Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
1 John 3

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-2

1Jn 3:1-2


(1Jn 3:1 to 1 John 5:12)


(1 John 3:1-2)

1 Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.--The first verses of 1 John 3 continue and advance the thought set out in the final verse of the second chapter of the Epistle. Having declared that those who exhibit righteousness in their lives evidence the fact that they are the begotten sons of God, the apostle proceeds to dwell upon the marvelous blessings which such a relationship suggests.

"Behold" (eidete) means to see, to take notice of, to be im-pressed with. Its design, as in John 1:29; John 19:5; Mark 13:1, and often elsewhere in the New Testament, was to fix the attention of John’s readers on the measure of the love which had been revealed in their behalf. "Manner of love" is a phrase descriptive of the quality of the love which the Father has vouchsafed to his children. In it is revealed not only the size, but the blessedness of it. "What glorious, sublime, immeasurable love the Father hath bestowed upon us . . ." Included in the manner of it is the freeness, the greatness, the preciousness, the scope, the duration--in a word, all that is summed up in the word, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son . . ." (John 3:16.) This love God "bestowed" (literally, gave), eventuating in our being "called chil-dren of God." Inasmuch as the Lord makes us what we are, to be called his children by him is to be such, and to sustain this relation to him in all the affairs of life. "And such we are" is a positive affirmation of that which had just been said.

For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.--The first clause of this sentence is a conclusion drawn from the premise which the second clause contains. The world knows us not. Why does the world know us not? Because it knew him not. Since the world does not know the Father, of course it does not recognize the Father’s children! The word "know" here, as in many other instances in John’s writings, is used to mean much more than merely superficial knowledge. The world knows, of course, that Christians are in it; they are aware of the fact that Christians worship God; but they do not approve of the lives of Christians, nor do they acknowledge the Christian’s God as their Sovereign and King. Of similar import are the words of the Lord: "If the world hateth you, ye know it bath hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (John 15:18-19.)

2 Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be.--We are children of God now, in spite of the nonrecognition of the world. Though the world about us refuses to recognize us for what we are, God does, and this is enough. And, the fact that "it is not yet made manifest what we shall be," does not raise a question regarding our present status. Grant that we do not possess a full knowledge of matters pertaining to the next life; let it be admitted that here is much with reference to the future which we do not know. Does this, in any fashion, raise a presumption of doubt regarding our present rela-tion to the Father? Certainly not. We are children of God; we are children of God now; and as such, all the blessings of sonship are ours.

We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is.--To "be manifested," is to be made to appear, to be brought to the light, to be known. The phrase, "if he shall be manifested," refers to the Lord’s second coming. When this event occurs, our imperfect conceptions will vanish in the perfect knowledge of him which will then be ours. Then it is that we shall see him even as he is, and shall be like him. The meaning is: we are children of God now, as much so as we shall be when the Lord comes; but at the present we are waiting for an inheritance which we do not fully comprehend ; when he comes we shall still be children and, in addition, in pos-session of that for which we now wait. Moreover, we shall then have perfect understanding of matters with reference to our future state which now we do not fully understand.

The glorious anticipation of being "like him" should prompt us to utilize every faculty we possess in his service, and thrill us with the prospect of awakening in his likeness. To be like him is to be as he is, in both spirit and body. It is to partake of his glorious characteristics of mind and heart, of soul and spirit; to come into possession of the spiritual graces which are his. It is to be like him in purity, in holiness, in kindness and in love; it is to share with him the complete approval of our Father and God. It is, further, to be like him in body; to possess the immortal nature which he possesses, and to be no longer, as he is no longer, subject to death. "For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself." (Phile. 3:20, 21.)

The wondrous blessing which this promise includes--of being like him--should not be lightly regarded or passed over hurriedly. It is a summary of all the good things which the Father has in reserve for his own. There is a story often told of a group of heathen converts who, when they came to this verse in translating into their language, unable to believe that such could possibly be in store for sinful man, stopped and said, "No! It is too much. Let us write that we shall be permitted to kiss his feet."

Commentary on 1 John 3:1-2 by E.M. Zerr

1 John 3:1. Behold is a term used as a call to attention, directing the minds of the readers to a matter the apostle regards as of special importance. It is the manner (sort, kind or quality) of love that the writer wishes to emphasize. God’s love was so great that He was willing to demonstrate it by giving us the highest possible honor, namely, taking us into the divine family as children. It is like a very wealthy king who takes a poor man from the depths of poverty and humility, and makes him an heir to the royal estate, only the illustration but faintly compares the circumstance. Since the world knew not the Father it would not recognize those who have been redeemed from the regions of sin, and adopted into the family of the Heavenly King.

1 John 3:2. In beginning this verse with the word beloved, the apostle does so in the same sentiment that caused him to use the term little children; it is a term of endearment. Now signifies he is speaking of the condition in this life before he shall appear. Being a son of God is a spiritual relationship which does not make any change in our personal appearance. That is because we must retain our fleshly body while we live in this world. What we shall be pertains to what can be seen as the connection in the verse shows, and John is referring to what our appearance will be after the coming of Christ. He says what that. will be doth not yet appear. Yet he does know (by inspiration) that when Jesus comes we shall be like hint. But the apostle did know even as he was writing, what the appearance of Jesus was when he was on the earth, for he appeared as a man with a fleshly body. Hence He will be changed and John was not instructed as to what the new form would be in appearance. Another thing of which he was certain was that when he shall appear we shall be like him. If that is the case then we shall be alike since "things equal to the same thing are equal to each other." Then if the saved ones are all alike there will be no distinction between them. This is fatal to the carnal notion that we will recognize our "loved ones" (family relations) in heaven. There will be no male nor female nor other personal distinctions and hence no recognition of one person as to whether he is my father or your brother or the husband of this or that woman: all bodily or personal distinctions are for this life only.

Commentary on 1 John 3:1-2 by N.T. Caton


God shows a great love to you in bestowing upon you the great honor of being called his children. You are the sons of God, and yet there are greater blessings for you in store. You shall be like him, and see him just as he is. This is a great hope and a strong reason for striving to be pure. A violation of law is sin. Christ came to take away sin; those who abide in him! do not sin. One who sins does not know Christ. To be righteous, you must act right. One who sins does so at the dictates of the devil, who sinned from the first. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. One born of God does not commit sin habitually, and so long as God’s will and desire are present with him, he will not sin. You can tell the children of God from the children of the devil in this; he that sins habitually and loves not his brother is not a child of God. From the beginning of the gospel of Christ, this is the message: "Love one another." Cain did not love his brother, for he slew him, because his brother’s deeds were right in God’s sight, and he thus condemned the works of Cain as evil. I give you a criterion by which you may know whether you have passed from death unto life, if you love the brethren. In this we see God’s love. Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. Such a love as this can not exist in one who refuses to administer to the needs of his brother. We must not love in profession only, but in fact, showing it by acts. Otherwise our hearts will condemn us, and God is greater than our hearts. But if we obey his commandments, believing on the Son of God, and loving the brethren, we know assuredly that God abides with and in us, and we with him, by this his Spirit which he hath given us.

1 John 3:1—Behold, what manner of love.

Remembering that the last thought in the foregoing chapter introduced was the fact that we were born of God. How wonderful has been the love of God in permitting and making provisions whereby we might thus become his sons. Here is a wide field for meditation. It would be quite a condescension for an earthy king to make provisions, whereby his subjects might become members of his royal family; it would be quite an exhibition of love. How, then, can we comprehend that love,, whereby the King of all kings provides the means of earth’s born subjects being inducted into his family, and becoming his sons and heirs of his glory. Well may the inspired writer exclaim, Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us!

1 John 3:1 --Therefore the world knoweth us not.

It follows, as a matter of course, that if the world know not the Father—that is, did not recognize and acknowledge him—that it will not know us, who are his children.

1 John 3:2—Beloved, now are we the sons of God.

The announcement that we have the exalted privilege of being the sons of God is followed by a still greater and more important fact, which is connected with that relation­ship, viz.: that it does not appear what we shall be. Our future reward and glory are not yet manifest, yet we know something great is to follow. The revelation already is assurance enough to us, that when the Lord shall come we shall be like him, both in body and in moral character. We shall see him as he is in glory, and just such image as he possesses will by him be conferred on us, that where he is we may be also.

Commentary on 1 John 3:1-2 by Burton Coffman

This entire chapter, including also the last verse of 1 John 2, is a discussion dealing principally with the children of God. We cannot find agreement with those who make this section a treatise on the "love of God," although, of course, that subject is prominently mentioned. Aside from the opening verse, love is not mentioned until 1 John 3:11, and there it is not the love of God, but God’s command that we should love one another. Orr’s outline is a practical summary:

The Children of God[1].

I. The divine nature is manifested in God’s children (1 John 3:1-18).

A. In their being like Christ (1 John 3:1-3).

B. In doing right (1 John 3:4-10).

C. In loving the brethren (1 John 3:11-18).

II. It is by practical obedience that we have reassurance and confidence (1 John 3:19-24).

A. Our love should be genuine (1 John 3:19).

B. A good conscience results in confidence (1 John 3:20-21).

C. Answer to prayer depends on obedience (1 John 3:22).

D. Three earmarks of true children: love, obedience, and faith (1 John 3:23-24).

As Wilder said, "It is this conception (of the children of God) that here enters this epistle and dominates the whole present section (1 John 3:1-24)."[2]

[1] R. W. Orr, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 614.

[2] Amos N. Wilder, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 251.

1 John 3:1 --Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. (1 John 3:1 a)

Behold what manner of love ... Smith tells us that the Greek here has the implication "of what country,"[3] suggesting that such love is not of earth but of that heavenly country, as if he had said, "what unearthly love!"[4] A. Plummer, however, denied that this is a legitimate deduction from the Greek.[5]

The Father hath bestowed upon us ... Christ used the expression "my Father," and taught his disciples to pray "our Father"; but the meaning here "includes both,"[6] with perhaps the additional thought that God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That we should be called children of God ... The essential kinship of humanity with the Creator is glimpsed in such a concept as this, as it is seen also in the great truth underlying the doctrine of the Incarnation. God would not have become a man, unless it had been true that man had been created in God’s image. The most glorious truth the world has ever received is in this invitation or "call" of God to become his children.

And such we are ... It is no empty title. The believers "in Christ" are genuine children of the Father in heaven. The word rendered "children" ("sons" in KJV) is [@tekna], that is, related to God by the new birth; and this is a closer relationship than that indicated by [@huioi] (Paul’s word, stressing the analogy of adoption)."[7] While no doubt true, in a sense, such a comment should not obscure the fact that "adoption" in Paul’s usage carries all of the full benefits and privileges of sons by generation, having also the advantage of illuminating the truth that sonship is all of grace.

For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. (1 John 3:1 b)

The reason for the world’s hatred of Christians lies in their hostility to all truth and righteousness. They did not recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God. John’s statement here, that the world did not know him, means that, "Although they saw the human Jesus, they did not recognize him as the Son of God."[8] In connection with the rejection of himself, Christ foretold the hatred of his followers (John 16:3); and in the holocaust so soon coming upon the Christians, the same root hatred of the light was assigned here as the reason behind it.

[3] David Smith, The Expositor’s Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 182.

[4] Harvey J. S. Blaney, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 376.

[5] A. Plummer, Commentary on the Greek Text, Epistles of St. John (Cambridge, 1886), p. 71.

[6] James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 601.

[7] Harvey J. S. Blaney, op. cit., p. 376.

[8] J. W. Roberts, The Letters of John (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1968), p. 77.

1 John 3:2 --Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is.

It is not yet made manifest what we shall be ... Sinclair thought that John made this statement in response to questions which Christians had raised regarding their future state; and it may well be true. People have always been curious regarding such things; "But we cannot say. It is not good for us to know."[9] We shall be like Christ, and that must be enough for us.

If we shall be manifested ... "Grammatically, him should mean the Father; but it is impossible to think this is not a reference to Christ."[10] "What John is clearly saying is that our likeness to the Godhead will be realized in the coming of Christ."[11]

We shall be like him ... for we shall see him ... "This does not mean that seeing God (Christ) is a proof of our being like him, but the cause of our being so."[12] Furthermore, "The Apostle is speaking of an abiding sight of Christ, because a transient view of him would not be a reason for our being like him."[13] All people shall see him in the final judgment, but the view of the wicked shall be transient.

[9] W. N. Sinclair, Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 482.

[10] Leon Morris, New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1264.

[11] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 78.

[12] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22,1John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 71.

[13] James Macknight, Macknight on the Epistles, 1John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprint, 1969), p. 66.

