1 John 3.1-10 was an expose on the works of the children of God v. the children of the devil. The child of God is to practice righteousness. John concluded that section with the evidence used to identify the child of God: practice righteousness and love one another. This launches the present conversation on loving the brethren.
11For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
For this is the message—some commentators say that since this is identical to 1.5 that John is starting a new division in his epistle. John’s admonition to his readers in light of the Gnostic teachers is to look to the revealed message which they have heard from the apostles from the beginning, not to the secret enlightenment of the Gnostics.
That you have heard from the beginning—”you have heard” is aorist tense. “From the beginning” harkens back to 2.7; this is the beginning of their career as Christians. And it continues to be in-force. Abide in the teaching which they have heard from the beginning (2.24).
Love one another—here is the aim of the message. This was the message even revealed by Jesus (John 13.34-35). Objectively, the singular desire to see Christ formed in your brother.
12We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.
Like Cain—Cain’s attitude and actions typifies the conduct of the world toward Christians. Cain was under the influence of Satan even as the world lies under the influence of him (5.19). For a Christian to exemplify this kind of behavior would be worldly, wrong, devilish.
Murdered his brother—the word used for murder in contexts such as these points to the violence and mercilessness of the act, hence, the NET “brutally murdered.” Savagery involved. Gk. Sphazo, to slay, slaughter, butcher, by cutting the throat; John graphically describes this.
Why…? His own deeds were evil—his deeds lined up with the evil one. It seems this also points to Cain’s lifestyle (linked to context); he lived a lifestyle of evil deeds. “own” – as compared to the righteous works, done by faith, of Abel. This produced resentment, jealousy, hatred, then murder.
13Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.
Do not be surprised…– Present imperative, “stop marveling.” Apparently, the readers were surprised by the treatment they were receiving from the world. Cain (world) still hates Abel
Brothers—before and after, they are “beloved” and “little children” but brothers in this section.
The world hates you—hatred is the lack of the desire to see Christ formed in another person. “You mean the world doesn’t want to help me look like Christ?” Light and darkness are hostile (cf. John 3.19).
14We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.
We know that we have passed—”we know” is perf. Tense from oida; certain, absolute knowledge. “We have passed” is perfect tense. We were dead (state of being) and became alive. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt this change happened. How?…
Because we love the brothers—they are obeying the commandment. Those who are obedient to the commandments of God (namely, the commandment of Christ to love one another) is in the light, has light.
Whoever does not love—lit. the one not loving; connect to “the one hating” in v.15.
…abides in death—the person failing to obey the commandment remains in a state of spiritual death, settled into it. In other words, he remains in darkness (2.9; cf. John 12.46). “A Christian can no more live without love that a plant can live without growth.” Pulpit Commentary.
15Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
…is a murderer—a throat cutting brother butcher. You’re a Cain who is serving the evil one. This is the same word that is used of Satan (John 8.44); he was a murderer from the beginning and when you hate you brother (no desire or indifference toward their becoming like Christ), you exhibit devilish behavior.
You know—Gk. Oida, perfect tense. The settled conviction; absolute, certain knowledge.
No murderer has eternal life abiding in him—John is not saying murder is the unpardonable sin (cf. Mark 3.29). Rather, he is showing hate and death go together just as love and life go together. Death and life are mutually exclusive. “Where hate is, there is death; where there is death, there can be no life.” – Woods, pg.280.
16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
By this we know love—or lit. “we know the love.” “The thing called love” (Smith). “Know” is Gk. Ginosko, to know something through investigation of the facts. They have acquired and possess this knowledge concerning love. How? Looking at Christ’s love. We cannot know agape without a trip to the Calvary/the cross.
He laid down his life for us—”He” is unquestionably Jesus. “laid down” – as one would lay down/aside a garment (see 13.4). He was active in this (John 10.18); no one took it from Him. It was deliberate, voluntary, and even casual. Jesus died on purpose; it was no accident. He died “for us” or “on our behalf.” Cain is the example of hatred (murderer) whereas Christ is the supreme example of love (murdered). Love, then, is wrapped with the blanket of self-sacrifice.
We ought to lay down our lives—”We” is emphatic. We have seen this “ought” before (2.6) concerning the debt we owe to God to live like Christ. We also owe our brethren the debt of love (cf. Rom 13.8). There is an assignment, an obligation (see 2 Cor 5.14-15). While our laying down of our lives has no atoning value, it is a supreme proof of our love for the brethren.
17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
If anyone has the world’s goods—”anyone” is anyone in the household of faith. “World’s goods” (Gk. Ton bion tou kosmou) is your livelihood. The woman with an issue of blood (Luke 8.43-48) spent all her bios, livelihood, trying to get well. Your possessions, property, what you live on, resources.
Sees his brother in need—not just a passing glance; this person worships with you, is your brother/sister and you see them week-in and week-out (daily in 1st century). You’ve watched their plight and understand their need and lack.
Yet closes his heart against him—”against” is Cainish language, behavior (see Gen 4.8). This can also be translated “turns away from him.” To close the heart is lit. to shut up the bowels, the ancient thought that emotions are from the inward parts (similar to our heart today). Implied is that for a moment, his heart was open to his brother’s plight.
How does God’s love abide in him? – rhetorical question: it doesn’t! The motivation of neglect, then, is hatred. And even passive neglect is itself hatred; it certainly doesn’t represent God’s love.
