Sunday, March 1, 2020

1 John 3:11-24 "BROTHERLY LOVE -THE GREAT MARK OF THE CHRISTIAN ”


General Outline 

1.     John’s  great objective  for writing this letter is found in 1 John 1:4 : “ ... and we are writing these things that your joy may be complete …”. That is the goal of the gospel- to give us true joy, even in the midst of many trials and troubles.

2.     This joy is possible, because believers (whom John calls “my little children”[1]) have fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:3) by the help of the Holy Spirit (3:24; 4:13)[2].

3.     This joy can be undermined quickly, and our sense of assurance may be affected when unconfessed sin has a hold on the believer. Sinning believers are urged to run to their Advocate for help (2:1). Habitual sin  proves that one is not a Christian (see 3:4-8

4.     John provides a number of tests by which we may know what are children of God (light) and what are children of the devil (darkness).  He shows us that the spirit of Christ constantly clashes with the spirit of the anti- Christ.  Righteousness clashes with unrighteousness. John wants his readers to have a sense of assurance, by helping them to understand the nature of   biblical faith, whilst also exposing false   forms of faith.

5.     One of the big marks of the children of God is their capacity to reflect the love of God that has been given to them (3:1 cf. