What’s the test of our Christian faith? John echoed Jesus when he wrote in this section that our faith revolves around love: God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for others because of God. John also reminded us that our love shouldn’t just be seen in what we say, but also in what we do. As I write this, we’re dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. It would be easy to hide away and do nothing. While much can be said for the truth that this is the best practice, there are ways we can help even when we’re self-isolating. So, isolate, but reach out, especially through technology.
11. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.
If you search the history of God working in the world, He has called on people to love one another. This isn’t just the history of how God dealt with people since the time of Jesus, in the example that John used, he showed that Cain hated his brother and killed him because he was wicked. And how do we know that he was wicked, he didn’t love his brother. He killed him because his own actions and attitudes were evil, because he was of the devil, while Abel was righteous before God. As you look at that stoy in Genesis, there’s a hint of the issue when we read that Abel brought an offering of the best of the flock, and Cain brought an offering, too. I believe that Abel gave of his best out of the joy of giving, while Cain brought something because he wanted to get on God’s good side. He used his offering to manipulate God and failed. That failure enraged him and he killed Cain. (I should note that a lot of that is my interpretation and that anything that goes beyond the Bible is subject to revision.)
13. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. 14. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. 15. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
I run into Christians who are dumbfounded when they meet non-Christians who don’t like them. They wonder what they did wrong to cause the problem. The truth is that their lives are built on hate for anything that has to do with God. They won’t acknowledge any good thing you’ve done, even if it’s to help them, and they’ll hold all of our failings, and, especially, all the failings of other Christians they’ve met or heard about against us. As a writer I’ve befriended many people who aren’t Christians and I can tell that somehow they’ve been hurt by the church in the way they vent their anger about God’s people. Usually, if I ask, which isn’t often, I get a “well, not you, but those other people I don’t know…” Not always. There is a lot of hate for Christians in the world. Sadly, many of those who hate the Church and God’s people do so because they’ve been hurt by the church or someone in the church. So, when they world hates you, don’t be surprised. At the same time treat those who rant against God and God’s people with as much grace as possible. God can still work on them.
The defining factor fo those who follow Christ, at least according to Jesus (John 13:35) is that we love our brothers (and sisters) in Christ. John uses that same idea to note that we pass from death unto life when we love our brothers and sisters. Love is a defining picture of the follower of Christ. If we live in God’s love for our brothers, we have eternal life. Conversely, if we hate our brothers and sisters, we’re dwelling with death. Perhaps John remembered the Sermon on the Mount when he said that the person who hates his brother is a murderer. Whether one murders the brother physically or spiritually through hate, the person who practices hate doesn’t have eternal life in them.
16. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
How do we recognize the love of God? We recognize and begin to understand God’s love as we think about Jesus giving up His life for us. He died on the cross to take the penalry for sin on Himself. John noted that we should be willing to sacrifice our own lives for our brothers and sisters just like Jesus did. According to the commercial, people will do a lot of things for a certain kind of ice cream bar, so let me ask what you’d do for a brother in need. John dealt with that in upcoming verses.
17. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18. My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
As I write this, the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. So much of the world is in need because of jobs lost as people were forced out of jobs when their work sites closed down. There’s fear and hoarding going on. John’s response today would be the same as his response to the needs of his day: if you have something to share, especially with the brothers, share it. In some ways, we’ve seen the worst of humanity during this time: a man who bought over 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and then sought to sell it for outlandish prices. People hoarding water and toilet paper – for whatever reason on those two things. People buying all the meat. While the man who bought the hand sanitizer ended up donating it to various agencies after a huge uproar, that wasn’t his original plan. Meanwhile, we’ve seen some of the best of humanity at the same time. People (and churches) buying groceries for those in need or people who can’t get out of the house, a CEO of a restaurant chain giving up their salary and bonuses for their employees, and numerous other small acts of caring and concern that will never make the news. If you act like the first group, how can the love of God be in you? If all you do is think about yourself, you obviously don’t have the mind of Christ who gave up everything to come to earth and die on the cross for us. If you have something, then, as my wife has said on numerous occasions, realize that God gave it to you so that you can share with others in their time of need. If you can turn your back on people who have nothing, how does God live in you? John’s admonittion is much like James’s here when James said not to tell someone to go in peace – warmed and filled – without doing anything to meet their needs. If you say you love someone or something, then back it up by how you live. Live generously with all God has given you. Our love for others should imitate the love God has for us, and we must remember that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) My wife knows I love her not just because of the things I say, but because of the things I do to work with her as we walk this earth together. Our love for others should embody that principal.
19. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 20. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
While our actions don’t make us good enough for God to love us, because He loved us long before we turned to Him, the fact that our lives have changed and reflect the love of God to others is one way we know that we are “of the truth” or in a loving relationship with God. In our evangelism program we ask people to consider the question, “Why should God let you into heaven.” The answer, which should be obvious, has nothing to do with our works, but has everything to do with the fact that Jesus died on the cross to take away our sin. At the same time, though, the Christian should recognize that if he or she is really of the truth, really part of God’s family, then our lives should reflect God’s love to others. It’s an interesting phenomenon, though, that as we grow closer to God, we recognize more about our sin; we realize what we’re doing wrong. And so, rather than revel in God’s love for us, our hearts condemn us and we begin to seek ways to gain the assurance of God’s love. Our heart fails, but the great truth of God, the central core of Christian faith is that God knows and loves us. We can’t do anything to earn His love. When our heart may condemn us for what we say, think, or do, or what we don’t say, think, or do, we need to recognize that God, who is greater than our heart, knows all things and still loves us. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing we do can surprise God and cause Him to rethink His relationship with us.
21. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. 22. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
I love that John reminds his brothers and sisters that He loves them at this point. After dealing with the concern about our hearts condemning us and giving us the key to overcoming that condemnation, John pointed out that if our hearts don’t condemn us, it’s because of what God has done and we can have confidence because of Him. Our hearts shouldn’t condemn us, but that’s not because we’re perfect, or, as some would describe it, living in sinless perfection, it’s because of our relationship with God. My wife doesn’t have a perfect husband, but he never doubts her love even when he messes up because of the relationship he has with her based on God’s love. This confidence allows us to come before Him in prayer, expecting God to answer those prayers. Now, here’s the thing: John mentioned in the last part of this verse that we keep His commandments and do things that please Him. If we do, our prayers will reflect our love for Him, our obedience, and a lifestyle that wants God’s best for ourselves and others. What does that mean for us as we pray. Janis Joplin sang a prayer song designed to ridicule the prayers of those who seem to think that God’s a gameshow host leading His people in the new game, “The Prayer is Right.” In this song, she asked for a Mercedes Benz, a color TV, and a night on the town. She came up with good justification for each of those requests. And let’s face it, some of the teaching on prayer sounds a lot like this Joplin satire on prayer. The truth about prayer is that as we become more aligned with God’s will in our lives, our prayers begin to reflect not our desires for stuff, but God’s desires for a lost and hurting world.
23. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. 24. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
John was around when Jesus distilled all the commandments into two practices: love God and love your neighbor. When John said, “…because we keep His commandments…” in the previous verse, people attuned to the Law might have been thinking about ten of them or even over 600 of them. Here, her clarified that by recalling the teaching of Jesus. While he changes the wording from “love God” to “believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ,” we believe on His name because of our love for God who brought us forgiveness of sins through Jesus. You can’t really believe on the name, or, in terms more closely aligned to the language of today, believe in the person and nature of Jesus Christ, without loving God for what He did sending Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. So, the commandments involve loving God and acting on His love for us, and loving others. That was the command of Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40. John reminds us that if we keep those commandments, it’s not that we love some far distant God who may or may not have time for us; it’s that we are living in Him and He’s living in us through His Spirit. He lives in us and walks with us 24/7. We can’t hide from God when we sin, because He dwells in us and He begins the process of forgiveness immediately, even before we recognize that we’ve sinned. God loves us. As one commentator put it, He’s crazy about us. As we continue to live and work in this world, let’s walk in the love God has for us and share His love with all the people we meet. The world has enough sourpusses, let’s show them and everyone else the love of God.