Hello friends, and welcome to the seventh post of a short blog series on 1 John. Today, we’ll be diving into 1 John 3:11-24 and seeing what else we can learn from the text! As always, be sure to read over the text beforehand or follow along as we go.
Today’s passage, once again, is full of familiar teachings! Most of it is John continuing to bolster what he’s already been teaching this whole time: loving your brothers and sisters, obeying God, and recognizing how we know that God lives in us and us in him! With that said, let’s get started.
11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
The first verse that shows up today gives a simple message: “We should love one another” (v. 11). It’s a simple yet important message that John repeatedly brings up in this epistle. He even calls it “the message you heard from the beginning” (v.11). It’s nothing new—not to us, and definitely not to the original readers of the letter. What he’ll do in the next couple of verses though (v. 11-18), is go through in depth what exactly that looks like, giving us not only specific instructions on what we are to do in v. 16-18, but also giving us strong instructions on what not to do in v. 12-15. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll go through it in order as provided in the text.
Going straight into v. 12, John recalls a story that the original readers, and us, are probably very familiar with. He brings up the story of Cain and Abel. If you’re not in fact familiar with Cain and Abel, it’s a story of two brothers who offer their sacrifices to God. God likes the sacrifices of Abel but not Cain, and Cain’s jealously leads him to murder Abel. This story leads perfectly into the statement that John makes in v. 15, and equates anyone who hates their brother and sister with Cain, a murderer.
Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:15)
If we’re familiar with the gospels, this is actually one of Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mount:
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22).
It’s not enough to simply not murder our brothers and sisters when we’re angry—that’s ridiculous. We need to go as far as to love and reconcile with them, and Jesus actually mentions this in the next set of verses:
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
One person may bring up the question: “Isn’t it much worse to physically murder someone than just being mad at them?” And my answer is: probably. But if our principle is to simply resent others without any sense of reconciliation, is that really what it means to love your neighbor? If you treat someone as if they are dead to you, haven’t you already killed them in your heart?
The next section (v. 16-18), rather than instructions on what not to do, gives instructions on what we should do instead. V. 16 has a pretty bold command: we’re told to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. At first glance, kind of extreme. Why does God call us to do this? Because that’s what Christ Jesus did (v. 16). Remember the last post where we talked about purifying ourselves in order to be more like Jesus? It’s the same thing here. As we learn to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters, we purify ourselves to be more like Jesus.
What does that look like? John addresses it in v. 17-18. Although I don’t doubt the importance of a literal laying down of our lives for our brothers and sisters as stated in v. 16, the command is a bit more multi-dimensional than that. It’s not an “in the moment” thing, it’s a lifestyle.
How do we live a lifestyle of laying down our lives for others? It looks like providing material possessions for brothers and sisters in need (v. 17), and it looks like loving others not only with words and speech but with actions and in truth (v. 18). Are these things easy? No. But our faith is put to the test when these things come up; when a brother or sister wrongs you, what will you do? Will you murder them in your heart? Or will you have faith that God’s way of forgiveness is better? When you see a brother or sister in need, what will you do? Will you ignore them, or will you be sacrificially generous, laying down your own needs for theirs? We are called to provide for other’s needs, and love them not only with words or speech but with actions and truth.
Moving on to the final section for the day, John makes a pretty bold promise: that if our hearts do not condemn us, we can have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask (v. 21-22). The big question becomes, “How can we have uncondemned hearts before God?” Well, John gives us a bit of a hint in v. 22: someone who has an uncondemned heart before God keeps his commands and does what pleases him. It’s a person who has such faith that it allows them to obey God. It’s a love that goes beyond words or speech but also affects one’s actions and lifestyle.
When we live like this, our desires align with God’s. We are free to approach his throne of grace and ask boldly, trusting that he will respond and provide for us.
So once again, we go back to the question: where is your faith kept? It’s one thing to say that our faith lies with God, but what do our actions show? Do we have a trust in God that goes beyond words and speech? Or is that simply all it is?
What does it look like for me today to love God and others with action and truth? Maybe it looks like forgiving that person who you’ve held a grudge against for a while. Or maybe it’s taking initiative to reach out and take care of a brother or sister in need. Whatever it is, I pray that you’ll be able to do so with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks for reading! And I hope you tune in again next time!