The Latter Epistles – 1 John 3

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.  But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins.  And in him is no sin.  No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray.  The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.  The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.  No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.  This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.  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.  Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other.  Anyone who does not love remains in death.  Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
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.  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?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.  Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.  And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.  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.

  • 1 John 3:1-24

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

1 John 3:1 ‘intense love’: “What intense love is revealed to one who is favored to be called a child of God!  It is love in the highest degree.  What love a person would have in his heart if he were to take a malicious enemy and say, ‘You will be my child.’  Only think, then, what it must be for God – the infinite and eternal Spirit – to say, ‘You will be my child.  I will take you, though you are an heir of wrath, and make you mine’  This is love worth pondering.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 John 3:2 ‘God’s children’: “At present we are in our seed stage, sowing time is coming.  Let us not worry that it is so.  There will be a time for our poor flesh to sleep in the silent grave.  But at the voice of the archangel and the blast of the trumpet of the resurrection, we will rise.  Just as the flower rises in spring, the dead body in the tomb will rise incorruptible in the image of the Savior.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 John 3:4-10 ‘abiding in Christ’: “Abiding in Christ in righteousness is based upon his first appearing (3:4-10_.  He took away sins and destroyed the works of Satan.  Two cycles (vv. 4-7, 8-9) give the cause (vv. 4, 8a), the purpose (vv. 5, 8b), and the logical result (vv. 6, 9) of his appearing.  The essential nature of sin is defined as lawlessness or active rebellion (v. 4).  He who practices sin ‘breaks the law.’  The term lawlessness may be a technical one that refers to the satanic lawlessness under Antichrist before Christ’s return (Matt. 24:11-12; 2 Thess. 2:3).”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

1 John 3:9 ‘Righteousness’: “Truth is important, but it takes more to be a Christian than simply mentally assenting to a certain doctrine or creed.  Truth is meaningless if it doesn’t change our behavior, so to our truth we must add righteousness.
“The message of John is this: If you really have Jesus Christ living in you, you can’t go on living in sin.  You must change your way of life.  But the Gnostics said, in effect, ‘If spirit is good and matter is evil, then the only thing that counts is the spirit.  What you do with your material body doesn’t matter, so if you want to indulge your lusts, go ahead because you actions won’t affect your spiritual standing with God.’ John responds to this error: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God (3:9).”

  • Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible

1 John 3:9 ‘Satan is the ruler of this world’: “Do not love the world.  What exactly does that mean?  The apostle John helps us answer that question in this epistle when he gives us a good description of the world system: ‘For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world (1 John 2:16).
“Satan is the rules of the world (see John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and we’re warned against getting entangled with his system: ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will’ (Rom. 12:2 NIV).  The world is screaming in our ears, telling us how to think, what to do, how to dress, what we should listen to, and what we should watch.  Many who claim faith in Christ are blindly following along, believing the lies of Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44).”

  • Denise Wilson, Seven Words you Never Want to Hear

1 John 3:12-24 ‘displaying love’: “As noted throughout this epistle, John often repeated the same truths, expanding on them to allow his readers to hear them in new and fresh ways.  Each time, he presents the same truths in ‘new’ packages, which expand on a particular aspect of their significance or approach the subject from a slightly different angle.  Verses 12-17 address the characteristic lack of love displayed by the children of the devil, which in verses 18-24 he talks about the characteristics of love displayed by the children of God.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary

1 John 3:16 ‘laid down his life’: “True love is not satisfied with expressing itself in words.  Love must express itself in deeds.  Love delights in sacrifices.  Love rejoices in self-denials.  The more costly the sacrifice, the better is love pleased to make it.  Christ’s love is best seen in the laying down of his life.  There were no claims on him on the part of those for whom he died.  I can understand a mother dying for her children.  I can see some reason a noble citizen would die for his city.  But the Son of God had no relationship to us until he chose to assume one out of his infinite compassion.  There was no more relation between him and us than between the potter and the clay.  If the clay on the pottery wheel is misshapen, what does the potter do but discard the clay?  So might the great Creator have done with us.  Yet with no claims on himself, of his own free will, he yielded to death because of his amazing love for us.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 John 3:19-24 ‘love is essential’: “For three reasons love is essential to assurance before God (3:19-24).  First, it relieves the condemnation of the heart.  Love results in assurance of being in the truth and reassurance when we are troubled by conscience.
“Second, love is essential because it gives confidence in prayer (vv. 21-22).  An uncondemning heart assures the beloved of continuous confidence … before God and continuous answers whenever they pray (5:14-15).
“Third, love is essential because it fulfills God’s commands (3:11-24), which have two aspects.  The first, prior aspect is to place initial faith in the name of God’s Son (5:13) so that we are of the truth (3:19; 2 John 4).  This is to acknowledge Jesus as Christ incarnate (2:22-23) and divine Son, as the Father commanded (Matt. 17:5).  The second aspect is to keep loving one another, just as God (the source of the command) commanded through Christ (John 13:34-35; 14:24).  Right conduct must flow from right belief (2:3-4; Gal. 5:6, 13).  Verse 24 gives a further result of keeping his commands, namely, assurance.  Mutual abiding is intimate relationship with God (2:6; 3:1; 4:12-13) and Christ (2:24; cf. Ezek. 37”26-27).”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

1 John 3:23 ‘love each other’: “Does bumping into certain people leave you brittle, breakable, and fruitless?  Do you easily fall apart?  If so, love may be grounded in the wrong soil.  It may be rooted in their love (which is fickle) or in your resolve to love (which is frail).  John urges us to rely on the love God has for us (1 John 4:16, emphasis mine).  He alone is the power source.
“Many people tell us to love.  Only God gives us the power to do so.
“We know what God wants us to do.  ‘This is what God commands … that we love each other’ (1 John 3:23).  But how can we?  How can we be kind to the vow breakers?  To those who are unkind to us?  How can we be patient with people who have the warmth of a vulture and the tenderness of a porcupine?  How can we love as God loves?  We want to.  We long to.  But how can we?
“By living loved.”

