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Bible Commentaries
1 John 3

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-24

This chapter continues the subject introduced in ch.2:28. Verse 29 has shown that righteousness is an absolute requirement. It is indeed a solid, sound basis for the precious bestowal of the love of the Father, as in verse 1: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.” Where the claims of righteousness are honorably and properly fulfilled, the love of the Father’s heart is free to flow forth in its unutterable fulness, and the heart of the recipient prepared to expand in purest delight in the contemplation of that love. Precious, living reality! But the attention of the child of God must be drawn to this by the Word of God: and the awakening word, “Behold” is intended to kindle the earnest interest of the soul in this marvelous outflow of the Father’s heart, so vital to the welfare of all His children. To know that we are loved perfectly, eternally, and with infinite wisdom, is how wonderful an answer to all the present exercises of trial and conflict on earth.

But not only is this love emphasized here, but “what manner of love.” Philanthropy may call itself love because of giving lavishly, and perhaps lifting one out of circumstances of misery and poverty into those of prosperity and comfort. In a certain manner this may be called love; but it is far short of the Father’s love. Here is a manner of love that not only rescues enemies from a state of sin and utter ruin; clothes, feeds and enriches them; but is satisfied with nothing less than bringing them into His own house permanently as His own children. True, pure love finds its delight in the nearness of the objects of that love. And He owns them publicly as His children, taking delight in calling them this. There can be no doubt that believers in the Old Testament were actually children of God, but they were not called this, because the full manifestation of the Father’s love could not be known until the Lord Jesus had come and atoned for sin on Calvary. Now that the love of the Father is so revealed and known, believers are known as the children of God. May we meditate well upon the noble dignity of this holy established relationship, and learn to walk consistently with it.

But from the world we can expect not the slightest understanding of this, no more than their understanding of the Lord Jesus. That exotic nature of divine love and holiness in Him, while it drew in some cases a wondering admiration, and in others a jealous hatred, was in reality strange and unknown to the world: the same nature in the child of God makes him in a real sense a foreigner in the world.

However, the more real the sense of our strangership here, the more we shall delight in the certainty of our eternal relationship with the Father, and the sweetness of it. “Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it cloth 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.” This holy relationship is at present established, and for eternity. Yet, while we are owned as God’s children, and intended therefore to partake of the privileges and blessings of this unchanging relationship, our present condition is far from the pure, foil manifestation of future glory; for we are hampered by the painful impurities of a sinful nature.

What we shall be will only be manifested when our blessed Lord is manifested. Surely we should not desire it other wise, for in this way the glory will all be given to Himself, rather than that one iota of it should be given to us. But we know that we shall be like Him then, and this will fill our souls with utter satisfaction. “For we shall see Him as He is. “ The thought here is not that the sight of Him will transform us then, however precious a transforming power there is even now in looking into His face (2 Corinthians 3:18); but rather that, since the promise is given us of our beholding His face in righteousness, then it follows that we must be like Him, for only in having been made like Him will it be possible to take in the beauty and glory of His Person, “as He is.” In fact, it will be His own voice that raises and changes the sleeping saints, and changes the living also “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” so that before being caught up to meet Him in the air, we shall already be changed into His image.

With what inexpressible joy then shall we gaze upon Him “as He is.” Not as He was in the days of His earthly sojourn, but in the beauty and glory of His acceptance at the Father’s right hand, in holy victory and supremacy. Nothing of our sinful nature shall be there to mar our appreciation of Himself; every impurity shall have been completely removed.

But the very anticipation of this has a present, genuine effect. “And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” Every true believer therefore purifies himself, and the measure in which he does so will be consistent with the measure in which his soul is affected by this hope in Christ. The more he longs for this blessed manifestation, the more he will judge those impurities that will then be utterly banished. Christ will be his Object, Him who “is pure;” and knowing he “shall be like Him,” he seeks in his moral character to be now as much like Him as possible. What living power is resident in such precious hope! This we know had wonderful effect upon the testimony of the Thessalonians soon after conversion their “endurance of hope” (ch.1:3) in the face of great persecution bearing witness of a living, real faith, so that their energy of testimony was an example to all the assemblies.

