It is absolutely certain that the apostle John was highly concerned with those under his care expressing love one to another. John was captivated by the love of Christ and referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. However, the love of Christ, much like it did to the apostle Paul, compelled John to love others. In actuality, this is what the love of Christ must do. The love of Christ must bring about love in the individual believer upon whom the love of Christ has been cast.
John makes it clear that when someone is born again, he will have love within his heart rather than hatred. Why don’t we take a look at 1 John 3:11-15 and see what John has to say about the matter.
The message from the beginning
A relatively confusing statement is made at the outset of 1 John 3:11-15 that can also be seen in 1 John 1:1, 2:7, and 2:24. Scripture says, “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (KJV, 1 John 3:11) . Clearly, the confusing element within this passage is not the fact that Christians are called to love one another. Instead, the question arises, “What is ‘the beginning’ which John is referencing?”, which leads to even more questions.
Does the beginning mean in the beginning of creation? Does the beginning mean in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry? Does the beginning mean in the beginning of the apostles’ ministry. Does the beginning mean since John first started teaching the people to whom his letter is written? On and on the questions go, but the question as to what is John referring to still remains.
It is thought by some that John is talking about an absolute beginning, as is the case in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1. However, the “beginning” statements in 1 John must be recognized as carrying a different meaning.
The book of 1 John begins by establishing the credibility of both Jesus and John. John was one who was with Christ in the beginning. John heard the words of Christ and saw Christ with his own eyes. Therefore, John knew the message that began the Gospel proclamation.
It was this message that John was referring to when he said, “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning…” (1 John 3:11) . Simply put, the beginning is referring to the beginning of the Gospel proclamation.
But what is the message that John implies was foundational to Gospel preaching? It was a message of love toward one another.
The Bible is full of both good examples and bad examples. This is an element of Bible study that must not be overlooked. While the Bible contains much clear teaching on what to do and what not to do, the Bible is also full of narrative accounts in which the Christian must study the people found within. For instance, Paul tells of the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings and says, “Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (1 Cor. 10:6) . Here one can see that the Israelites of old can be seen as negative examples at times, and these accounts should be studied carefully to learn from the people’s sinful habits and consequences.
John also uses a negative example when he says, “…we should love one another. 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” (1 John 3:12) . Thus, John tells the readers that they should not be like Cain, because Cain is an example of hatred and not love.
John also tells his readers why Cain slew his brother. Cain did not kill his brother because Abel was a bad guy. Cain did not kill his brother because Abel had it coming to him. Cain killed his brother simply because Abel was a righteous man, and the righteousness of Abel made Cain burn within.
John then moves from this specific example to a broad declaration when he says, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (1 John 3:13) . The story of Cain and Abel is more than a story about the two men found within it. The story is illustrative of what will take place between the first born and the second born.
The first born in the story is Cain. He can be seen as the first born, the unbeliever. The second born is Abel. He can be seen as the second born, the one who has been born again and received the new birth, the believer. John is saying that the believer should not marvel, be surprised, be taken back, etc. when he sees the way the world will come against him. Rather, John is saying, “Expect it!”
Assurance of salvation
While there is a way that the world will come against the believer when the believer seeks to love like Christ loves, there is an element within the moment that can help the believer to persevere. John says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren…” (1 John 3:14) . Another of John’s primary concerns in his epistle was that of knowledge.
John was combating against a religious group that claimed to have the right and proper knowledge about spiritual matters over and against that of John. John combats their position by taking a stance and declaring that he knows (thus, has the knowledge) that when someone truly loves his brethren, he has passed from death to life.
While much instruction is given in the Bible as to what is right and wrong, the topic of love surely is given unique attention. This is especially true as it relates to assurance of salvation. Jesus declared in John’s Gospel that people will know if someone is Jesus’ disciple by the way that the individual loves others. Paul has said that while faith, hope, and love are elements within the Christian’s life here on earth, a time will come when only love will be left. In the verse at hand, John is making it clear that when someone truly loves his brethren, it can be equated with assurance of salvation.
Unfortunately, the verses of the day do not end on a comforting note. Nevertheless, not every word in Scripture is meant to comfort. While there are many comforting words, there are also many warnings that must be taken seriously and never brushed aside in an attempt to be comforted by the comforting words of Scripture.
John says, “… He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15) . Here, it can be seen that when someone hates his brother, he is being equated with being a murderer.
Prior to 1 John 3:15, John spoke about Cain and said that Cain was of the wicked one. This must not be overlooked. In Scripture, it is clear that Satan was a murderer from the beginning. It was Satan who hated God and wanted to usurp God’s throne. It was Satan who wanted Adam and Eve dead, for he knew that in the day that they ate from the fruit of the tree they would surely die. It is Satan who stands before God accusing the brethren day and night that they might be sentenced to death. It was Satan who put it into Judas’ heart to betray Christ and thus brought about the cross.
Satan is in the world today, and the Christian is engaged in a battle that consists of much spiritual warfare. John makes it clear that when someone hates his brethren, he is aligning himself with Satan and thus does not have eternal life abiding in him.
Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith this day. Look to Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and turn to the Lord that times of refreshing may come from His presence.
Father, I thank You for the work of Christ. I thank You for the forgiveness that is found in Jesus. Teach me to honor You in all that I do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.