  • Max Lucado, A Love Worth Giving

My Thoughts

This chapter starts off with an often-quoted passage about how God loves us so much that He calls us children of God.  It seems to come up every time they do infant baptism at the church, although other denominations do not do infant baptism.  But if you have doubts about how God is looking after you, think of a loving parent who tends a young child.  The child may feel that they have a lot of freedom, but that parent is nearby to pull them from danger.  We want to think of ourselves as all grown up.  As we discussed in 1 John 2, there is a difference in children, young men, and fathers – depending on our growth as a Christian.  We all start as children in that sense, but we are expected to grow, and the children are the most vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.

The next paragraph speaks of those attacks.  If we are in Christ and Christ within us, we should not sin, but we fail on occasion.  There are all the platitudes about it matters not how many times you fall down, but how many times you get back up.  But let us forget our sin at this point, as God has forgiven and forgotten.  Let us focus on those sins in our lives that we have truly repented of.  This paragraph is not about our failure, but about our obedience.  It is a struggle to establish the habit of obedience, and it is a habit.  In many cases, the habit can be impossible without God’s strength within us.  And if you have a particularly horrible bad habit, you may need to do as the “anonymous” organizations suggest and count the days.  As the days mount, you can see the strength of the Lord growing the good habit of obedience and working against the bad habit of sin.  And if you falter, you are not defeated.  It is one sin to confess.  The count starts over again.

The next paragraph is like the previous, with the author of sin being introduced.  We now know where the battlelines are drawn.  When other human beings are involved in our sin or we think of them as the source, it is not the other person who is our enemy as much as Satan being the enemy.  The person may need to be avoided, but the person needs our prayer.  Yet, we must put on our battle armor against Satan and the greatest armor that we have is the Bible and prayer that contains an element of listening for God’s answer, maybe by reading the Bible.

This shift in focus from John speaking about us not sinning to the author of sin, the master of lies, the devil himself…  That is not by accident.  The message then clearly shifts away from the sin and the source of our temptations being those around us to Satan.  The people that may or may not be terribly nice are, after all, people.  We must love one another.  If we do not look upon someone who cuts us off in traffic as being evil personified, then we can love that person and pray for them instead of getting angry or getting frightened by the constant onslaught of more of the same type of driver.  With each of our sins, we could take this same approach, being concerned for our neighbor and praying for our neighbor instead of responding in an inappropriate manner.  I chose the traffic example because it happens to me all the time, and I am sure most people can relate.

In the next paragraph, we see a parallel with the book of James.  The Apostle John says that we need to put our love into action.  If we have and our neighbor does not have, we must take action so that the neighbor’s needs are met.  This does not mean give the neighbor your only automobile.  Now you are in need.  No.  But we can offer the neighbor transportation.  If we have internet service and the neighbor has none.  We can use our internet connection to purchase groceries and have them delivered.  This type of service has flourished since the COVID lockdown started, but what of those who do not have a computer or a smartphone?  Offering rides and helping neighbors with internet connectivity for services are ways that hardly cost anything, maybe some time.  And that time may show more love for that neighbor than a mountain of words.

And for someone who always gives time, money, and things, be willing and gracious to receive.  We have had the same neighbors on one side of us for the past 25 years (in a few weeks).  We leave them alone and they leave us alone, mostly.  When I lost my job and then found some temporary contract work away from home, I was away and could not mow the lawn.  My wife was incapable, and the landlady’s brother decided that he had other things to do.  Our neighbor started mowing the lawn.  It helped the property value of his home and it provided him with exercise.  And our lawn is rather small.  My wife has been giving him gifts since he refuses payment.  And we are occasionally shocked to hear a knock and then see Styrofoam containers of food at our backdoor.  Our neighbor’s wife cooked enough for us on one side and the 100+ year old gentleman on the other side.  They say that it is better to give than receive, but we need to know how to do both.

And then the chapter concludes with two commands made by Jesus.

We are to believe (and trust) in Jesus, and we are to love one another.

Rev. John MacArthur mentions above that the Apostle John likes to repeat himself.  Repetition is important in retaining knowledge and skill.  Let us hope that the repetition that we take from this chapter is the habit of obedience and the habit of looking toward our neighbor in love.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“1. Of the motives given here, which one spurs you on to live for God?  Why?
“2. As you get older, do you find it harder or easier to resist sinful desires?
“3. When you blow it, what have you found helpful in making it right and getting on with life?
“1. Where do you see ‘Cain-like’ attitudes in yourself?
“2. If you were to consciously practice ‘Jesus-like’ love this week for a particular ‘brother,’ how would you show it in your family?  Church?  Work?  Community?  Politics?  Toward those you don’t like?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

1 John 3 is split into two discussion sessions in the Serenity Bible.  Thus, there are two questions 1 and 2.

The first question is obscure.  What motives?  But the two themes of the chapter apply: obedience and love.  I have known people who rarely showed love (some never in an open sense), but they understood obligation, and they were obedient.  Both elements are within us, but which spurs us into action?  That makes the question clearer, and maybe hard to answer.

And in looking at oneself as “Cain-like,” consider when you go your own path and ignore God’s path.  We are not just looking at “murderous thoughts.”

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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