But there are those who do not at all purify themselves; and if so, no matter how fair their profession may appear, they are really lawless and unconverted. “Everyone that practiseth sin practiseth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (Numerical Bible). The translation of the King James version is recognized by scholars to be wrong in this case. Sin is not merely the transgression of the law, but the energy of a lawless will, the insubjection of a rebellious nature. One who is characterized by the practice of sin, given to indulging his own will, is practicing lawlessness, which is plain refusal of subjection to God’s authority. He does not care to purify himself because he does not know Him who is pure. If he knew Him, he would have learned (in some measure at least) to hate sin.

“And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin.” The amazing manifestation of “God manifest in flesh” involved the blessed purpose of fully taking away sins. We know this required the dread suffering and death of Calvary. His manifestation in grace was no overlooking of sin, but the judgment of it, together with the removal of the guilt of many sins. The believer wants nothing of this again on his shoulders. Indeed, he looks with deepest delight into the face of His great Deliverer, glorying in the blessed truth, In Him is no sin.” Here is his Object and his Standard, however far below this he knows and feels himself to be.

“Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him.” There is no middle ground here. John is emphatic in rejecting mere false profession. The very nature by which a believer abides in Christ is a nature that repudiates sin: therefore if one’s character is that which practices sin, he is an utter stranger to the blessed Lord. It is the proper character of a believer not to sin. The apostle of course does not here take into account the failings of a true believer, such as he does in ch.2:1, where the word is applicable to the true child of God, “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This is the case of one overtaken by evil, and acting contrary to his character as born of God, and for whom restoration is immediately available. But in ch.3:6, “whosoever sinneth” refers to one unsaved, characterized by sinning.

“Children, let no man lead you astray: he that practiseth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that practiseth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning” (Numerical Bible). A man’s practice indicates his character. Let the children of God carefully consider this, and not be swayed by mere specious words. The practice of righteousness however is not the mere practise of humanitarian kindness and moral principles of which the world can approve. If it does not manifest true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is not righteousness at all, for the claims of God’s righteousness are certainly paramount. His righteousness is seen in Christ, and a true believer will in his measure, display a definite resemblance in character to that of his Master. In complete contrast, the sinful practice of an unbeliever shows him to be “of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.” However refined and specious the character of his sin, however deceiving to some minds, it is yet sin, an offense against the blessed Person of the Lord Jesus.

Let us observe here that the apostle is closely testing that which professes to be Christian. The devil will introduce every counterfeit he possibly can, and it is of course possible that one may pass for a time without detection, for his sinful character will be covered by a veneer of apparent moral rectitude, but it will not agree with the genuine clear exercise of the divine life in the believer; so that this will soon be exposed where saints are walking with God in faith and truth. We ought not to be deceived.

“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” There is no agreement at any point between the works of the devil and the works of the Son of God. It is fully true that the devil must have the permission of God before he is allowed to practice his hateful and deceitful works upon man; but God in sovereign wisdom allows this in order to test and reveal man’s true condition, for it will eventually expose the actual hatred toward God that exists in the unbelieving heart, and on the other hand will serve to bring out more clearly the godly faith of one whose faith is truly in Christ. Indeed the manifestation of the Son of God in the world presents an Object of perfection and beauty to the eye of the believer that challenges and silences the evil activity of the devil. Moral power is there to defeat Satanic wiles. But His blessed voluntary sacrifice of Himself on Calvary is the full destruction of the power of the devil (compare Hebrews 2:14). For there sin (the only weapon in the hand of Satan) has been fully met and atoned for by the blessed Son of God. Can the believer therefore have the slightest sympathy with the works of the devil, which Christ came to destroy? Does sin have any place whatever in the new life given us by grace?

This is strongly answered in verse 9: “Whosoever is begotten of God doth not practice sin, because His seed abideth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God” (Numerical Bible). It should be perfectly clear that the apostle speaks here strictly of the nature that is born of God. New birth provides a nature that is incapable of sin. The seed of the Word of God has been planted permanently in the soul, and that seed can only produce according to its character of spotless purity. The believer therefore cannot practice sin: if he does at any time sin, this is an act foreign to his proper nature, the product of the flesh, which remains in him, though he is “not in the flesh” (Romans 8:9). There is a remedy for this, as we have seen in our epistle (ch.2:1), but no excuse whatever, for the least sin is contrary to our proper nature as born of God. Our verse does not then teach anything like perfection in the flesh, but it does teach perfection in the seed of the Word of God and its results in the newborn soul.

