerned I assume that there is quite a little chance for that to happen, almost out of the question. It also seems that John takes that into consideration. Therefore he gives another test from which you can show what you would sacrifice for your brother or sister. You may not literally give your life for your brother or sister, but you surely can put your life at their disposal, you can commit yourself to them (1 Corinthians 16:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:8). How do you do that?

Well, you have this world’s goods. You see your brother or sister is suffering want. The question is how you respond to that. He who has no life of God, in whom the love of God does not abide, will shut up his heart from him. In case there is life of God, if the love of God indeed abides in you, then you will surely respond in a totally different way. There will be a desire to provide for that want, for that lack, with the earthly goods that you have.

Notice that the brother or sister doesn’t ask for help, but that love will notice and observe the want. Love acts without being requested for any help. It is also remarkable that the expression for “world’s goods” literally is ‘the livelihood of the world’. As long as we are in this world we need a livelihood and we ought to share that with others who are in need of it. James tells his readers that he who says he has faith, must show that by giving where there is lack (James 2:15). John takes the possession of the new eternal life as a starting point. Here you see that the most exceeding truths have their effect in the most daily circumstances.

In these truths the rules of the people of Israel towards the poor and rich Israelites are also an illustration for us (Deuteronomy 15:7-1 Kings :). When there were poor Israelites, it was a test for the neighbor’s love of the rich Israelites. There was no possibility to look for excuses to escape from the obligation to give to the poor neighbor. A hardened heart kept his hand shut. He who had a hardened heart showed that he did not trust God for the promise of blessing He made. In the language of John we may say that in such a person the love of God did not abide. There was no love for God and no love for the neighbor.

1 John 3:18. To love is not a matter of only words or of talking about it in general terms. Of course true love may become apparent from words. You can prove your love to others by what you say. However, John says this with a view to the false teachers who do have sweet talks, but without any real care for the believers. They shut up their heart for others and seek to obtain other people’s properties. They also want them to subject themselves to them (cf. Galatians 2:4-Deuteronomy :). In this light you should see this appeal not to love “with word or with tongue, but in deed and in truth”.

To love is a matter of deed and ought to happen in truth. Truth is not the doctrine here, but has to do with truth in the inner man (Psalms 51:6). The point is that love is true and sincere. One should not give on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis. When you give from the thought to get better off, you lack sincerity.

It is possible to get better off from a situation or something in both material and spiritual view. You also may for instance give something to another person or do something for him, in order to get all the credits for it. Then also you can hardly speak of a sincere love. Even a feeling of self-satisfaction is inappropriate. That’s what the Lord Jesus means when He in this same context – expressing benevolence – says, that you should not let your left hand know what your right hand does (Matthew 6:3).

When the new life is working you will love in deed and in truth without thinking of yourself. We are to learn that in practice. We can only learn that from the Lord Jesus. He gave fully and selflessly, without thinking of Himself.

Now read 1 John 3:13-18 again.

Reflection: How do you practice your love for your brother and sister?

Verses 19-24

Confidence Before God

1 John 3:19. In the previous verses you have read about the proofs of brotherly love. John now remarks that when you not only speak about brotherly love, but also show it, it confirms that you are “of the truth”. To be of the truth means that you are born of God. You may probably notice that the proofs are weak and that you must improve in your practice of giving, but the important thing is that it is present. As you know, the important thing for John is the new life. If that is present, it will work like that. He does not speak about the extent in which it becomes visible, but about the fact that it becomes visible.

When it becomes visible in your life you can assure your heart or your conscience in the presence of God that everything is okay. This is not an excuse for possible failures, but it is the comfort for an anxious soul that may start to doubt because of the failures.

1 John 3:20. When you speak about brotherly love you will surely, just like me, directly notice in your conscience that you pretty much fall short of that. It can even be the case that you catch yourself pretending in a certain case, while you do not sense the real brotherly love at that moment. If that’s the case, if your heart condemns you, then you may remember that God is greater than your heart and that He knows everything. All those times that you did not show brotherly love may lead you to the question whether you really are a Christian. It is after all a characteristic of the new life that you love your brothers, isn’t it? Nevertheless you may assure your heart that everything is alright and that God is greater and knows everything.

He knows you completely. He knows what is in you. You may say: ‘You know all things, You know that I love You, even though I sometimes fail to show it’ (see John 21:17). You can entrust yourself to His judgment and that is a lot better than that of people and of yourself (1 Corinthians 4:3-Numbers :).

1 John 3:21. When your heart has found rest in that and it doesn’t condemn you, it will have a great impact on your relationship with God. Earlier you must have felt some doubt to draw near to God, because you looked at yourself and your practice too much. On the one hand it is dangerous to constantly look at yourself. Then you will remain to live between hope and fear, for your practice will always show lacks. Therefore it is so important to listen to the message of John, what he says about the new, eternal life. On the other hand it is also dangerous never to look at yourself. Once you have eternal life, it does not mean that you can live your life recklessly. You wouldn’t even want that, of course. You’ll be aware of the fact that sin is still in you and that you still do sin. John said that also at the beginning of this letter (1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10).

