Read the Passage: 1 John 3:10–4:6
Listen to the Redeemed Mind Podcast: 1 John 3
Imperative of Love (3:10–15)
Earlier in this chapter, John wrote about the importance of character. John taught in 1 John 3:7–9 that those who are of the devil have lives characterized by sin, whereas those who are of Christ will embrace righteousness. Of course, believers do sin (cf. 1 John 1:8, 10), yet it should not come naturally to them. In 1 John 3:10–12 this earlier line of thought is developed, as here John revisits the idea that Christians must love one another, whereas children of the devil do not love one another. John illustrates this teaching with the example of Cain and Abel. John teaches that Cain killed Abel “because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12; cf. Heb. 11:4; Jude 11). This reference is important, for it sheds light on why Cain killed Abel—that is, Cain was convicted of his own sin in light of Abel’s righteousness, leading to Cain’s murderous rage (cf. Gen. 4:5).
In 1 John 3:13 the church is warned by John, “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.” Jesus taught, the world will hate believers (cf. John 15:18–21) and Paul noted that Christians can expect persecution (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12). Indeed, Jesus suffered so that believers might be glorified; therefore, Christians can expect to suffer that Christ might be glorified. Furthermore, John implies in 1 John 3:14 that the suffering experienced by the church, which can sometimes be prompted by believers’ love for others, is proof “that we have passed from death to life.” Next, John returns to his Cain and Abel illustration, writing, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). John’s overarching teaching here is that believers must love others, for love is evidence of salvation and hate is equivalent to murder (cf. Matt. 5:21–26).
Application of Love (3:16–24)
The gospel is more than just an intellectual fact, and it ought not to be equated with an eternal life insurance policy. Indeed, the gospel is a worldview that changes the mind—indeed, the very essence—of Jesus’ followers. As John wrote, we can know God’s love for us, as well as the truth of the gospel, “because Jesus’ laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16a; cf. Rom. 5:8). This example, as well as the transformation it produces in us, ought to cause us to be willing “to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16b). In 1 John 3:17 we learn that Christian love is not only present in supreme sacrifices, but also it is present in sacrificial giving. While most believers will not have the opportunity to lay down their lives for their brethren, nearly everyone will come across others in need. Failure to care for those in need betrays a lack of love for God and it may be indicative of an invalid faith.
Perhaps surprisingly, in 1 John 3:18–21 we read of a personal benefit of loving others—namely, “by this we shall know that we are of the truth and shall set at rest our hearts before Him.” Many Christians struggle from time-to-time with assurance. While God knows those who are His (cf. 2 Tim. 2:19), His desire is that believers be assured of their own salvation, for assurance gives us “confidence toward God” (1 John 3:21). One way that Christians can gain such assurance, John teaches, is by loving others. In 1 John 3:22 we learn that there is a connection between God’s moral law and our prayers. The tie is not, as some have misunderstood, that if we keep God’s commands, He is in our debt and therefore obligated to answer our prayers. Rather, the connection is that if we walk in obedience to God’s commands, our prayers will be shaped by and shall conform to the will of God.
Spirit of Truth (4:1–6)
Having reminded the church about the need to love one another in chapter 3, as John begins 1 John 4, he once again exhorts these believers about the importance of truth. With an eye on the Gnostic false teaching in their midst, John reminds the church about the importance of evaluating doctrine in light of gospel truth. In particular, an orthodox doctrine of Christ will always “confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2). Yet, false teaching, which embodies “the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3), will contain a warped Christology, denying Jesus’ humanity, deity, or otherwise distorting His person and work. John returns in 1 John 4:4–6 to a theme he had addressed in 1 John 2:26–27—that is, the idea that biblical truth will resonate with believers, while worldly errors will be embraced by unbelievers. By this, writes John, we can discern between truth and error.
- What is the difference between tolerating each other in the church and loving one another in the church? Do most Christians truly love one another?
- From the Cain and Abel narrative (cf. Gen. 4:1–15), and the New Testament references to this event, what can we learn about neighbor-love?
- How can we distinguish between the needs and wants of others (cf. 1 Tim. 6:17–19; Heb. 13:16; Jas. 1:27; 2:14–17)?
- Have you been assured of your faith on account of your love toward others? Has obedience to God’s commands shaped your prayers (cf. Ps. 37:4; Jas. 4:3)?
- Have you ever held to incomplete or incorrect doctrine? If so, what was it that revealed your error and corrected your theology?