Verses 3-12

1Jn 3:3-12



(1 John 3:3-12)

3 And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.--The "hope" which we have is in being like him when he shall appear; and he who is in possession of this hope keeps himself pure, even as Christ, whom we shall be like when he appears, is pure. The meaning is, we have a hope; this hope is to awake in the likeness of the Saviour; the possession of this hope leads one to keep himself pure, this being a condition precedent to its realization; the pattern for this purity is Christ, himself. The verb "purifieth" (hagnizei, present active indicative), is a continuous act, keeps on purifying, an essential prerequisite to the maintenance of the hope which we have in him. Taught here, in the most emphatic fashion is, (1) the con-ditionality of our salvation; (2) the necessity of abstaining from every form of impurity; (3) the encouragement to faithfulness which hope affords; and (4) the example of purity which Christ himself supplies.

This passage may not be legitimately cited to sustain the view that it is possible for a child of God to live above sin here. (1) Such a view is opposed to other statements by the same writer. (1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:1.) (2) Such is a misapprehension of what is here taught. If this passage teaches that one can purify himself to the extent he is above sin, it teaches that every one who has hope in Christ can do so, in which case all who have hope in the Lord are above sin. We are purified by complying with the con-ditions on the basis of which the Lord forgives us: "If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:7-9.) This passage, instead of teaching us that it is possible to live above sin, actually teaches the opposite of this, by indicat-ing the means by which we overcome the effect of sin in our lives. By striving for the purity which the Lord possesses we reach for the goal which will be finally realized when he appears.

4 Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness and sin is lawlessness.--Here, again, the connection with what has gone before, in the Epistle, is immediately apparent, and should not be overlooked. The theme of this section is set forth in 2:29: "If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him. Verses 1-3, of this chapter, in the development of this theme, emphasize the fact that the doing of righteousness is proof of the new birth; and when such evidence does not exist, there is no sonship. Verses 4-10, establish the utter impossibility of reconciling sin with the work of redemption, with fellowship with Christ, and with the new birth. These con-necting links are not to be ignored in the study of the Epistle; they are, indeed, essential to the understanding of the design of the author. Having shown, in the foregoing verses, what the fatherhood of God (and the consequent sonship which relates) includes, he then proceeds to show what it excludes.

In the statement which constitutes a definition of sin, the apostle wrote, "Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness and sin is lawlessness." It is easily possible that it was the purpose of the apostle to encourage his readers to refrain from sin by showing its essential and inherent nature, more than to set out a formal defini-tion thereof, but it still remains that his statement is a definition of sin, simply and plainly put. Sin is translated from the Greek hamartia, the literal meaning of which is "to miss the mark," and as here used, to veer away from that which is right. It is a general term embracing every form of wrong-doing, all divergence from that which is right. The verbs "doeth" in the first clause are both in the present tense, the force of which, in Greek, is to indicate continuous action. It is the habitual practice of sin which is here contemplated. "Lawlessness," (anomia) is that state or manner of life wherein one fails to conform to law, whether in positive disobedience thereto, or in failing to come up to its demands. It is action contrary to law, whatever the form in which the action takes place. It embraces si both positively and negatively; it in-cludes sins of omission as well as sins of commission.

The meaning is that whoever practices sin is a lawless person; by his sinful life he has become a violator of the law for "sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4 AV.) This, John wrote, in order to impress his readers with the fact that all sin is a viola-tion of the law of God; and since the violation of his law leads to condemnation, no sin, however small or insignificant it may ap-pear to us to be, should be regarded lightly. In view of conditions which then prevailed this was a sorely needed lesson. Certain heretical sects of the time held that their superior knowledge (the Gnostics) made them immune from the demands of the law, and that God did not, in their case, impute to them wrongdoing even though their conduct was in conflict with God’s law. The apostle here shows that the wickedness of sin is in the fact that it is dis-regard for, and disobedience to, the law of God, for sin, all sin, any sin, is lawlessness. It follows, therefore, that any sin is serious, because it puts one under condemnation of the law

In the Greek text, both sin and lawlessness have the article before them; each term is the equivalent of the other and they are, therefore, interchangeable. Sin is lawlessness; and lawlessness is also sin. One who veers away from the right is a lawless person ; a lawless person is one who veers from the right. To "miss the mark," whether it be going beyond that which is right, or in failing to measure up to it, puts one in the position of being a law vio-lator, and one who violates the law of God is, of course, a sinner. The connection with the context thus becomes apparent: if we would sustain and preserve the hope which we possess, we must continue to purify ourselves. A failure to do so is to lapse into a life of sin; and a life of sin is lawlessness.

5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away sins ;and in him is no sin.--Two additional reasons are thus ad-vanced why Christians are not to engage in the practice of sin (1) Christ was manifested to take away sins (2) in him, who is our example, there is no sin. The manifestation of Christ here referred to was his entrance into the world, in the flesh, the purpose of which was to "take away sins." (Matthew 1:21.) The article (the) appears before the word "sins" in the Greek text, and the meaning is, Jesus came into the world to take away the sins of the world, all sin, not merely one sin here and another there.

The design of the Lord’s appearance was, therefore, in part, to take away sins. The verb take away is translated from arei, first aorist subjunctive of afro, occurring also in John 1:29. It conveys the idea of a burden or load which is lifted in order that it may not crush him upon whom it rests; and, as here figuratively used, it signifies the lifting and carrying away of sins that they may be upon us no more. Being in the aorist tense, the act is a once-for-all process, in which by one offering the Lord accomplished his purpose henceforth and forever. Implied in the word is the idea of atonement, reconciliation, expiation and sanctification, all of which the Lord accomplished in his death, though the primary meaning here is the bearing away of sin. The lesson the apostle desired to reach is that all sin must be shunned and voided for Christ came into the world for the purpose of removing sin from us, and to continue to participate therein would frustrate his pur-pose and thwart his plan for those for whom he suffered. Forms of the word thus translated occur in the Septuagint translation in Isaiah 53:11, and in Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 10:11, in each of which the primary meaning "to take away" is retained. In taking away sin, the Lord abolishes the guilt, the power, and the punishment thereof, thus making it possible for his children to entertain an assured hope of salvation. Such Paul must have had in mind when he wrote, "Christ . . . gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works." (Titus 2:14.)

In view of the fact that the Lord became incarnate in order that he might take away our sins, the proper regard for this should serve as a mighty incentive to all Christians to refrain from all wil-ful participation therein. (1) To engage in sin, in view of the design which led to his death, is to thwart the purpose and plan of the Lord and to render his sacrifice in vain. (2) As disciples of his, it is proper that we should follow such a course as would result in the furtherance of his purposes and plans for men. (3) To indulge in sin is to practice that which was the occasion for the ignominy and shame which were heaped upon the Lord at his crucifixion. (4) To persist in such practices in view of what sin did to him reveals a perverseness and depravity of heart wholly inconsistent with that which characterizes those who love and serve him.

The second clause, "and in him is no sin," is, if literally rendered, and sin in him is not." It is an emphatic and positive affirmation of the Lord’s freedom from sin. Being himself ab-solutely free from sin, and without any admixture of wrong in him whatsoever, it is only as we "purify" ourselves, (verse 3), and abstain from all sinful practices, that we are able to approach the perfect standard his life constitutes. That our Lord was wholly free from sin every moment of his life is a fact clearly taught in the sacred writings. Jesus declared it himself (John 7:18; John 8:46) and it was often affirmed of him (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 9:13). It follows, therefore, that those who would imitate him in manner of life today must strive for the same inherent purity. "For hereunto were we called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again, when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously." (1 Pet. 2 21-23.)

6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not; whosoever sin-neth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him.--The ideas which this verse contains were favorite ones with the apostle, and are repeated, in one form or another, throughout his writings. The word "abideth," for example, occurs (in one of its various forms) in John 5:38; 6:56; 14:10 15:4, 5, 6, 7, 9; 1 John 2 6, 10, 14, 17, 27; 3:6, 25; 4:12, 13, 15, 16. It was likely sug-gested to him by the Lord in the familiar and impressive statement of John 15:4-6 : "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit for apart from me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." The word "abide" is translated from a word (Meno) which means to settle down and remain, as in one’s permanent home. Here, in addition to its literal meaning, it denotes the intimate relationship which exists between the Lord and his disciples, the close and continuing connection which obtains between him and those who derive their life from him. Not only does the word itself suggest an abode in Christ; the tense necessitates this conclusion also, "whosoever keeps on abiding . . ."

"Whosoever keeps on abiding in him sinneth not." Here, too, the apostle gives utterance to an idea which is often expressed in one way or another in his Epistles. (1 John 2:24; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:18 ; 3 John 1:11.) (1) Whosoever abides in him sins not (2) whoso-ever is begotten of God does not sin; (3) he that does evil has not seen God. These propositions are developed in much detail throughout the first Epistle; and the ideas which they contain were favorite ones with John. The apostle did not intend to af-firm that one who abides in Christ is not capable of commiting a single act of sin such a concept would be in conflict with his af-firmation of the universal prevalence of sin, even among the saints (; 1 John 1:8); moreover, the designation of the means by which to overcome sin through the intercession of Christ (1 John 2:1), implies its possibility. Thus to teach it is possible or even probable that one will attain to a life of sinlessness here, is in con-flict with his own teaching in the instances cited, and must not be attributed to him here.

The meaning of this verse, and indeed, all of those of similar import in the writings of the apostle John (e.g., 3:9; 5:18; 3 John 1:11), is to be sought and found in the significance which attaches to the tense of the verbs which set forth the action involved. The word "tense" as applied to the Greek verb is misleading, if it be accorded its literal signification, for it is derived from the French temps, time, and originally the Greek tense had no reference to time, as such. This characteristic, so prominent in the English verb, is only incidental in the Greek, the tense of the Greek verb having to do with the state of the action, and not necessarily with the time when it occurred. Its function is to indicate the state of the action, accordingly as it is conceived of as an indefinite event, (aorist tense), an action in progress, (present tense), or a com-pleted action with existing results, (perfect tense). Other tenses, such as the imperfect, etc., are variation of one or the other of these types of action. In the English language the time element is the prominent feature of the verb, and we think of an act as either past, present, or future.

The present tense, in Greek, indicates action in progress at the present time. It is thus distinguished from the aorist tense which is a single act indefinitely conceived of, without regard to time. The distinction between the present and the aorist tenses may be seen in the following manner.....

In the passage under consideration, the verb sinneth not is the translation of ouch hamartanei, third person singular, of the pres-ent indicative active, of hamartano. Inasmuch as the chief char-acteristic of the Greek present tense is to indicate action in prog-ress contemporary with the time of speaking, whereas the English verb does not distinguish between such action in progress, and a single act occurring, the significance of the verb sinneth, as used by the apostle, does not fully appear in the translation. It can be brought to the attention of the English reader only by an expanded translation thus: "Whosoever continues to abide in him, does not keep on sinning" (i.e., habitually as he did before his conversion). Had the apostle intended to convey the idea that one who abides in Christ is incapable of committing a single act of sin, he would have utilized the aorist tense. In such a case, however, he would have been in conflict with his own previous statements which assert the fact of sin in the lives of Christians, and the means provided for their removal. The meaning of the verse is, He who has taken up his abode in Christ, and settled down to a permanent existence in him, has terminated his former manner of life and has ceased the practices then characteristic of him. He no longer engages in habitual and persistent sin. That he has broken the hold of sin- in his life, and no longer regularly yields to evil im-pulses as a manner of life, however, is far from asserting that there are never occasional lapses into sin through weakness or ignorance. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27; Philippians 3:12.) For these inadvertent lapses, a plan has been provided. (1 John 2:1.)

"Whosoever sinneth bath not seen him, neither knoweth him." The verb "sinneth" here, as in the first clause of the verse, is in the present tense. Whosoever sins following his conversion dem-onstrates the fact that he has neither seen nor known the Lord. This passage, as translated, appears to teach that sinful conduct on the part of one who affects to be a child of God is evidence of the fact that such a one is not only not saved at the time, but never has been! This conclusion is obviously erroneous, because it is in conflict with other statements in the same Epistle, and by the same author. He had earlier said that Jesus is our Advocate when we sin, and that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:7-9; 1 John 2:1.) How is it possible to confess sins never committed? Why do Christians need an Advocate for them when they sin, if they never sin? The verb sinneth, as in the first clause, indicates a continuous practice. Whosoever keeps on sinning . . .," has neither seen nor known him. The verbs "seen" (heoraken) and "knoweth" (egnoken) are Greek perfects. 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 at-tributes 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 ter-minated. Thus, the significance of "I have known," regarded from the viewpoint 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 (recog-nizes) God in his life.

In the implication that one who abides in Christ sees the Fa-ther, we do not, of course, infer from this that it is possible for one to look upon, with physical eyes, the likeness of the great Jehovah. "No man bath seen God at any time." (1 John 4:12.) The seeing which is thus possible is to exercise the knowledge and in-sight which such a relationship allows--the perception possible to the faithful. To see in the New Testament is a figure often used of such spiritual insight. (John 1:18; John 6:46; Hebrews 2:8.)