18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Let us not love in word or talk—James 2.15-16 is a prime example of someone who loves in word only. John does not condemn affectionate speech; but this only is empty.
But in deed and truth—Back up what you speak/say with action; love is a verb.
19By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;
By this we shall know—”By this” points back to v.18. “It is by doing these deeds that believers assure themselves that they belong to the truth, because the outward action reflects the inward reality of their relationship with God. Put another way, ‘conduct is the clue to paternity.’” (NET notes). ”We will know” future tense; in any future occurrence/emergency we will know…
That we are of the truth—some commentators say “of the truth” can be understood “of God.” It would seem if John wanted to say that, he would have said it. It seems John is rather saying that Christians can know they are listening to the voice of Christ (Jn 18.37).
Reassure our hearts—(an idiom, literally ‘to convince the heart’) to exhibit confidence and assurance in a situation which might otherwise cause dismay or fear—‘to be confident, to be assured’” (Lowe-Nida). What better to silence the voice of the heart (conscience) than the voice of the Lord! The voice of “the truth” speaks a better word, assuring our hearts.
Before him—in the very presence of God, the Judge.
20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
Whenever our heart condemns us—our heart (conscience) acts as local peace officer, telling us “good job” or “bad form,” what is right and wrong. Needs divine law—Rom 2.12
God is greater than our heart—God is the Supreme Court; He overrules. Only God can give us a clean conscience by the blood of Jesus: Heb 9.14; 1 Peter 3.21. Cf. Rom 8.1
He knows everything—He knows your lifestyle, career, habitual practice when it comes to listening to the voice of Christ. He understands when we are conscience stricken over sin.
21Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;
If our heart does not condemn us—Our heart (conscience) does not convict us of something bad/wrong. If we are free from the internal judgment of conscience…In reality, we need this freedom from condemnation. We need a clear conscience before God. This has implications upon our prayer life.
We have confidence before God—This is present reality. We continue to have confidence/boldness before God Almighty. Lit. confidence is the freedom to speak and coupled with the word “towards” (Gk. Pros) implies a special “face-to-face” communication. Prayer.
22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
Whatever we ask we receive from him—We can ask with the expectation that we will receive. “We ask” is present tense, i.e. we keep on asking. “The prerequisites for answered prayer are an uncondemning heart, the habitual keeping of God’s commandments, and the habitual doing of those things which please Him.” (Wuest) “We receive” is present tense; keep on receiving. This is the Christian’s habitual experience (see also Matt 7.7a, 8a).
Because (causal hoti) we keep his commandments—present tense, we keep on obeying His commandments (see 5.3b). Walk in the light, walk as Jesus walked, abide in Him; contextually, love one another in deed and truth. “Obedience is the indispensible condition, not the meritorious cause, of answered prayer” (Stott).
And do what pleases him—This is a characteristic of Jesus (John 8.29) and He was heard (John 11.42). God desires it and therefore it is fit, right that we do it. This also touches on motivation – out of our love and gratitude we do these things.
23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
This is his commandment—singular, what God has ordered of humanity.
We believe in the name of His Son—Belief is personal conviction; how can God demand this? When the evidence is clear, then He can command that people believe. It is evident in what He has made (Rom 1.19-20; Heb 11.1). He demands that we evaluate the evidence and believe. Concerning His Son, the evidence is clear and has been preserved even to today. There is enough evidence to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Aorist tense used points to a decisive moment when you put your faith and trust in “the name” (the whole personality, all that Jesus is) of the Son of God.
Love one another—How can God command this? Because He Himself is love (4.8). To know God, is to demonstrate brotherly love. (See John 13.34; 15.12, 17; 1 Jn 2.7; 3.11; 4.7). Present tense is used pointing to the continuous action of loving the brethren.
24Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Whoever keeps his commandments—lit. the one keeping His commandments; this is present tense, continued, habitual obedience to the commandments of God; lifestyle. What commandments? V.23
Abides in God and God in him— should read: “abides in Him and He in him.” keeps on abiding in God. Same language as 4.15. Whether “Him” is God or Christ would probably be unimportant to John esp. considering John 14.23; 17.21 where Jesus uses the pronouns “we” and “us” dwelling in/with believers. God lives in us, present reality. Fellowship language.
We know that he abides in us—Gk. Ginosko for “know”; that knowledge which comes through comprehension by seeing, hearing, investigation, experience. We understand God has taken up residence in us (fellowship with God); how?
By the Spirit whom he has given us—”he has given” is clearly past tense (aorist in Gk) but the precise time of this giving is disputed. Some say Pentecost (Pulpit Commentary), although it should be noted that “us” seems to include not only the apostle but his recipients. Others say beginning of Christian life (Stott). But then the question of operation arises. Some say it is fact God has given us the Spirit but that only through the Word does He motivate us to present an abode hospitable for the Father and Son to abide (Woods). Others say the Holy Spirit will enlighten our minds, elevate our affections, quicken us in performance of duty, and imbue us with the temper and spirit of the Lord (Barnes). Still others say this is the “Gift Ordinary” of the Holy Spirit, the earnest of our inheritance: Acts 2.38; Eph 1.14; 2 Cor 1.22; Rom 5.5 (Coffman). “By the Word we were taught that such a life was the right one to lead. By the Spirit we are so inspired that we cannot lead any other.” (Pulpit Commentary 86). If I confess Jesus has come in the flesh, to that degree I apprehend that I am inspired and will live accordingly.