“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.” It is a matter here of testing the claims of one professing to be Christian. The tares, planted by an enemy (Matthew 13:25) among the wheat, are said to be “the children of the wicked one.” It is the enemy’s effort to paralyze all true Christian testimony by the introduction of what is evil and poisonous. It is evidently a mistake to brand all unbelievers as “children of the devil,” for in those instances that Scripture records, the term is applied only to those apparently sold into the service of Satan, religious, yet actually anti christian, however cunningly this is covered. On the other hand, all unbelievers are called “children of wrath,” “children of disobedience,” because children of Adam. But mere deceitful profession of Christianity is a dreadful position for one to take. If haughty self will and self pleasing is evident in this, the case is all too likely that of a child of the devil. Far better not to know the way of righteousness, than after having known it, to turn to the corruption of callous deceit (2 Peter 2:21-22). The two marks then must be present, righteousness of practice and love of the brethren, or the profession is false; true life is not there.

“For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 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.” Exemplified perfectly in the character and ways of the Lord Jesus, and diligently taught in His ministry, this real energy of love cannot be ignored by any who claim to know Him. There is no mention in Genesis of any of Cain’s evil works prior to his murdering Abel, except his offering to God of the fruit of the ground. God considered it an evil work, whereas Cain no doubt thought it to be a fine display of his own energy and labor. But it savored of cool disobedience to the known will of God, Who could allow no sacrifice save that in which the death of His own Son was typified. The very spirit of Cain then was evil, and his bold disregard of God’s word was evil. Also his stubborn rebellion, when God spoke to him afterward, was another work of evil. It came to a head and expressed itself in hatred against his brother, whose works of obedience he despised. On the other hand, where faith is in operation, love only finds the more delight in another, the more obedient and devoted that one should be. Mere human pride, with its attendant works, will always lead one in hatred against the obedient child of God. The murderous enmity of the Pharisees against the Lord Jesus was strictly because of His devoted obedience to God: those who hate Him will hate those who follow Him, and in just such measure as they actually do follow.

“Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” It is no strange or unusual thing that the world should hate the child of God, for the world has publicly and decidedly rejected Christ, and any confession of Him or any reflection of His own blessed character is an offense to the world. The believer therefore should calmly accept this, and show love in return. For the strong assurance of verse 14 is of unspeakable comfort in this regard. The world is in ignorance, while the believer has absolute knowledge of his having already passed from death into life. No need to fear the world’s hatred then, or even death at their hands. Nothing can touch the life he has from God.

But the basis of assurance here mentioned is “because we love the brethren.” This real activity of love that has genuine preference for the company of the brethren, the family of God, is a clear proof of the presence of the new life in the soul. This is not the only basis of assurance, however, for John also speaks of others, as in ch.2:5; 3:24; 4:13; 5:13. Blessed fulness of provision, of certainty, of stability for every child of God! But one who claims to be Christian, yet does not love his brother, that is, those who are redeemed children of God, and whose brother he professes to be, such an one has no life at all: he “abideth in death.”

“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” Hatred is the very spirit of murder. The apostle of course speaks of the man’s nature here, not of his acts, though the hateful nature of Cain issued in his actual murder of Abel. The antichrist will at first be apparently very friendly with the believing remnant of Israel, his words “smoother than butter,” but “war was in his heart;” so that callous persecution will take the place of his smooth words. The hatred of Judas did not actually expose itself for three and a half years, but then he was proven a murderer also. Dreadful designation of all who use a form of godliness as a cloak of deception!

“Hereby we know love, because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (Numerical Bible). Let us closely observe here that His sacrificial death is considered as on behalf of those who have been redeemed by it, for only those have experienced the blessed results of it. It is true enough that His life on earth was laid down in service to His saints, but this did not cease until that life was laid down in utter sacrifice in His death on Calvary, which is of incalculable blessing to every child of God. This was no mere sacrifice for the sake of helping mankind generally to a greater degree of freedom and “self-determination,” as today men will dare to speak of it, as though His death could be compared to those of men who have championed some humanitarian cause, so called “civil rights” or whatever else, and have died in the attempt to “make a better world.” The Lord Jesus attempted no such thing: He came for the purpose of offering Himself in sacrifice for the remission of our sins. He sought no public recognition, but asserted the rights of God, not civil rights. Men who struggle to 1iberate the world,” as they fondly imagine, are but engulfing themselves and the world in a more dreadful bondage to the power of sin and of Satan, for they ignore the rights of God. All of this contributes to the awful accumulation of self will, pride, greed, and rebellion that will cry out for the judgment of God in the rapidly approaching “great tribulation.”