7 My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous:--The address here is the same, and the same ones are addressed as in 2:1 and 2:18. The warning, "Let no man lead you astray," appears, in one form or another, often in the Epistles. (1:8 2:18, 26; 4:1-3.) These words have particular reference to men who sought to deceive the saints of that day by alleging that it is pos-sible to live a life of habitual sin, and yet have the approval and approbation of God. Such views were progapated by false and heretical sects of the time, and many were deluded and led into a life of sin by them. (See under "Design of the Epistle," in the Introduction.) These false teachers advocated the view that they pleased God without living a life of righteousness, and that what-ever might be the case with others who were without their alleged superior knowledge (gnosis), there was no need for them to work righteousness, because they were eternally saved by the grace of God, regardless of what their works might be. The effect of this teaching was to lead those who accepted it into a life of gross and unrestrained indulgence, and that in the name of religion!

To counteract such teaching the apostle laid down the maxim that "He who doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he (Christ) is righteous," i.e., the man who does righteousness is righteous, and no other is. It is a positive affirmation that character and conduct cannot be separated. It matters not how much one may assert his righteousness; it is of little consequence to what extent one may declare his love for the Lord; the acid test is, does he do righteousness? If yes, he is a righteous man; if no, his claims are false.

Here, as in 2:29, the doing of righteousness is not a condition precedent to righteousness, but evidence that such salvation exists. However tempted we may be to cite these passages in support of the scriptural doctrine that obedience is essential to salvation from past, or alien, sins, such is an unwarranted use of them. It is never allowable to take passages from their context and use them in support of a proposition even though the proposition we seek to prove is taught elsewhere in the scriptures. A passage should never be used in any sense other than that for which it was orig-inally written by the sacred writer. The use of texts out of their contexts, so common to denominational preachers, has led people to the conclusion that it is possible to prove anything by the Bible. It is well to remember that "a text, taken from its context, becomes a mere pretext." It was John’s design to show here that the doing (practice) of righteousness is the only test of a righteous (ap-proved) person, whatever his claims may be. Long ago Luther truthfully said, "Good works of piety do not make a good pious man, but a good pious man does good pious works . . . fruits grow from the tree and not the tree from the fruits."

The verb "doeth" in this verse, as often elsewhere in the Epistles of John (e.g., 2:29; 3:4; 3:7; 3:9, etc.), is a present active participle in the Greek text (poion), and signifies to keep on doing. As occasional lapses into sin through weakness, inadvertence, or ignorance do not demonstrate that one has never been saved, so isolated and infrequent acts of righteousness (outward conformity to some of God’s laws) do not justify the conclusion that such a one is a righteous man. To be righteous, one must practice righteousness as a settled habit in life. Such a one, the apostle, affirms, is a righteous man; no other is.

"Even as he is righteous" is a reference to Christ. "Even as" does not signify that one attains to the same righteousness as that Christ possesses; it means that Christ constitutes the model or pattern of righteousness toward which all of his followers are ever to strive. As he is righteous, so are we to seek to be; and such righteousness is attained through right-doing. (Psalms 119:172 ; Acts 10:34; Matthew 3:14.) The right-doing essential to such righteousness includes the duties and responsibilities of the Chris-tian life.

8 He that doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.--He who lives a life of habitual sin is of the devil; he demonstrates his relation to satan by his conformity to the character which the devil possesses. The devil has sinned (has been sinning, ap’ arches hamartanei, present active indicative) from the beginning, i.e., from the first sin which resulted in his becoming the devil. Being the first sinner, the devil is the source of sin, the fountain from which it springs, the father of all those who practice it. "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and standeth not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father thereof." (John 8:44.) Inasmuch as the devil is the original sinner, and since he has persisted in sin with-out interruption from the occasion of the first sin, it follows that whoever sins thus persistently partakes of the character of him who is their spiritual father. Such being the pattern of his exist-ence, those who conform thereto must be regarded as his off-spring and imitators.

But here, again, we must not confuse mere occasional lapses into sin with a life of persistent and willful transgression. (1) To affirm that this passage teaches that it is possible to live a sinless life here is to (a) ignore the significance of the terms employed and (b) to put the writer in conflict with himself in other passages in the same Epistle. (1 John 1:7-9; 1 John 2:1.) (2) Such a claim is refuted by the sober consciousness of all thoughtful persons who, though it may have been years since they have engaged in willful sin, are aware of defects of character, and the like, which occas-sionally lead them inadvertently into sin. (3) The wisest, greatest, and best characters of whom we read in the scriptures never laid claim to sinlessness in this life, but, on the contrary, exhibited the weaknesses- common to humanity, and often confessed them with penitence and shame. (Cf, the lives of Abraham, David, Peter, and Paul.) (4) It must not be overlooked in the consideration of this passage that the evil contemplated is that which flows uninter-ruptedly from an evil heart, and is deliberate, willful, and persist-ent. The steady stream of pollution unmistakably reveals that the source is equally corrupt. It follows, therefore, that the type of sin under contemplation here is that which is habitual. Those who live as the devil lives must be regarded as belonging to the devil; in exhibiting the traits and characteristics of the devil, they evidence the fact that they are his children.

Here, incidentally, is additional proof of the personality of the devil--a fact often taught in the scriptures. (a) He exists; (b) he has existed from the beginning; (c) he is the spiritual progenitor of all who sin as he does; and (d) false teachers are his agents in seeking to seduce and lead astray the saints.

To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. "To this end" indicates the purpose for which the Son of God was manifested (appeared in the world), that he might "destroy" (bring to naught) the "works of the devil." The "works of the devil" include his plans, purposes, designs, schemes, aims, and ends which he hopes to accomplish. These Jesus came to "destroy" (luso), literally, to weaken, deprive of power, abolish in principle. Included among the works of the devil are not only sins, but the consequences of sin--pain, sorrow, misery, and death. Christ has abolished death "and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (2 Timothy 1:10.) The eventual triumph over death will be realized in the resurrec-tion: "But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:54-55.) There, too, will all sorrow, pain, and misery be forevermore terminated: "And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God him-self shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more: the first things are passed away." (Revelation 21:3-4.)

9 Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God.--The familiar rendering, "Whosoever is born of God loth not commit sin," of the King James’ Version, has given place to the American Standard rendering, "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin," and here, as often elsewhere, the Standard rendering is the preferable one, though it, too, as we shall later see, does not fully and adequately convey the meaning of the text. (1) The phrase "begotten of God" is a decided improvement over "born of God" (gegennemenos ek tou theou), for gegen-nemenos, from gennao, means to beget. (2) Correctly translat-ed, the scriptures never refer to a "birth of God." (3) It is absurd to predicate the act of birth of a masculine personality exclusively. We are not, however, from this to infer that the reference here, or in the numerous other instances where the phrase occurs, signifies an embryonic or prenatal state. Obviously, here and in 2:29 and 5:18, the reference is to children of God. While the context establishes the fact that children of God are contem-plated, accuracy of translation necessitates the rendering "begotten of God" rather than "born of God."

Whosoever is begotten of God "doeth no sin." ("Doeth no sin" is translated from the phrase, hamartian ou poiei, present active indicative of polo, does not keep on doing sin (as a life habit.) The reference here is to persistent, continuous, willful sin, such as that contemplated in 3:6, and the remarks there (which see) apply with equal force here.

But why does the one begotten of God refrain from habitual and persistent indulgence in sin? Because his seed remains in him and he cannot sin. Whose seed? God’s. What is God’s seed? The word of God: "The seed is the word of God." (Luke 8:11.) In whom does this seed abide or remain? In the child of God. What does the word "abide" signify? That the word of God has made its home, as it were, in the heart of the one begot-ten. Is this a scriptural concept? "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom" (Colossians 3:16), which we translate more vividly, "May the word which Christ speaks to you have in your hearts in all its fullness its home." What is the result of such? The child of God cannot sin.

Does this mean that it is impossible for a child of God, under any circumstances, to commit a single act of sin? No. The phrase "Doeth no sin" does not adequately convey the meaning of the original text. Here, as in 3 6, in order to discover the full significance of the verb doeth, it is essential to take into consider-ation the tense thereof, a better rendering of which would be, "worketh no sin." (See comments on 1 John 3:6.) What rea-sons have we for concluding that it was not the intention of the apostle to teach that it is impossible for a child of God to commit a single act of sin? (1) Such a conclusion is in conflict with 1 John 1:7-9; 1 John 2:1, and many other passages in the scriptures. (2) The words "he cannot sin" cannot be correctly construed to mean that one cannot commit a single act of sin after being begotten of God. Why is it alleged that such a conclusion is in conflict with what the apostle taught elsewhere? Because he affirmed, in the references cited, that children do sin, and he moreover revealed the conditions on which they may be forgiven.

Why is it thought that the phrase "he cannot sin" may not be correctly interpreted to mean that it is impossible for a child of God to commit a single act of sin? "And he cannot sin" is trans-lated from the phrase "kai ou dunatai hamartanein. Hamartarein is a present active infinitive, the force of which is, "he cannot con-tinue to live a life of sin" (as before). But why cannot he continue to live such a life? The seed, which is the word of God, and which is in him, forbids it. How did David recognize and apply the principle taught here? "Thy word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not sin against thee?" (Psalms 119:11.) How did Jesus resist the seductions of Satan? By relying on the same power. Suppose one is tempted to steal. Such a one remembers that the Word says, "Thou shalt not steal." So long as this injunction remains in the heart and governs the life, one cannot steal. "It is written" is as effective in resisting the blandishments of Satan today as it was when the Lord utilized it on the mount of temptation. Why, then, cannot one thus begotten persist in sin? (1) The seed (the word of God), which forbids it, is in him, controls his life, and directs his energies. (2) A life of sin is inconsistent with the spiritual parentage of the one thus begotten. But does this mean that it is never possible for one possessed of this nature to sin? No. All, through weakness, error, ignorance, and inadvertence, occasionally sin; but children of God do not work sin as a life principle, for its author--Satan--they have repudiated and his nature abandoned. When, in such instances, sin occurs, it is a momentary lapse; it is due to an imperfect hold-ing of the word in the heart; it is recognized as contrary to the higher impulses of the person thus sinning, and it is confessed and put aside with shame.

Paul and John are in strict harmony in their teaching on the difference between such occasional lapses into sin and a life wholly devoted to it. The former wrote,

"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein? Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resur-rection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that we should no longer be in bondage to sin." (Romans 6:1-6.)

We are thus no longer to continue in sin, for (a) we have died (separated ourselves) from the practice thereof; (b) we have risen from the baptismal grave to walk a new life; (c) the body of sin has been done away; (d) we have been delivered from the bondage of sin. The careful dis-tinction which the inspired writers make between a life of contin-uous and habitual sin and the infrequent deviations of children of God who, while they ever reach upward toward a nobler life, now and then falter through weakness or error, may be seen by a com-parison between Romans 6:1, "Shall we continue in sin" (epimeno-men tei hamartiai, present active subjunctive) and 6:15, "Shall we sin" (hamartesomen, first aorist active subjunctive), "Shall we commit a single act of sin?" (because we are not under law, but under grace). Carefully and pointedly the apostle to the Gentiles make it clear that even isolated acts of sin were not to be indulged in on the assumption that the grace under which we live, instead of the law, would make provision for such.

Properly interpreted, neither 1 John 3:9 nor any other scripture, countenances the view that it is impossible for a child of God to live above sin in this life; and theories to this end, whether drawn from this passage or some other, are clearly erroneous.

10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the chil-dren of the devil:--That is, in the matters immediately pre-ceding. We indicate by our manner of life our parentage. The word "manifest" means to make known, to reveal. Children of God and children of the devil are readily distinguished from each other by the fact that the former abstain from a life of unrelieved sin, whereas such a life is ever characteristic of the latter. The nature exhibits itself in the individual and reveals who is his father. As a life of constant and continuous sin justifies the conclusion that such a one is a child of the devil, so a life of righteousness is evidence of the fact that such a one is a child of God. "Ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him." (1 John 2:29.) "Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness." (1 John 3:4.)

Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.--The first clause of this verse relates to what had just been said; the second expands it and makes it applicable not only to the spiritual, but also to the social side of life. The love under consideration here is that which one brother in Christ should have for another and where it does not exist, there is an absence of divine parenthood. 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!

11 For this is the message which ye heard from the begin-ning, that we should love one another:--"For," i.e., with ref-erence to what had just been written, "Whosoever doeth not right-eousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." John’s readers had heard this "message" from the beginning of their acquaintance with Christianity, since this was a cardinal principle of the movement itself. (John 13:34-35.) It is called a message from a word which, in the New Testament, signifies things announced in order that they may be done. It is referred to here as a message, instead of a commandment, though such it was, and is, because it was announced in words, and conveyed by messengers. See further on this in the comments on 1 John 2:9.

