posted on Aug, 4 2017 @ 05:02 PM
When John writes his first epistle, he is not, like Paul, addressing himself to a specific church under particular circumstances.
He writes, on behalf of himself and his fellow teachers, to anyone in the Christian body who will take his advice. Though his first readers were
probably in Ephesus and that region of Asia Minor.
His purpose is to teach these Christians, or remind them, that they are dwelling in God, through Christ, and to show them how this knowledge should be
affecting their conduct.
In the first two chapters, John was establishing the importance of this relationship, warning his readers about the factors which might disrupt our
fellowship with God.
This then raised the question; how can we know that we are abiding in God?
In the first half of the third chapter, John has been answering this question in terms of “righteousness”.
The children of God may be discerned from the children of the devil, in that the true children of God will be “doing” righteousness rather than
“Whoever does not right is not of God”, which is immediately followed by “nor he who does not love his brother”.
This merger of the two themes identifies “doing right” with “loving the brethren”, making that love the true marker of the children of God.
In the original discussion of loving the brethren, John declared “I am writing to you an old commandment, which you had from the beginning” (ch2
He now repeats that claim; “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning” (v11). The great example of the opposite of love is
Cain, who murdered his own brother.
If not doing righteousness marks out those who are not children of God, and if not doing righteousness equates with not loving the brethren, then this
act identifies Cain as a child of the devil (v12).
The motive alleged is jealousy, “because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous”. The motive is not specified in Genesis, but the
difference between the deeds is implied by the fact that God accepted one sacrifice and not the other.
Jealousy of the more righteous is a natural reason for the world to hate those who belong to Christ (v13)
But how does this connect with failure to love the brethren?
Perhaps we should remember that the difference between God and the devil is also the difference between God and the world.
It may be argued, from v10, that those who hate the brethren are detaching themselves from the community of fellowship with God, and are to be counted
already as part of “the world”.
The believer who does not love his brother is identified, in a more oblique way, with Cain as a murderer.
The starting point is that those who love the brethren have “passed out of death into life”.
It follows, from this, that he who does not love them “abides in death” (v14).
This is a rewording of the previous declaration that “he who loves his brother abides in the light” and “he who hates his brother is in the
darkness” (ch2 v10-11). Both metaphors are about abiding or not abiding in God, who is the source of both light and life.
A murderer, by definition, does not have eternal life dwelling in him (v15). He has chosen the opposite course.
So the man who hates his brother is in the same place as the murderer. They are both dwelling “outside” God.
Another point of connection is that they are both (in different degrees) taking life away from others.
The exact opposite of that is giving life to others, and in that respect the prime counter-example is Christ who “laid down his life for us” (v16)
That is the true definition of love, and we should treat our brethren in the same way. The duty is implied in the knowledge.
But one way of giving them life to is to share “the world’s goods” with them (v17).
Conversely, therefore, failing to share the world’s goods is the equivalent of withholding life from them. That makes it a kind of murder.
How, then, can anyone say of such a man that “God’s love abides in him”?
“Let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (v18).
Then John picks up on that word “truth”, because “in the truth”, like “in the light”, is another way of saying “in God”.
So this is another way of testing whether we belong to God.
“By this shall we know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him” (v19).
It does not matter if our hearts are condemning us, even if we are not sure that we love God, because he knows our hearts better than we do.
“God is greater”; his awareness that we are in fellowship with him is strong enough to outweigh our uncertainties.
If we know this, our hearts will not condemn us; our sense of fellowship with God carries with it a sense of confidence and peace.
We will then be in the position of “receiving whatever we ask”, because we keep his commandments and please him.
John has already explained what these commandments are; that we should believe in the name of the Son, and love one another.
All who keep those commandments abide in him (v20).
Finally, John adds one more variant of the ways in which we may know we abide in God.
We may know through the Holy Spirit which he has given us.
The implication is that the Holy spirit is responsible for our ability to love.
And this reference to the Spirit provides the cue for the next passage, on the subject of discerning the truth by discerning between the different
kinds of spirits.