Yet the fact of His laying down His life for us is also an example for us; so that “we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” If this should end in death, so be it, but our lives ought to be laid down in service for the sake of the saints of God, which involves living for them, not only dying for them if occasion requires. Again, this is not the devoting our lives merely to a noteworthy cause, however noble it may appear, but to the glory of God and for the sake of the blessing of the true children of God, not of the world.

“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?” Is this not to be a real, personal exercise and responsibility as before God? This is no demanding of the government that the poor should be relieved from public funds, while taking nothing from my own pocket; nor is it the founding of a benefit society to solicit the support of the world for the relief of the poor. The Lord give His people serious concern to see that their means are used for the blessing of others, and here it is specially the household of faith. If we ignore evident needs, is this an evidence of the love of God dwelling in us? To give where there is not need is of course a mistake; yet it is better to err on the side of kindness than on the side of greed and heartlessness.

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.” In ‘word’ is the actual expression coming from our lips, which may be very good, but with no actions to back it up. In ‘tongue’ would rather indicate the manipulation of the words, the art of persuasive speech. How empty is this if its truth is not attested in our deeds.

“And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.” We have observed other evidences of reality in the epistle, but here is one that must be carefully considered also. Loving in deed and truth is love expressed practically, and this is itself a confirmation to our own souls of the reality of our faith: our hearts are assured before Him by such results of the new life within.

“For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” Where the heart is exercised conscientiously before God, then any inconsistent practice, such as selfish ignoring of others, will rightly cause our heart to condemn us. There will be a troubled, uncomfortable state of conscience. What is the resource of the soul in such a case? “God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” To turn away from God would be utter folly, for in such a need, He is our only Refuge. Moreover, He knows more than we do as regards our failure, and knows also how to overcome it. This must of course humble our hearts, in recognition that God is greater, but with the humbling will come blessing. Let us then on every occasion of failure and self condemnation, turn utterly to God, in Whose wisdom and love we may confide. There is restoration here and grace to lead us aright in the future.

“Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” Disobedience to God, ignoring of personal conscience, is the one hindrance. If there is transparent honesty, rather, in acting rightly as before God, the soul will have real confidence toward God, no mistrust, no suspicion, no ill at ease embarrassment. Our prayers will be in no spirit of mere selfish greed, but of confidence that God will answer them the best way for us. We shall ask in faith, rather than complain that things are not as we want them. And we shall receive: there is no doubt whatever about it: God has pledged His Word. If one should not receive, then it only follows that obedience is compromised somewhere.

“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.” This commandment is of course absolute: there is no Christianity without obedience to it: it is the commandment of a new life, and basic to all Christianity. Faith and love are its intrinsic, indispensable characteristics.

Let us not merely reply that these are true of every believer in Christ; but rather ask ourselves how fully true they are of ourselves in reference to putting them into daily practice. Faith and love should be the basic motives for everything in our lives: all that is inconsistent with this is contrary to our true nature. Faith of course recognizes that the claims of the Lord Jesus are paramount: it gives Him the place of highest dignity, and delights to submit to His authority. But love toward one another is the necessary accompaniment of this. Let it then have its full, unhindered character in every department of our lives. Is it not with this consistency in view that the apostle adds, “as He gave us commandment”?

“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.” This basic character of obedience to His commandments is the proof of abiding in Him, the proof of a vital connection of eternal life with the Source of that life. The believer dwells in God, or in the Son, both being clearly implied; and God dwells in him, or the Son dwells in him. Divine life has its perfect and abiding interflow. Moreover, another mark of the believer’s assurance is added here: the Spirit of God given to us, and Who makes real to us the truths of the Word we are considering, is Himself the Witness that God abides in us. The Spirit of God moves the heart to act in deed and truth, and this is evidence of reality: then the actual loving in deed and truth is another evidence, as we have seen in verse 19.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 John 3". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/1-john-3.html. 1897-1910.
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