12 Not as Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother.--This statement is put in contrast with that of verse 11, and Cain is offered as an example of what children of God are not to do. The meaning is, We should love one another, and not be as Cain was, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. (Genesis 4:1-17.) Those who do righteousness are "of God" Cain, who did not obey the commandment to love, was "of the evil one," i.e., the the devil. He demonstrated the fact that he was of the devil by killing his brother Abel. The word translated "slew" here (spha-zo) means, literally, to butcher, to slit the throat with a knife; and from this it may be inferred that this was the manner in which Cain took the life of Abel. If the word is to be taken in its literal import, this conclusion follows, though it is, of course, possible that it is used figuratively to kill, and thus without any indication of the method by which the murder took place.

And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.--The question, "Wherefore slew he him?" is immediately answered, "Because his (Cain’s) works were evil, and his brother’s (Abel’s) were righteous. The reason for God’s rejection of Cain’s offering and his acceptance of Abel’s, though not detailed in the Genesis record, is made clear in the reference thereto by the writer of Hebrews: "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing wit-ness in respect of his gifts; and through it he being dead yet speaketh." (Hebrews 11:4.) Cain’s offering was "of the fruit of the ground," Abel’s "of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof." (Genesis 4:3-4.) "And Jehovah had respect unto Abel and his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect." Inasmuch as Abel made his offering "by faith," it fol-lows that the Lord had specified the nature and the type of offering to be made, since faith comes by hearing God’s word. (Rom. 10 17.) Cain’s offering was rejected because it was in violation of express instructions from Jehovah. Though not stated in the Mosaic account, it is implied in the following statement: "And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And Jehovah said unto Cain, why art thou wroth?and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shall it not be lifted up? and if thou doest not well, sin coucheth at the door; and unto thee shall be its desire ; but do thou rule over it." (Genesis 4:5-7.)

Resentful because his brother’s offering was accepted and his own rejected, and filled with envy at Abel because his brother enjoyed the approbation of Jehovah while he smarted under the rebuke which he had received, "it came to pass that when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him." (Genesis 4:8.) In this terrible deed, Cain acted from envy, he was influenced by the evil that was in him, and he was directed by Satan whose servant he was. In citing this well-known Old Testament instance of the first murder, it was evidently the apostle’s design to show the extent to which one is led when under the influence of envy, bitterness, and hate. His reasoning appears to have followed this pattern: Cain murdered his brother; therefore Cain hated his brother; hate is a characteristic of those who are children of the devil; therefore, Cain was of the devil. (Verse 12.) His brother identifies himself as of the same spirit as Cain, and likewise demonstrates that his works are evil. Basic in every difficulty and dispute between brethren today is the ab-sence of brotherly love. Whatever may be the immediate occasion which prompts such, each difficulty and dispute may, in principle, be traced to the resentment which the evil feel toward the good. Why did Cain murder Abel? Because his works were evil, and Abel’s works were righteous.

Commentary on 1 John 3:3-12 by E.M. Zerr

1 John 3:3. Hath this hope means the hope of seeing Jesus and being like him. With such an incentive it is expected that all who have become the sons of God will cleanse themselves of impurity in life and strive to be like his Son.

1 John 3:4. Since committeth is a key word in verse 9 I shall leave my comments on it until that verse is reached. Sin is the transgression of the law. It should be observed that John does not say transgression is the only thing that constitutes sin; it is the only phase of the subject being considered at this place.

1 John 3:5. In him is no sin. This is what is meant in John 14:30 where Jesus says the prince of this world (Satan) cometh "and hath nothing in me." No sacrifice could have atoned for the sins of the world if attempted by a person who was himself tainted with sin.

1 John 3:6. Abideth signifies a continuous life in Christ and not a wavering from side to side. Such a person sinneth not which is akin to the word committeth as to its ending which will be explained at verse 9. A person cannot abide in Christ until he first comes into Him, then if he continues in that relation it can be said that he is abiding in Him. By the same token if a man sinneth it is proof that such a person has not yet made his acquaintance with Christ.

1 John 3:7. Little children is general and is used as explained at 1 John 2:1. They are again warned against being deceived which evidently refers to the antichrists who are mentioned in the preceding chapter. The first he stands for the faithful follower• of Christ and the second he means Christ himself. Doeth and is righteous are related and will receive some more light at verse 9.

1 John 3:8. Committeth and sinneth will be explained by the comments on the next verse. Is of the devil refers to the practice of sin which was introduced into the world by the devil. From the beginning means the beginning of mankind on the earth. Not that he had not sinned before that, for he had, by reason of which he was cast out of heaven (Luke 10:18). But John is here concerned only with the devil’s first attack upon man as the rest of the verse indicates. We know that the Son of God was manifested in the world to destroy the works of the devil, therefore the word beginning can apply only to the beginning of man on the earth.

1 John 3:9. The two key words in this verse are commit and cannot. Words, like people, "Are known by the company they keep," which is another way of saying that the meaning of words may be learned by their connection or by the use that is made of them. The first word is from POIEO and Thayer uses three pages of his lexicon with definitions and explanations, which indicates the wide scope of its meaning. Among his comments on the word are, "To follow some method in expressing by deeds the feelings and thoughts of the mind; carry on; describing a plan or course of action." Robinson gives as one explanation, "What one does repeatedly, continuedly, habitually." One of Webster’s definitions is, "To pledge; to bind; as, to commit oneself to a certain course." The Englishman’s Greek New Testament translates the word by "practice." All of these definitions and translations show the word has no reference to what a man does occasionally or incidentally, but it means what he makes a practice of. The term "practicing physician" does not mean a man who occasionally gives a dose of medicine to a friend. If a man "retires" from the occupation of a carpenter he may occasionally drive a nail or saw a board, yet we would not say he -has gone into the occupation again. Likewise a man who becomes a child of God ceases to commit sin as a "practice," but that does not mean he will never do anything that is wrong. (See the comments at chapter 1:7, 8.) We are certain an inspired man would not contradict himself, so John would not use the word commit in this verse to mean an occasional sin, when he taught in chapter 1:7 that even a man who "walks in the light" needs to be cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ. Cannot is from OUDUNAMAI, which means morally unable and not that it is physically impossible. We will consider some other passages where the same word is used. Matthew 5:14 says "A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid." Yet all of us know that during the war many cities and other important places were actually hid by camouflage. In Mark 2:19 Jesus says of certain persons that "they cannot fast"; does this mean they actually could not refrain from eating? Luke 11:7 says the man who had retired but was asked to give a friend some bread replied, "I cannot rise and give thee." We know the man did not lack the physical ability of getting out of bed. 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, "0 no, I couldn’t do anything like that." Besides, to say a man has reached a condition where it is impossible for him to do anything wrong, would be like taking from him the necessity of watching his step, and would also make it unnecessary for him to seek the services of the Intercessor. The principle on which all these things are said of the child of God is the truth that he is born (begotten) of God. He has been conceived and born of a parentage that is spiritual and hence that holy characteristic is constantly in his spiritual person to urge him in the right course of life.

1 John 3:10. In this refers to the practice of sin as explained in the preceding verse. Doeth is used in the same sense as the word commit (or commiteth), meaning the continual or general manner of life. The children of the devil may occasionally perform some act that is good in itself but their life as a whole is devoted to the service of Satan.

1 John 3:11. From the beginning means from the start of man’s existence on the earth. The message is the teaching that we should love each other.

1 John 3:12. This verse confirms the comments on the preceding one as to when the beginning occurred. The case of Cain and Abel is the first one in the divine record that pertains to the subject of love. Cain would not have slain his brother had he loved him. John’s explanation of the cause of the lack of love is that his own works were evil while those of his brother were righteous. It seems strange that such a circumstance would cause the hatred. The basic or remote cause actually was envy which gave him a feeling of spite.

Commentary on 1 John 3:3-12 by N.T. Caton

1 John 3:3—And every man that hath this hope.

Every faithful Christian has this hope. The hope of being like and dwelling with the Lord of glory will cause us to strive to be like him. Christ was, and is, pure; there­fore, every faithful Christian will strive to be pure.

1 John 3:4—Whosoever committeth sin.

The idea is, habitually or continually does wrong. This idea must be borne in mind in order that we may fully understand other statements contained in this chapter and thereby insure perfect harmony. Doing, working, or com­mitting sin is a transgression of the law, and will surely be followed by punishment.

1 John 3:5—And ye know that he was manifested.

One of the objects of Christ’s coming into the world was to take away our sins, by remitting the same; but a second object had in that coming was, by his example and the course of instruction given by him, which, if pursued by us, would take away even our disposition to sin. He could be our example, and give this kind of instruction, because he was himself without sin.

1 John 3:6—Whosoever abideth in him.

Keeping close to his example, trustingly, lovingly fol­lowing his instructions, we abide in him, and thus, abiding in him, sin not; have no disposition or desire to sin.

1 John 3:6—Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him.

We cease to abide hi him when we engage in sinning. Such an one hath not seen Christ; that is to say, had no true insight into his character, or that of his doctrine, for no experimental knowledge is by such an one exhibited. It is safe to say of such that they have not known Christ, for if they had, the same would have been manifested in their conduct.

1 John 3:7—Little children, let no man deceive you.

Exhortation is here made to prevent delusion or decep­tion. Those claiming to be righteous are those only who do righteousness. Works are demanded in the economy of heaven to show the existence of faith. Those who abide in Christ do righteousness because Christ was righteous.

1 John 3:8—He that committeth sin is of the devil.

Since sin emanates from the devil, and is, therefore, of him, those who work sin, who exhibit a sinful life, give, thereby, all the proof sound reason can demand that they are under the dominion and control of the devil. From the very beginning of the world the devil sinned.

1 John 3:8—For this purpose the Son of God was manifested.

That he might destroy sin and its punishment, which are the works of the devil, is the purpose for which the Son of God came into the world and appeared among men in the flesh. Dr. Macknight says: "Demolish that horrible fabric of sin and misery which the devil, with such art and industry and malice, hath reared in our world. From this text some have argued that all moral and penal evil will, at length, be extirpated from the universe."

1 John 3:9—Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.

Here some have failed to catch the apostle’s idea. It is not that those born of God become so far out of the reach of sin that temptation can not assail them, but those who are born of God do not habitually sin or live a life of sin. One can not sin and at the same time remain a child of God. Yet, while in the flesh, the old nature may for a time exert an influence in the wrong direction, requiring the constant watch-care of the Christian. He, however, can not lead a sinful life while the principle of the divine life remains in him. Paul gives us a thought, throwing light along this line of investigation, well to remember for our good. "Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me." (Romans 7:20-21).

1 John 3:10—In this the children of God.

Here, a sure mark of distinction is drawn between the children of God and the children of the devil. It is easy to tell one from the other. The child of God habitually per­forms good acts, deeds and works, and with a real affection loves his brother, while the children of the devil manifest no such fruits. The rule of measurement is plainly desig­nated. The children of God show by their pure lives, their constant endeavors to do good, their affection not only for the distressed, but for all, who their Father is. By the same rule the parentage of the evil may be easily determined.

1 John 3:11—For this is the message that ye heard.

Christ brought from the Father, and we apostles pro­claimed the message from the establishment of the kingdom on earth, that we should love one another. This message is God-given; it came from him, and this was evidently God’s will from the beginning of time.

1 John 3:12—Not as Cain, who was of that.

This is the opposite of love—it is hate. Hate is of the devil. Cain was, therefore, begotten by the devil—that is to say, so controlled as to do the works of the devil. The child of God—one begotten of God—loves and does not hate. "This hater and murderer is condemned far more severely in the Scriptures than the disobedient Adam." (Johnson’s Notes.)

1 John 3:12—And wherefore slew he him?

Cain’s offering was not accepted, because it was offered in disobedience. His works, therefore, were evil, while the works of his brother were righteous, because offered in obedience. His brother being accepted, and he rejected, he therefore hated him. So, the Savior foretold, would be the result to all righteous lives—hatred by the world. It hated him. Why should his followers escape?

Commentary on 1 John 3:3-12 by Burton Coffman

1 John 3:3 --And everyone that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

And everyone that hath this hope set on him ... The RSV is a better translation: "Everyone who thus hopes in him." This means, "everyone who hopes in Christ." The great obligation of every person "in Christ" is to exhibit the righteousness and purity so perfectly exemplified in him.

There is another glimpse in this of the "perfection" that God requires of his children. Being as pure as Christ is pure is the same as being "perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), or being "holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:15-16). This idea, or goal, of absolute perfection is unattainable in human strength; but it is achieved for Christians and ascribed to them by reason of their having denied themselves, being baptized "into Christ," and thus made partakers of his sinless perfection. People are saved, not in their own identity, but "as Christ," and "in Christ." This points up the great importance of the expression "in him" as used in this verse (RSV). This should not take away from the power of the exhortation that all Christians should strive to achieve and maintain the very highest state of purity and perfection of which they are capable. Sin can never be any casual business with the Christian.