The important thing is that you have received a new starting point for your life. That starting point is not your practice, but your new life. If you know that God sees you therein, and if you, as far as you are aware of that, don’t do wrong things nor that there are things that you still have to confess, you can rejoice in a confident relationship with God.

“Have confidence” is an impressive word. It is a great privilege to have confidence toward God. You have obtained access to God (Ephesians 2:18) and now you are at home with Him. You feel comfortable with Him and you are allowed to tell Him whatever you have on your mind. That goes together with your relationship to Him as a child. Everything in your relationship with Him is all peace (Romans 5:1). You are allowed to tell Him everything that you desire (Philippians 4:6). It will never occur to Him that you are too much for Him or that you bore Him with your requests. It is a confidence which is perfect, because He is perfect.

This also precisely fits to the theme of the writings of John, which concerns the fellowship with the Father and the Son. Here he speaks about an undisturbed relationship of love between the children of God and the Father. He describes the family atmosphere.

1 John 3:22. In that sphere, wherein children feel themselves at home, wherein they know to be accepted, they pray to the Father for things that they need. They know that the Father loves to give them the things that they ask for, because they know the desires of the Father. The Father also loves to give them those things, because the children behave like He, the Father, desires them to. When He looks at them and sees that they “keep His commandments” and in that way “do the things that are pleasing in His sight”, they please His heart. They are a joy for Him. The children are free to tell Him everything that they have on their mind and the Father is free to give them everything He has on His mind for them. This situation is one of harmony, of pleasure.

When you have read these things I can imagine that you think: ‘I’m not familiar with this kind of praying. Only asking what the Father loves to give me? Knowing that I will get what I’ve asked for, because I keep His commandments and do what is pleasing to Him? There is no way I can do that.’ In this context it is a good thing to firstly say that there are several forms of praying.

You read about a way of praying for which we do not even know how to find the right words. Those are the “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26), whereby the Holy Spirit puts our feelings into words that we cannot put into words. The relief of this form of praying is that you know that God makes all things work together for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:26-Hosea :).

The second form is to let your requests be made known to God. You may not know whether you pray for the right things, but you may surely tell it all to Him. The relief that this form of praying gives, is the peace of God that fills your heart and mind with the awareness that He knows what is good for you (Philippians 4:6-Judges :).

You have the third form here. This form comes from the rest that you have in and of God, while also a condition is attached to it. However, it is not a condition whereby you are to do something, but a condition you already fulfil. You can derive that from the word “because”. It is not said that you receive from Him if you keep His commandments, but because you keep His commandments, due to which you are pleasing to Him.

1 John 3:23. Which are the commandments here? In 1 John 3:23 you read about His commandment to “believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ”, to which directly is related the commandment that we should “love one another”. That means that it is all about ‘faith’ and ‘brotherly love’. You have already seen that those aspects are with you. And that helps to make it more comprehensible.

In order to obtain the full benefit of praying, it is important that you feel at home with God and that you live in fellowship with Him. The only way to get to know Him and what His will is, is examining His Word in fellowship with Him. That will strengthen your faith confidence and make you familiar with His desires. That will also cause you to ask Him for that in a childlike faith. He bestows you what He wants to give you, but He loves to do that as an answer to your prayer.

Therefore it is not about whether, but that you keep His commandments. When you read which commandments they are, it appears that there is only one commandment that consists of two aspects. The first aspect of the commandment is to believe “on the Name of His Son Jesus Christ”. You may call it the vertical aspect of the commandment. Believing has got to do with heeding, listening to Him on Whom your faith is focused. Directly related to that is the aspect “to love one another”. You may call this second aspect the horizontal aspect of the commandment. You cannot separate loving from the faith in God’s son.

The core of Christendom is love, but actually only God’s love. It is not true that everything that people call love is from God and that everywhere where love is God is too and we therefore would be dealing with Christians. ‘Love is God’ is a misguiding, horrible saying. No, men can only truly love one another with the love of God when they believe in the Son of God. The commandment to love one another comes from Him. It was not imposed on you in order for you to prove that you keep the law and that you want to earn life, but it is to prove that you have eternal life.

1 John 3:24. Keeping His commandments shows that you abide in Him and that He abides in you. Keeping them is not only about knowing them, being acquainted with them or being able to enumerate them. It is also not even just doing what is said. Keeping the commandments means that you ponder on them because it is your joy to ponder on them. God loves to see that you practice His commandments with a heart that desires to do His will. It was so with the Lord Jesus during His life on earth (Psalms 119:47; Psalms 119:35). That also goes for the new life that you have, for He is that new life. It also goes for the law of the ten commandments, but that law is absorbed in the much more comprehensive and more profound commandment of the will of the Father.

As an extra security that He abides in you, John is saying to you that God has also given you His Spirit. You know that you have received Him, don’t you (Ephesians 1:13)? Well, that underlines that you have new life. The Spirit Who is in you, convinces you that the Lord Jesus is the eternal life in you. Isn’t that a great confirmation from God?

Now read 1 John 3:19-24 again.

Reflection: What about your confidence toward God? What do you ask Him?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 John 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-john-3.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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