Last week we looked into John’s understanding of the Christian life and how as a Christian one cannot sin/rebel against God anymore.
The “for” at the beginning of the clause (3:11) shows that it is subordinate to verse 10 which ended “anyone who does not practice righteousness is not from God and anyone who does not love his brother”. The love to the brother is therefore linked to our love to God. This is linked back to 2:4-6 where we see that keeping God’s commandments is to abide in Him and to walk with Him. Further, we see a clear connection to 2:7-11 where the commandment is explicitly connected to the love of our fellow believers.
It seems that “from the beginning” refers best to the initial gospel proclamation and teaching of the apostles and Christ himself. The love command is found in the NT in Rom 13:8; 1 Thess 4:9; and 1 Pet 1:22; and especially in the Gospel of John in 13:34; 15:12, 17. How one is to do so and what that means is “spelled out negatively in the next verse and positively later in this passage (vv. 16–18)” (Kruse, 133).
In 3:12 we see a negative example of “brother-love”. Cain literally murdered his brother, but the writer of 1 John will show that hatred for the same is already considered to be murder (v. 15; see comment there). This is the only direct reference of the OT in this letter/sermon. It is of interest to observe that in Gen 4the LORD spoke to Cain: “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” which comes right after the LORD’s rejection of Cain’s offering and before the episode where he murders Abel. John’s “description of Cain as one ‘who belonged to the evil one’ has no parallel in the Genesis account, but in some Jewish texts (e.g., the second-century-b.c. T. Benjamin 7:1–5 and the first- or second-century-a.d. Apocalypse of Abraham 24:3–5) the murder of Abel by his brother Cain is regarded as an act inspired by the devil/Beliar” (Kruse, 133). Actions do show our disposition and origin.
Witherington points out that the word (translated “murdered”) is deliberately chosen by John. The word used is sphazō which a dictionary (Louw and Nida) defines in the following way: “to slaughter, either animals or persons; in contexts referring to persons, the implication is of violence and mercilessness—‘to slaughter, to kill’” (20.72).
One wonders about the connection of this verse (3:13) to the previous one. Kruse observes that “[i]n the Last Supper discourses, Jesus’ teaching concerning the need to love one another (John 15:9–17) is followed immediately by teaching that his disciples would experience hatred from ‘the world’ (John 15:18–25)” (134). Though the context of 1 John is different from that of the Gospel of John it becomes clear that the writer of 1 John associates the secessionists with “the world”. Now “brothers” is used to link back to the Cain and Abel story and to apply it to the present situation. One of the major reasons—if not the major reason—why Christian have to love the brothers and sisters is that the world will not do it; “indeed, it may do the opposite” (Witherington, 509).
We find similar language to 3:14 in John 5:24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Again Kruse observes that “[i]n the Fourth Gospel, eternal life is defined as knowing God (John 17:3), who is both the source of life and the giver of life to those who come to him through Jesus Christ” (135). If then the parallel can be established we see that here too we who have passed from death to life are those who truly know God and therefore have fellowship with him. To have eternal life is to have Jesus Christ: “Eternal life is promised to those who believe in him (2:25); it is found in Christ, the Son (5:11), who is the true God and eternal life (5:20); this life was with the Father from the beginning and appeared in the person of Jesus Christ to eyewitnesses (1:2); those who believe in Christ may know that they have eternal life (5:13) because they have the Son, and those who have the Son have eternal life (5:12)” (Kruse, 136).
Again, John is not defining works-righteousness as if we pass from death to love because we love one another. The love for the brothers and sister is the manifestation that something has happened earlier in time—that is that we have crossed from death to life!
Since murder is the opposite of eternal life (which is fellowship with the Father through His Son) John makes the following statement in 3:15: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” This teaching is also reflected in Matt 5:21ff where the Lord himself equates hatred of one’s brother with murder. Further, in the Gospel of the term “murderer” is used of the devil (8:44).
Now in 3:16 the nature of love is explained. “The sort of love exemplified in Christ’s death is love which expends itself in the interests of others” (Kruse, 137). In the Gospel of John we have the same teaching represented. Jesus lays down his life as a good shepherd for his sheep and that he lays it down means that no one takes it from him (John 10:11, 15, 17, 18). John 15:12-14 echoes the latter part of this verse: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
3:17 talks about putting the love of a Christian to action. [On the word bios (possession) see the discussion in 1 John 2:16.]There is an instance in Jesus’ ministry where a man comes to Jesus to inquire about the requirement to have eternal life. After talking about some of the commandments which the young man said to have kept Jesus replied: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (cf. also Luke 10:25–37).
We need to ask again the question to what the love of God refers to. Is it objective genitive or subjective genitive? The objective makes sense and this can be demonstrated via 4:20: If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. But the subjective aspect would also make sense. “In Johannine terms the love which comes from God both creates believers’ love for fellow believers (4:19) and expresses itself in love for them (4:20)” (Kruse, 138). [See Deut 15:7-9 as possible background.]
Kruse maintains that loving in truth 3:18 means “loving truly (138). This then is in congruency with James 2:15-16: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
To love someone in word and talk is not necessarily wrong but to stop short there is. Words do have meaning in with words we inform, encourage and love one another. But words cannot replace actions. Through our behavior people will see that we love them!