1 John 3:4 --Everyone that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

And sin is lawlessness ... Here the KJV is far better: "Sin is the transgression of the law." And what law is in view? "He is not thinking of the law of Moses."[14] Nor can we agree with Blaney that, "transgression of the law of love"[15] alone is meant. "It means the law of God in the fullest sense, not Moses’ law, but transgression of the will of God."[16] Particularly, it is "the law of Christ" which sin transgresses; and that may not be limited to any classification of Jesus’ commandments, but includes "all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20). Inherent in this is the epic truth that the grace of God has not abolished sin. The proposition that "we are not under law but under grace," while true enough as related to the law of Moses, does not relax any of the law of Christ (See more on this in my Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, pp. 115,117).

[14] W. N. Sinclair, op. cit., p. 483.

[15] Harvey J. S. Blaney, op. cit., p. 378.

[16] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 71.

1 John 3:5 --And ye know that he was manifested to take away sins; and in him is no sin.

In him is no sin ... Even the sins of Christians who are "in Christ" are cleansed automatically by the blood of Christ as long as they so remain. There is no compatibility whatever between Christ and sin.

He was manifested to take away sins ... For more on what Christ came into our world to do, see under 1 Peter 1:19.

And in him is no sin ... Although in the present tense and bearing the meaning noted above, this is also true in the past tense of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus committed no sin (1 Peter 2:22); he was holy, guileless, undefiled, and separated from sinners (Hebrews 7:26); he knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21); he was without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:19), etc.

1 John 3:6 --Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him.

From what John had already stated in 1 John 1, we know that he had no intention here of contradicting himself with any teaching to the effect any one having committed sin was in no sense a Christian. Many of the scholars assure us, based upon the Greek verbs used here, that "sinneth" in this context means "leads a life of sin."

Abideth in him ... This is the key to the sinlessness of Christians, since their sins are forgiven continually through the power of the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7). It is only in such a sense as this that any child of God was ever sinless.

1 John 3:7 --My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous:

In this verse, there is a strong suggestion that some of the false teachers who were troubling the church of that era were teaching that one could be saved without living a pure and godly life. Deceitful arguments to the same effect are current in our own times; and there has never been, perhaps, a period of church history when such deceitful heresies were not skillfully advocated. What John said here is: "Make no mistake about it, living the Christian life is the one and only proof of a person’s being a Christian."

Even as he is righteous ... This is possible only through perfect unity with and identification with Christ who is truly righteous. Nothing short of the perfect righteousness of Christ can ever save any one. Let every man decide, therefore, if he will dare to appear before God in judgment clad in his own personal righteousness alone, or if he will deny himself and be baptized "into Christ," thereby becoming a participant in that righteousness which alone is sufficient and efficacious.

1 John 3:8 --he that doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

The devil ... Any willful or continual commission of deeds which are contrary to the will of God reveals the sinner for what he is, a child of the devil. Significantly, John, like all of the holy apostles, accepted without question Jesus’ teaching regarding the malignant ruler of this world’s darkness. John’s teaching here is clearly derived from Jesus’ words in John 8:44, and is like Paul’s denunciation of Elymas as, "Thou son of the devil." (Acts 13:10). It is a false view that explains away John’s powerful words here as an "impression he received from the law of Moses," due to his Jewish background! As Plummer said, "For every single time the devil is mentioned in the Old Testament, he is spoken of twenty times in any gospel or epistle!"[17] Someone wrote a question to F. F. Bruce, asking, "How can a child of God be of the devil?" Bruce replied: "He cannot; that is the point John is making."[18] Of course, for a child of God who might commit a sin occasionally, John had already written of the provision that God has made for that contingency (1 John 2:1-2). Here again, "doeth sin" refers to deliberate choice and continuity in sin.

The devil sinneth from the beginning ... This does not mean from the beginning of time, nor from the beginning of Satan’s existence, nor from the beginning of the Christian age, but "from the beginning of human sin"[19] in the garden of Eden. Jesus said of Satan, that "he was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44); and these texts shed a great deal of light on the purpose of the evil one. By Christ’s denomination of him as a murderer," the purpose of Satan to accomplish the death of Adam and Eve is evident; and from John’s mention of the devil’s sinning from that same time shows that Satan’s deception of Eve was a diabolical and sinful act. It was for that sin that God pronounced the curse upon Satan.


The Scriptures do not give a categorical answer to the question of Satan’s origin; but Ezekiel 28:12-19 has the nearest approach to an answer. If, as usually thought, "King of Tyre" in that passage refers to Satan, who had been "in Eden," who was lifted up because of his beauty, who "was created," who was perfect in his ways "till iniquity was found" in him, whose heart "was lifted up" because of his beauty, who was "corrupted" because of his wisdom, etc., then the origin of Satan is revealed in that remarkable passage.

Certainly, it is wrong to think of Satan’s sharing, in any manner, the control of the universe with God. That he was the leader of a band of rebellious angels would appear to be a proper deduction from Jesus’ mention of "Satan and his angels" (Matthew 25:41), leading to the supposition that Satan himself was, at first, an angel of God who led some of his fellow-angels into rebellion. This is an awesome subject, and little more than a few suggestions may confidently be offered. That there is indeed a being of great magnitude of powers, an inveterate enemy of mankind, the prince of this world, the ruler of the world’s darkness, a prince of evil, who has organized and directed the wickedness of mankind is a fact so plainly set forth in the New Testament that only an unbeliever may deny it. The Lord’s Prayer is a constant testimonial to the existence of Satan: "Deliver us from the evil one!"

Like the rest of the New Testament authors, John had no doubt that behind the rebel wills of men there is a master-rebel, who sinned before they were in being, and who, as the enemy of all good, is called the devil, the slanderer, Satan, or the adversary.[20]

[17] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 72.

[18] F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 133.

[19] W. N. Sinclair, op. cit., p. 484.

[20] Charles Gore, The Epistles of John (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), pp. 144,145.

1 John 3:9 --Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God.

Whosoever is begotten of God ... This is a reference to the new birth, as indicated in the KJV, "born of God," and as rendered in the New Catholic Bible and the New English Bible (1961).

Doeth no sin ... As long as one who has believed in Christ, repented of sin, and been baptized into Christ, and in consequence of such obedience has received the earnest of the Holy Spirit, - as long as such a person continues in that status, he will not sin. The evidence of this is visible in countless thousands of Christians in all ages who have turned their backs upon wicked conduct and have taken seriously the high claims of their holy religion, the same being exhibited for all people to see in the godliness of their new lives in Christ. What is the reason for such a change? John gave it in the next clause.

Because his seed abideth in him ... The New Testament supplies abundant proof of what the "seed" is which is mentioned here. It is the word of God. Paul instructed the Colossians to let "the word of Christ" dwell in them richly, etc. (Colossians 3:16), and John had in mind the same thing here. The Lord Jesus himself said of the kingdom of heaven, "the seed is the word of God" (Luke 8:11). In speaking of the new birth, Peter also mentioned the "incorruptible seed" which he promptly identified as "the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever" (1 Peter 1:23). Therefore, it is the word of God which is eternal, incorruptible and continually abiding in Christian hearts. This word is no mere "dead letter," but "living, active ... and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12); and, with such a monitor of their conduct, Christians are strongly persuaded to continue in the path of honor. Indeed, if the child of God will walk fully in that holy light, he will be effectively restrained from all sin. God, however, has given people the freedom of their will; and a failure of the human will can always result in the commission of sin.

And he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God ... This statement has been alleged to teach a whole anthology of errors, such as:

(1) The meaning is restricted to what Roman Catholic writers call "mortal" sins, and does not apply to ordinary sins!

(2) What is sinful in unbelievers (as adultery, greed, theft, etc.) is not sinful to the Christian!

(3) It is only the "old nature that sins"; the new man in Christ cannot sin. The new man is not connected in any manner with the old man! ("My old nature did it; I didn’t.")

(4) John is here only holding up the ideal, or goal of the Christian life, not really meaning that the Christian cannot sin.

(5) It means that Christians cannot "consent to sin," that is, deliberately and purposefully walk in forbidden paths.

(6) It means that Christians cannot continue in a life of sin. Illustrations: Once, when traveling, this writer stopped at the entrance of a city and asked a policeman a question; and he volunteered the information that, "you cannot turn right on a red light in this city," not meaning in any sense whatever that it was impossible to do so, but that it was illegal to do so. John’s words here may be viewed as exactly the same kind of prohibition, meaning, "those who are begotten of God are forbidden to sin"; it is against God’s law. In view of what John said in 1 John 2:1-2, there could hardly be any doubt that this is exactly what he meant. "He cannot sin" is not a statement of impossibility at all, but a declaration of what is forbidden. Those commentators who see "impossibility" affirmed here favor the interpretation that makes "CONTINUING in a life of sin" to be the impossibility.

1 John 3:10 --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 ... has the meaning that Christians may be identified by their conduct. Any and all transgressions of the law of Christ deny such transgressors any status whatever as children of God. Those who speak loudest about their "faith in Christ," but who do not display the type of behavior set forth in the New Testament as Christian conduct, may in no sense establish by their profession a status which their unchristian lives deny. People who do not make a serious and consistent effort to do what the New Testament teaches that Christians should do are "the children of the devil." As Plummer said:

This teaching about the devil is not at all agreeable to those who dwell exclusively upon the sunny aspects of the world and of life, and would shut ttheir eyes to what is dark an terrible. They like to hear of a Being who is all gracious and loving ... "the devil ... ?" They wish to suppose that he belongs to the world’s infancy, and disappears as we know more![21]

Children of God ... children of the devil ... This is the only place in the New Testament where these two expressions stand side by side"[22] and they correspond perfectly with the grand cleavage of humanity into two, and only two classes: the wheat and the chaff, the good and the bad, the sheep and the goats, those on the right hand and those on the left, the good fishes and the rejects, the builder on the rock and the builder on the sand, lovers of God and lovers of mammon, the wheat and the tares, the ready and the unready, the faithful and the unfaithful, the children of God and the children of the devil. It is easy to rationalize sin as "goodness" in the making, etc.; but it appears in the New Testament that these two classes are radical opposites and totally irreconcilable.

Neither he that loveth not his brother ... This is cited as a particular instance of Christian character, and not as the sum total of it, much in the same manner that Paul often spoke of "faith in Christ."

His brother ... Does this mean every man on earth, or does it have special reference to the Christian’s brother in the faith? Despite learned opinion to the contrary, the conviction here is that it is the "brother in Christ" which is meant. Plummer said it means: "mankind at large,"[23] citing the example of the good Samaritan as Jesus’ example of "who is my neighbor?" Macknight also stated that the passage, "signifies all mankind, who are all brethren by virtue of their common nature and their descent from Adam."[24] The brotherhood of man is, of course, a fact "in Adam"; but the particular viewpoint of the New Testament is that of the "brotherhood in Christ"; and there is a world of difference in these. Significantly, Paul did not go about among the churches raising a collection for the oppressed heathen in the ghettos of Rome, but for the "poor saints" in Jerusalem. Although, there is a true sense in which the Christian loves every man on earth, it can never be the same as that for the beloved "in Christ."

Love of the world in general will issue in deeds, charities and benefits to "all people," to the extent that these may contribute to their redemption; but the apostolic restriction is sternly laid on this in the words, "As we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10). In this last clause, there is clearly a difference between the love of brethren and the love of the whole world. From these considerations, we believe that Blaney is correct in the view that, "Brother here means a brother Christian, as a representative of all Christians, rather than of all men."[25] The love of Christians is a mutual love (1 John 3:11), and no such love is possible for the world which hates Christians (1 John 3:13).

[21] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 73.

[22] Charles C. Ryrie, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1020.

[23] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 73.

[24] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 72.

[25] Harvey J. S. Blaney, op. cit., p. 380.

1 John 3:11 --For this is the message which we heard from the beginning, that we should love one another:

We heard from the beginning ... The unchanging nature of the Christian revelation is inherent in this. Not even the apostles busied themselves with the production of "new ideas" regarding man’s redemption. The great basics of Christianity are unchanging, fixed and permanent. "When false teachers brought forth new and esoteric (secret) doctrines about faith and morals, their very newness refuted them."[26]

That we should love one another ... The mutuality of the love mentioned here is a denial that John is speaking of the Christians unilaterally loving all people. This distinction is important, because much of the current theology tends alarmingly toward mere "humanism" as the one and all of Christian teaching. Such a statement as that of Smith, while true enough in a limited sense, actually falls short of New Testament truth:

The righteousness of the Pharisees consisted in ritual observance, that of Jesus in love ... meaning "kind" or "sweetly reasonable,"[27]

True Christianity, and the righteousness of Christians in any adequate sense, cannot mean merely the manifestation of an attitude of sweet reasonableness toward the human race. As John will point out before the chapter ends, it is the acceptance of all that Jesus taught which must characterize the response of Christians.

[26] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 88.

[27] David Smith, op. cit., p. 185.

1 John 3:12 --not as Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother’ s righteous.

The story of Cain is recorded in Genesis 4:1 ff, where Cain’s wickedness (which long preceded the murder of Abel) at last issued in his offering being rejected by God. In the ensuing hatred of Abel, Cain killed his brother. It is an important point to remember why God rejected Cain’s offering. Stott has a remarkably clear word on this:

If Cain had done well, his offering would have been accepted (Genesis 4:7). According to Hebrews 11:4, it was by "faith" that Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain ... we may assume that God had revealed his will to the two brothers ... By faith Abel obeyed ... Cain was willfully disobedient.[28]

Stott’s deductions in this are so obviously true that one may only wonder about those who consciously try to make allowances for Cain.

Cain was of the evil one ... It is a mistake to suppose that God punished Cain merely for making a mistake in the worship; this reveals that Cain was controlled by evil principles. "It is inferred here that even before Cain slew Abel, there was something in the actions of the brothers that revealed their difference."[29] The New Testament reveals that Abel was righteous and that Cain’s works were evil, as this very verse flatly declares.

And slew his brother ... This sheds further light upon what is recorded in Genesis 4, where it is recorded merely that Cain rose up and slew his brother. The word John used in this place properly means: "slaughtered," "butchered," "by cutting the throat ("jugulare") like an ox in the shambles."[30]

And wherefore slew he him ... ? It was not for any offense of Abel’s against his brother, but simply and only because, "Cain’s works were evil, and his brother’s righteous." Thus quite early in human history the hatred of darkness against the light was revealed. Cain was the archtype of the world’s eternal opposition to truth and righteousness. Roberts was of the opinion that John’s choice of Cain as his example of evil could very possibly have been due to the fact that the odious heresy of the Cainites (which flourished a little later) might already have made its appearance at the time he wrote.[31]

The heroes worshipped by this monstrous system were Cain, Korah, the Sodomites and Judas Iscariot. They advocated such nonsense by means of a "Gospel of Judas." ... They taught that men could not be saved until they had passed through every kind of experience, even the most vile, claiming that an angel attended their orgies and urged them on to incur pollution. Out of their debaucheries, they claimed to have "perfect knowledge," and did not shrink to rush into such actions as it is unlawful even to name?[32]

[28] John R. W. Stott, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 19 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), p. 140.

[29] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 89.

[30] David Smith, op. cit., p. 185.

[31] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 89.

[32] Irenaeus, Against Heresies I, 31 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, n.d.), Vol. I, p. 358.

Verses 13-24

1Jn 3:13-24


(1 John 3:13-24)

13 Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you. "Marvel not," i.e., do not be surprised or astonished that the world hates you. The hatred of the good by the bad is nearly as old as the race; hence, it is not a thing to be surprised at, however much it may be regretted. This disposition was exhibited by Cain in the early morning of the race; and man’s subsequent history has been filled with similar examples. Jesus, in teaching the disciples the obligation of love, referred to this attitude: "These things I com-mand you, that ye may love one another. If the world hateth you, ye know that it hath hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (John 15:17-19.).

It is significant that only here, in the Epistle, does John refer to his readers as "brethren," the address being elsewhere, "little children," "beloved," etc. The designation "brethren," literally, brothers, was especially appropriate here, in view of his discussion of brotherly love.

14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.--The connection which this verse sustains to the context in which it appears is very close, and must not be disregarded if the meaning of the text is to be deter-mined. Love of the brethren is that which distinguishes between the children of God and the children of the devil. (Verse 10.) The obligation of Christians to love one another is definite and positive, and has been taught them from their earliest acquaintance with Christianity. (Verse 11.) The feeling of hate which the world evidences toward the good is ever present, and is, therefore, to be expected, however much it may be regretted. (Verses 12, 13.) But, in spite of this, children of God have the blessed assur-ance of knowing that they have passed "out of death into life" because "they love the brethren." They thus have more about which to rejoice than to regret in this fact, since they are in life while the world remains in death. "Death" is the status of the unregenerate; "life," of the good. These terms, opposites in their reference to the condition of the good and the bad, are often used in this fashion in the scriptures. (Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13.) Children of God "have passed" (migrated) from the spiritual death which formerly characterized them (and that which yet charac-terizes the world) into the life which is obtained through union with Christ. "He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life." (1 John 5:12.) The pro-noun "we" with which the verse begins is in the emphatic position in the sentence: whatever the world may do, or feel, toward us, we (in contrast with those of it) know (have certain, definite knowledge) that we have passed from a state of death into life because we love the brethren.

Just here care should be exercised in avoiding an obvious and common misinterpretation of this text. It was not the apostle’s purpose to affirm, nor did he affirm, that love of the brethren is the (or even a) condition of salvation from past, or alien, sins. Brotherly love is here declared to be the condition, not of our salvation, but of the certainty of our knowledge of it. It affords the evidence by which we may know that we have passed out of death into life. The test is human, not divine; it is one we are to apply to ourselves for the purpose designated. It is such a test by which the individual and (as John 13:34-35 shows) the world about him may determine the reality of his profession. "We know that we have passed out of death into life because . . . we have been baptized? Because . . . we meet on the first day of the week? Because . . . we give liberally of our means? However important these matters are, in their respective spheres, it remains that such do not constitute the test here set out. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples . . ." (John 13 35.) Why? Because you say you are? Because there is outward conformity to the ceremonials of Christianity? Because you be-lieve that you are? These are not the tests which the Lord or-dained. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another."

This does not mean that love alone is the basis of our accept-ance before God. What it does mean is that love is the base on which all other virtues rest; where it exists, the others may be implied; yea, they must exist. He who loves his brother will not only discharge his whole duty to him; he will be led, by the same considerations which prompt such love, to love God, and so to comply with all the requirements which such a relationship in-volves.

He that loveth not abideth in death.--In the absence of love, the state in which one dwells is death. As the presence of love signifies life, so its opposite, hate, indicates death. The reference is not to future death; it already exists and will reach its con-summation in the next life. "He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believed not hath been judged already, because he • hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:18.) The absence of love is not the cause of his death, but the sign of it by which it is evidenced to others. "He that loveth not" is, literally, the not loving man; and "abid-eth" suggests a state into which one has settled down permanently. The death is spiritual death--separation from God and all that is good.

15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer:--The phrase "he that loveth not" (ho me agapon) is followed by "who-soever hateth" (pas ho mison), thus indicating that the two are of identical meaning: it was the design of the writer to show us that in the absence of love there is hate; there can be no middle ground. Not loving is hating; it is impossible to avoid one or the other of these opposites. In the teaching of the apostle, love and hate, as life and death, light and darkness, mutually exclude each other. He who has not the one must be regarded as possessing the other. It follows, therefore, that the only protection against hate in the heart is love.

The affirmation of the text is that he who hates his brother is a murderer. This does not mean that he has committed the act of murder; or, that he is as guilty as if he had committed the act of murder; or, that God will hold him responsible for the act of murder. 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. The reason such a one does not commit murder is not that he lacks the disposition or desire the restraint which prevents it is not inward, but outward. Either the opportunity is lacking, or the courage or the means with which to accomplish it wanting. He refrains from the overt act, not from restraint which he himself has imposed, but a restraint from others. Murder is simply hate expressed in an overt act; and when it does not issue in this fashion, it is due to other causes than those which reside in the heart of the hater. If hate does not result in murder, the reason is to be sought, not in the hate, but in the lack of opportunity or means, or courage, of the hater.

It was this which prompted the Lord to forbid that which leads to hate. In his explanation of the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," he said, "Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoso-ever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the coun-cil; and whosoever shall say. Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire." (Matthew 5:21-22.) Unnecessary anger and words of provocation are thus shown to violate, in spirit, the command to do no murder, since such often leads to it. Cain, who slew his brother Abel (1 John 3:12), affords an example of the fruits of Bate; and the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44), became such by sowing the seeds of hate in those whom he seduced.

And ye know that no murderer bath eternal life abiding in him.--Obviously, spiritual life and spiritual death cannot abide in the same soul. Where hate is, there is death; where there is death, there can be no life. He who entertains hatred for another, whether it follows its normal course and results in murder, or from outward restraints imposed, stops short of the overt act, it still remains that such a one is utterly incapable of possessing life. Several phrases of similar import are discernible in the context. He is not of God who loveth not his brother. (Verse 10.) He that loveth not abideth in death. (Verse 14.) He who hates his brother has no life abiding in him. (Verse 15.) Thus, to be not of God, to abide in death, and to be without eternal life in the sense here intended, is the same. (1) In view of this, how impor-tant it is that we search our hearts diligently and purge from them every semblance of bitterness, hate, and envy. (2) How we should guard with ceaseless vigilance our own hearts lest such evil dis-positions possess us. (3) How grateful we should be that we have fallen under the influence of the glorious gospel of Christ, which enables us to subdue the feelings of hate and bitterness and envy, and to triumph over the dispositions of the flesh and carnal mind.

16 Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us:--Every word in this verse is of the utmost importance and justifies the most minute and careful study. "Hereby" is, literally, "in this," (en touto), i.e., in that which is about to be stated. "Know we" (egnokamen, perfect active indicative of ginosko, from an investigation of the facts we have come to possess certain knowledge of) "love," what it is, its nature, its sacrifices, its extent, and its design. This knowledge we have come to appre-hend, for the reason that Christ laid down his life for us (huper hemon), in our behalf, for our protection. The verb "laid down," is, significantly, the same mode of expression as that which the Lord utilized in his narrative of the shepherd and the sheep: "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep." . . "Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." (John 10:11; John 10:17-18.) The meaning is, we have become acquainted with love we know what it is from having seen it displayed in Christ in his death for us. The preposition "for" here (huper) indicates the purpose of the death of Christ, and sheds much light on the nature and effects thereof. The picture in the preposition is of one who sees, for example, another who has fallen, wounded, in grave danger, and about to perish, and who rushes to him, stands over him, fights in his behalf, and enters the fray in his stead. This, and more, Jesus did for us in his death on the cross. He took our place; he suf-fered the penalty of law to be executed in his own person; "him who knew no sin he made to be sin in our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him." (2 Corinthians 5:21.) We thus have, in both the Father and the Son, a clear demonstration of love, in all that it is and does. (John 3:16; John 5:13; Romans 5:8.)

And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.--In view of what Christ and God have done for us, we (the children of God) ought (are morally obligated) to lay down our lives (die) for the brethren (our brothers and sisters in Christ). The mean-ing is, Christ’s death was the greatest possible proof of love; if, therefore, we imitate him as we ought, the same evidence of love which prompted him to die for others will be seen in us. "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13.) This, of course, does not mean that there is the same efficacy in the death of one Christian for another as there was in the death of Christ for the world; nor was it the writer’s design to compare the effects which follow such sacrifices. The subject is love; the comparison which is drawn is designed to demonstrate what love is; and the example of Christ’s sacrifice is offered for our emulation. Under what circumstances it is the duty of one child of God to die for another is not stated, but in any instance, we may assume, when more good would be accomplished for him by dying than by living. In any case, where a brother’s welfare depends on such a sacrifice, love prompts it, without regard to the cost that might result. The contextual force of the apostle’s teaching is clear: Cain is an example of hate; Christ, of love. Cain killed his brother Abel because of selfish-ness; Christ died for all men because of his unselfishness. If we are to avoid the hate which motivated Cain, we must adopt the love which influenced Christ. The willingness to give what one has, even his life, for the sake of others, is of the essence of true love.

17 But whoso bath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?--In an argument from the greater to the less, the apostle shows, in the application of the principle taught in the verse preceding, that if a brother’s welfare should require that we give up our life for him, we surely ought to make those smaller sacrifices involving only material things. A refusal to make such comparatively minor sacrifices is to demon-strate that the love of God does not abide in us. The "world’s goods" here is, literally, "the life of the world" ton bion tou kos-mou); and the "world" contemplated is not the order of evil often set forth by this term (1 John 2:15), but the material sphere in which we live. The "life" of the world is not the higher spiritual life (zoe), but the organic life (bios), which is sustained by the things of the world. The meaning is, He who has in his possession the necessary means to sustain life and who sees his brother in need yet refuses to be touched by a feeling of sympathy for his unfortunate condition or be moved to supply the things needed, how does the love of God abide in him? The question is rhetorical for emphasis; its significance is, the love of God does not abide in him. The "love of God" here is not God’s love for us, but our love for him. Here, as often elsewhere in the Epistle, and, indeed, throughout the sacred writings, we are taught the important lesson that it is impossible to separate theory and practice. Theology and religion are inseparable handmaids; theology without religion is an empty shell; religion without theology simply does not exist. Our obligation to our less fortunate brethren is clear and unmis-takable; we have the example of Christ (Matthew 20:28); we have the admonition of the inspired apostle (Galatians 6:10); only through compliance therewith do we exhibit the religion which is both pure and undefiled (James 1:27).

18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.--These words contain a summary of the ideas developed by the apostle in the verses im-mediately preceding. It was not his purpose to condemn affection-ate speeches, nor did he forbid us to express our love for others in word. The meaning is, "Let us not love in word only, neither with the tongue alone, but let us also love in deed and truth." It is an admonition to exhibit our love in such fashion as to demon-strate its reality. As the Lord forbade words of hypocrisy in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:5), so, here, John forbids the mere babble of brotherly love, when neither the word nor the tongue is attended by the fruits of brother love.

19 Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him:--Hereby, i.e., by what has just been said, we are enabled to know that we are of the truth, and have the means by which to assure our hearts before him. If our love is not merely in word or in tongue, but truly in deed and truth, in this (en touto) we shall know (come to possess the knowl-edge) that we are of the truth. "Of the truth" is, in significance, the equivalent of the phrase, "of God," so often occurring in the Epistle. These words of the apostle were likely an echo of the Lord’s affirmation before Pilate: "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice." (John 17:38.) Possessed of this informa-tion, we "shall assure our heart before him." The word "assure," from the verb peitho, means to still, persuade, placate; and the meaning here is, the knowledge of the reality of the love which we possess for others enables us to quiet the fears which arise in our own hearts and restrain the questionings which confront us from imagined deficiencies of life and conduct.

20 Because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.--If, in spite of the assur-ances provided, we yet suffer the uneasiness which springs from the realization of our own weaknesses and the consciousness of our own imperfections, let us remember that God is greater than our heart; he knows all things; and he will deal with us, not according to our conscience, but in harmony with the eternal and unchangeable principles of right. Knowing all things, he knows us better than we know ourselves, and he will deal with us ac-cordingly. Let us then not be disturbed by the promptings of conscience, but conform, as far as possible, to the standard of right, with the assurance that he will approve our course at the last day.

21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; --If, in addition to the assurance we have from God that we are approved of him, we also have the approval of our own heart, we thus experience even greater confidence of the fellowship that is ours. It will be, of course, unnecessary to add, to the thoughtful reader, that John has under consideration here individuals whose hearts were fully attuned to the gospel and whose consciences were awakened to the relation which all sustain to God. Obviously the apostle does not hcre refer to men of wicked and depraved conscience whose hearts have been hardened to the influences of the truth and the restraints of right. The ref-erence is to a time of judgment; the court is that of the conscience ; and the judgment rendered is one of approval. The approval is that which the individual recognizes as bestowed upon him from the Father.

22 And whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.--In proof of the fact that the assurance alluded to above is well grounded, the Father is attentive to the prayers of his children and bestows upon them whatever they ask. Two rea-sons are assigned: (1) they keep his commandments; (2) they do the things that are pleasing in his sight. The promise of the pas-sage is, of course, to be understood within the limitations of his promises regarding prayer elsewhere set forth: viz., that the prayer must be in faith, in confidence, according to his will, and in keeping with his instructions regarding prayer. The truly faithful child of God seeks ever to learn what the will of the Father is, even in matters pertaining to prayer, and does not ask for those things which he discovers to be contrary to the Father’s will. The verbs are all in the present tense here and emphasize continuous action; whatever we keep on asking, we keep on receiving, because we keep on keeping his commandments and habitually practice the things that are pleasing in his sight.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment.--It is significant that the word "commandment" here is singular; it sums up the duties involved in the injunctions which follow it: (1) to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ; and (2) to love one another. This emphasizes a principle needing constant attention, and one often taught in the Bible; it is impossible to separate faith and practice, duty and dogma. Belief, in order to bless, must eventuate in love; love, without belief, is an impossibility. Faith is the ground not only of love, but of all obedience; it is that which leads to and produces it. And obedience is that which perfects and validates faith. "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren." (James 2:20.) The name of Christ here is put for him and for all for which he stands to believe in his name is to accept him for what he is and all that he does. The command-ment, involving the duties herein set forth, was frequently on the lips of the Lord. (John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17.)

24 And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him.--Here is a reference to the Lord’s own words, "If a man love me, he will keep my word:and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John 14:23.) To "abide" in him is to have fellowship with him, to live and move in that realm of conduct which he approves, and thus to have the abiding presence of deity in the heart. While the context seems to require that the words "in him" refer to the Father (see verse 23), the affirmation is also true of the Son, and is so taught elsewhere. (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14, etc.) The apostle had earlier referred to this same fellowship. (1:3.)

And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the spirit which he gave us.--This verse declares, (1) God abides in us (2) we have knowledge of his abiding presence; (3) we possess this knowledge by the Spirit which he has given. It should be observed that it is not the manner of entrance nor the mode of the Spirit’s dwelling which is here referred to, but the fact of it. The Spirit assures of approval by motivating its possessor to do those things which enable the Father and the Son to abide in us. If it be asked how the Spirit does this, the answer is, Through the word of God, the only motivating force in immediate contact with the individual. Neither here nor elsewhere do the scriptures teach a direct operation of the Holy Spirit, either before or after conver-sion. It is as erroneous to assume an immediate impact of the Spirit on the Christian’s heart as it is to argue similarly with reference to such impact on the sinner’s heart. The fact of the Spirit’s indwelling is often affirmed in the sacred writings. The manner or mode of such is an entirely different question. The two are not always distinguished; and the result is, a prepossession for some theory thereon creeps easily into our exegesis and colors our explanation, if we are not careful. The fact that the scriptures assert that the Spirit dwells in the Christian does not justify the conclusion that this indwelling is personal, immediate, and apart from the Word of God. Christ is in us (Colossians 1:25); from this we do not infer that in some mysterious, incomprehensible way he has, in his own person, taken up an abode in us. Why should we fall into similar error with reference to the third person of the Godhead the Holy Spirit?

Commentary on 1 John 3:13-24 by E.M. Zerr

1 John 3:13. Marvel not means not to be surprised or wonder at it, because such an attitude is to be expected. Jesus taught the same thing as recorded in John 15:18-19, and it is also taught in 1 Peter 4:12. The world will hate a faithful disciple of Christ on the same principle that Cain hated his brother. The righteous life is a constant rebuke to the unrighteous ways of the world and causes it to hate the righteous people.

1 John 3:14. The absence of love for the brethren is proof of one’s being still out of the body of Christ. Those who actually enter the spiritual body will necessarily have a fellow feeling for the members. The act of entering the body is equivalent to passing from death unto life. John says we know in the sense that we have the direct evidence, namely, our mutual relation to each other in Christ. The last sentence of the verse is merely the reverse of the forepart. With this verse before us we may conclude that genuine evidence of brotherly love is not just the sentimental feeling, but it can be claimed only after a person has passed from death unto life. There will be more said on this subject when we come to 1 John 5:2.

1 John 3:15. Cain slew his brother because he hated him, so that the poison of murder was in his mind before he talked with him. Others may have the same kind of hatred in their heart but do not have the opportunity of carrying it out. The Lord can read such a mind and hence will regard that man as a murderer. Ye know that no murderer, etc. The Old Testament condemned a murderer and required that he be punished with death (Genesis 9:6 and many other passages). John is repeating the same condemnation except that he applies it to murderous intent as well as the actual deed.

1 John 3:16. The words of God have been supplied by the translators. The passage means that the Lord gave direct evidence of His love in that he laid down his life for us. This is a beautiful contrast with the man who hates his brother. Such a person not only does not make any sacrifice for another, but takes the other man’s life from him. We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. This cannot necessarily mean that we can literally die for the sake of another, except where the other person’s life is in danger and we might lose ours in protecting him. The passage refers to the interest or devotion we would manifest for our brethren even to the extent of making great and trying sacrifices. (See Romans 16:4.)

1 John 3:17. In this verse the apostle gives a simple example (on the negative side) of what it means to be devoted to the interests of others. Bowels is used figuratively because people in old times thought that was the seat of the finer sentiments of the mind. John uses it to mean that when a man closes his sentiments of compassion against such an unfortunate creature as this, he cannot truly claim the love of God.

1 John 3:18. This verse means for our love to go farther than words; to be proven by our actions. It is a summing up of the preceding verse.

1 John 3:19. Nothing can give a disciple any stronger confidence than to know that he is proving his love by actions that benefit the brethren. He thereby manifests his relationship with the truth of the Lord which requires us to show practical love.

1 John 3:20. Our heart refers to our mind with its various attributes. Having been instructed to show our love by helpful works, if we do so we will feel assured in connection with the subject. If we fail to do our known duty we will have "a guilty conscience" and be self-condemned. If our own knowledge of neglect causes us to feel condemned, we may be sure that God will condemn us also because He knows our hearts.

1 John 3:21. This verse is virtually a repetition of the preceding one, except that it is considering a person who has carried out the teaching of practical love.

1 John 3:22. Because we keep his commandments is the condition on which we will receive what we ask. Keeping the commandments includes the obligation of consulting the scriptures to learn what would be right for us to receive. It also includes our doing the things that please Him.

1 John 3:23. Believing on Christ and loving the brethren (with practical love) sums up the qualities of an obedient child of God. That is because belief in Christ means more than a mere profession. It includes a working faith that will carry out the teaching in James 2:18, to show our faith by our works.

1 John 3:24. Dwelleth in him, and he in him. The matter of dwelling is a mutual affair between the Lord and his people. Since the subject is a spiritual one it is possible for "two persons to be at the same place at the same time"; it means they are dwelling with each other. Spirit which he hath given us enabled the apostles to speak with knowledge on the affairs of the kingdom.

Commentary on 1 John 3:13-24 by N.T. Caton

1 John 3:13—Marvel not, my brethren.

The apostle here says: We should not marvel—wonder --­if we be hated by the world. While no reason is given, the former verse indicates the source of all hatred. The con­flict between good and evil had its origin early in the his­tory of the race. That conflict is still going on, and will to the end of time. It is the common lot of all the righteous to be hated by the wicked from the beginning.

1 John 3:14—We know that we have passed from death.

While we are hated by the world, this should not be regarded by us, since we know that we have passed away from a state the final end of which is eternal death, into a state the end of which is life eternal.

1 John 3:14—Because we love the brethren.

The reason is here given for the knowledge we possess of having passed from death into life. Love of the brethren is the test. This is the surest mark by which we can know our state. This disposition is enjoined by our holy religion. There is no danger that the humble disciple, because of the high encomiums bestowed on this virtue by the sacred Writers, shall ever conclude that love of the brethren exhausts all of his Christian duties. He knows better; he has always before him the example of his Master and his blessed teachings, and these unmistakably require at his hands many other duties which embrace those not of the brotherhood.

1 John 3:14—Abideth in death.

The test by which one may know that the hope of eternal life is not entertained. When one hates his brother, the test is sure. Such an one is still under the condemnation of death; in other words, he is in that state which will ultimate in eternal death.

1 John 3:15—Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.

One who hates his brother is in a state or condition, under slight provocation influenced by his passion of hate, to slay him. His hatred is the seed or germ from which murder is produced. The instance of Cain, given in a for­mer verse, clearly illustrates this. It was his hatred which led him to slay Abel. As it influenced Cain, so hatred will, in like manner, influence others.

1 John 3:15—No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

Here is the announcement of a great truth. It is simply impossible that one who cherishes such a hatred of his brother as will, under any circumstances, lead to the taking of his life, justly or unjustly, has, or can have, the capacity for eternal life abiding in him. The states of love and of hate are opposites.

1 John 3:16—Hereby perceive we the love of God.

Christ, by the appointment of God, showed his love when he laid down his life on the cross. Having his example before us for our guidance, should occasion require it, we should lay down our lives for the brethren.

1 John 3:17—But whoso hath this world’s goods.

A plain contrast is here presented. If it be true that we should lay down our lives for the brethren, what shall be said of one who has an abundance, and yet refuses to furnish a needy brother those things necessary for his present succor? It is utterly impossible that the love of God could dwell in such a man. It can in no sense abide in him.

1 John 3:18—My little children, let us not love.

We may claim to love our brethren, and many proper occasions present themselves where no outward manifesta­tion is given: If such a thing were possible, this would be loving in word or tongue. Such love is not acceptable. The love must be shown by deeds; if it be true love, it will so manifest itself; empty professions will not do.

1 John 3:19—And hereby we know that we are of the truth.

When our love exhibits itself in deeds, when it is oper­ative or active, we may know assuredly that we are in the fellowship of God.

1 John 3:20—For if our heart condemn us.

If we are deficient in love to our needy brethren, we know it; our own conscience so informs us. We thus con­demn ourselves. God is greater than our hearts, for he knows all things; his condemnation is therefore certain, because he is a more perfect and impartial Judge.

1 John 3:21—Beloved, if our heart condemn us not.

But if our conscience does not condemn us—that is, does not accuse us of being deficient in love to our needy brethren —we have a conscience void of offense toward God, and we are assured that he will hear us, for he knows that we have not failed in duty.

1 John 3:22—And whatsoever we ask.

Having kept Gods commandments, by loving our breth­ren in deed and in truth, and thereby acting in a way well pleasing to God, we know that whatever blessings we ask of him, agreeably to his will, we shall receive.

1 John 3:23—And this is his commandment.

The commandment that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another; believe that God sent his Son into the world; the same Jesus that was born in the manger; that he was sent to save us; take him, accept him as our Prophet, Priest and King; follow him as our Leader, trusting and relying upon him for salvation, and, in addition, love the brethren in deed and in truth. This is God’s commandment.

1 John 3:24—And he that keepeth.

By keeping God’s commandments we have fellowship with him. We dwell with him, and he with us.

1 John 3:24—That he abideth in us.

The spirit of the Master that is given to us manifests itself in our daily walk. If we be led by his spirit, we show its fruits in our lives, and by this spirit we know that we are the sons of God.

Commentary on 1 John 3:13-24 by Burton Coffman

1 John 3:13 --Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you.

The apostle Peter wrote a similar warning (1 Peter 4:12), and Jesus Christ had repeatedly warned the apostles of the unyielding hostility of the world (John 15:18-19; John 15:25; John 16:1 ff; John 17:14, etc.). Cain with his murderous attitude toward his brother who was righteous is the prototype of all the unregenerated people who ever lived. Although it is natural for the non-Christian world to hate Christians, it is not the business or intention of Christians to seek or encourage such hatred; but, rather, it is the purpose of God’s children so to live and deport themselves as to disarm such hatreds and win the lost to Christ. In keeping with that purpose, Christians should diligently eliminate from their lives all lack of amiability, carefully avoiding all behavior that might justly incur the world’s hostility.

The reason why the wicked hated the righteous is that, "The good man is a walking rebuke to the evil man, even if he never spake a word to him. His life passes a silent judgment."[33] Alcibiades, a debauchee, said to Socrates, "I hate you; because every time I meet you, you show me what I am."[34] "There is still a Cain, the world, hating its Abel, the church."[35]

[33] William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (Philadelphia: The Westminster press, 1976), p. 85.

[34] Ibid.

[35] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 73.

1 John 3:14 --We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death.

We know that we have passed out of death into life ... The true test of Christian achievement is not world opinion, but holy love within the heart. "Passed out of" is from a word that means, "passing from one form of government to another, and was used of transition from one place to another."[36] It is akin to the word "migrated."

Death into life ... This strongly reflects the teaching of Jesus who said, "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live" (John 5:25). All of the New Testament writers reflect the same thought. The old sinful life is death; the new joy in Christ Jesus is life.

He that loveth not ... One whose heart is not healed, opened and expanded by love is still abiding in the old life which is death.


[36] David Smith, op. cit., p. 186.

1 John 3:15 --Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

John here skipped a point or two in his argument, but it is nevertheless evident anyway. "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."[37] An argument like this is squarely founded upon the teachings of the Master who equated the deprecatory word, the contemptuous epithet, and anger in the heart against a brother, with murder (Matthew 5:21-22).


[37] W. N. Sinclair, op. cit., p. 485.

1 John 3:16 --Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

In such a verse as this the unattainability of the full Christian ideal is starkly clear. John did not here command Christians to lay down their lives for each other, but he thundered the principle that they ought to do it. Why? Because Christ did so for us. If the exhibition of such a love as this is the final test to be met before one can be saved, we must be convinced that heaven is going to be sparsely settled! Such an ethic is very much like that set forth in the parable of the good Samaritan, being simply beyond that which the vast majority of Christian people have ever dared to attempt. It is perhaps intended in such Scriptures as these that Christians shall behold the truth of their being "unprofitable servants," and utterly incapable of achieving, in any complete sense, that righteousness which alone can save. In the light of this verse, who could ever imagine that he merited salvation, or that he had earned it? We believe that John’s purpose here was primarily that of illuminating this truth. Knowing human weakness and inability to survive such a test (at least in the general sense), God, in his providence, has most infrequently made it a test of Christian fidelity. There are other tests of love, however; and John will immediately turn to one of them.

1 John 3:17 --But whoso hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?

"This is a much more common and practical test, which all may be called upon to meet, Christian philanthropy."[38] A stingy Christian is a contradiction of terms. There is no use of one’s imagining that he has the kind of love that would give up life for a brother, if the countless opportunities of aiding those in distress find no adequate response within him. In a sense, it is even more difficult to aid the poor and the needy than to suffer martyrdom. As Smith put it, "Martyrdom is heroic and exhilarating; the difficulty lies in doing the little things, making the petty sacrifices and self-denials which no one notices and no one applauds."[39] However, in a practical sense, no Christian can excuse himself from full compliance with the holy commandment in a matter like this.

Translators and commentators have devised all kinds of ways to tone down the import of a passage like this. Note the following:

"The well-to-do man who sees his brother in want, etc."[40]

Doesn’t this let most of us off the hook?

In answer to the question of how far one should go in giving to the poor, although this is theoretical rather than practical, for the vast majority are in no danger at all of exceeding proper boundaries in the exercise of this grace, John Wesley wrote this:

"Give to him that asketh thee ..." Give and lend to any so far (but no farther, for God never contradicts himself) as is consistent with thy engagements to thy creditors, thy family, and the household of faith.[41]

Such a comment reveals the serious question of priorities which makes this one of the most difficult Christian commandments; and yet it is one that every child of God must receive and obey.

The very great difficulty of implicit obedience to such commands as those in these verses has been "solved" in a number of devious ways. There are some who talk a good game of loving others, but whose lives show no evidence of it. John will deal with that in the very next verse. There are others who are masters of the art of doing good with "other people’s money." They organize enterprises and institutions which they propose to support with contributions from others, feeling that in this they have obeyed the Lord. However, it is the clear intention of the New Testament that the personal element in giving should be dominant. A great many of the charitable enterprises in any community are run exactly like hard-nosed business establishments.

[38] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 93.

[39] David Smith, op. cit., p. 186.

[40] From the New English Bible in The New Testament in Four Versions (New York: Iverson-Ford Associates, 1963), p. 763.

[41] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (Naperville, Illinois: Alec R. Allensen, Inc., 1950), p. 34.

1 John 3:18 --My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.

The prohibition here is not against expressions of love and concern for others; for, in their place, these are beautiful and helpful. What is forbidden is the substitution of loving words for needed assistance, which is here called loving "in word." An even worse error is that of merely using the vocabulary of love without any sincerity whatever, that is, talking of a love and concern for others without either the desire or any intention of doing anything except talking about it. This is called by John, "loving ... with the tongue." The world is loaded with "word" lovers and "tongue" lovers! Christians are expected to love "in deed and in truth."

1 John 3:19-20 --Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him: because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

In this verse, "heart" is used with the meaning of "conscience." "The heart in St. John’s language is conscience; the word conscience is not found in his writings."[42]

"Opinion is much divided on whether these verses are meant to inspire awe, or afford consolation."[43] There does not seem to be any way of arriving at an absolute certainty on this point, so both viewpoints (and translations) will be presented.


Westcott’s paraphrase is: "We shall then still our heart in whatsoever it may condemn us, because we are in fellowship with God, and that fact assures us of his sovereign mercy."[44]

David Smith explained the meaning thus:

The foregoing exhortation may have awakened a misgiving in our minds: "Am I loving as I ought?" Our failures in duty and service rise up before us, and "our heart condemns us." So the apostle furnishes a grand reassurance. The assurance is: (1) the worst that is in us is known to God, and (2) God sees the deepest things, and these are the real things. If our intention is to do his will, he takes account of that.[45]

The translation in the New Catholic Bible also follows this pattern of thought:

A probable rendering of the Greek is: "And in his sight we shall reassure our hearts, whatever our heart may accuse us of, because God is greater."[46]

Orr wrote:

When conscience brings its accusations, we may appeal to the higher and final tribunal of Omniscience. "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love, etc." (John 21:17).[47]

Plummer in his comment on "God knoweth all things ..." has this:

This is an awful thought for the impenitent, a blessed and encouraging thought for the penitent. God knows our sins, but he also knows our temptations, our struggles, our sorrow, and our love."[48]

Despite the above, however, there is another viewpoint that must be considered.


It could mean: since our hearts condemn us and God is infinitely greater than our hearts, God must condemn us even more. If we take it that way, it leaves us only with the fear of God and with nothing to say but, "God be merciful to me, a sinner."[49]

Our conscience is but the faint echo of His voice who knoweth all things: if it condemns us, how much more He?[50]

The main objection to this interpretation was stated by Stott who thought that the emphatic purpose of the paragraph was that of healing wounded hearts and not that of "opening the wounds wider ... and striking terror into their hearts."[51] Despite this, we cannot rule out the possibility of this second meaning, for in so doing we might be guilty of presumption. Nevertheless, we dare to hope that the first meaning is correct. It could be that the blessed Spirit who inspired these precious words intended a certain ambiguity.

[42] Ibid., p. 912.

[43] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1057. [44] Ibid.

[45] David Smith, op. cit., p. 187.

[46] The New Catholic Bible, op. cit., p. 317.

[47] R. W. Orr, op. cit., p. 616.

[48] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 75.

[49] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 86.

[50] John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 148.

[51] Ibid.

1 John 3:21 --Beloved, if our heart condemns us not, we have boldness toward God;

Whatever consolation may have been intended in the preceding verses, a greater consolation is promised for the Christian who will keep his conscience clean.

1 John 3:22 --and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.

Whatsoever we ask we receive ... "This declaration is limited by the conditions, which in other passages of Scripture, are made necessary to our petitions being granted by God."[52] There is in this verse the implied condition that it is the prayers of the obedient which are answered.


[52] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 78.

1 John 3:23 --And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment.

Believe in the name ... and love one another ... To believe and love - this is the greatest and most important command that ever issued from the throne of glory."[53] The inclusion here of faith "in the name" of Christ shows that, "the commandments" mentioned in the preceding verse are "not only, or chiefly moral."[54] They include the whole spectrum of Christian duty. It is a gross mistake to consider Christianity as chiefly an ethical code, though it is also that. Belief, or faith, in this passage also "carries an overtone of commitment"[55] and actually means fidelity, or faithfulness, as generally in the New Testament.

These last two verses of the chapter (1 John 3:23-24) carry frequent references to the farewell discourses of Jesus (John 13, 15). Obedience to divine commands, continuity in faith and love, promised answer to prayer, abiding in God, and the gift of the Spirit are among these.

His commandment ... Orr pointed out that "believe and love" as used in this verse have the meaning of "trust and obey."[56] Barclay also agreed to this: "When we put these two commandments together, we find the great truth that the Christian life depends on right belief and right conduct combined."[57]

[53] John Wesley, op. cit., p. 913.

[54] Amos N. Wilder, op. cit., p. 270.

[55] Ibid.

[56] R. W. Orr, op. cit., p. 616.

[57] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 88.

1 John 3:24 --And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us.

Abideth in him, and he in him ... This refers to the Christian’s abiding in Christ and Christ’s abiding in the Christian, "a metaphor derived ultimately from our Lord’s allegory of the vine and the branches (John 15:1 ff)."[58] It is not, however, some mystical experience which is meant by this; "its indispensable accompaniments are the confession of Jesus as the Son of God come in the flesh, and a consistent life of holiness and love."[59] In this connection, it is also appropriate to point out that no one was ever truly "in Christ" who was not baptized "into him," as the New Testament repeatedly affirms (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26-27; 1 Corinthians 12:13).

And hereby we know that he abideth in us ... this is only another way of saying, "hereby we know we are truly Christians."

By the Spirit he gave us ... In Christians, this refers to "the influence of the Spirit renewing their nature, sanctifying their wills, and directing their actions."[60] 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 New Testament the "earnest’ of the Holy Spirit.

In the wonderful words of this great chapter, the apostle John has revealed the true secret of the wonderful life in Christ, a life so glorious that it is appropriately described as a transfer from darkness to light, and as passing from death to life. The basics of it are profoundly simple. These are: the acceptance of Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son, the confession of his name, being baptized into him, abiding "in him," having him "abide in" us, and responding to his great love by loving all people of the whole world, and "the brethren in Christ" with even a more fervent love. Such a life is the greatest adventure that human life on earth can offer, and those who dare to accept the challenge shall receive a final reward of eternal life with God in heaven.

[58] John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 150.

[59] John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 151.

[60] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 79.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 John 3". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/1-john-3.html.
Ads FreeProfile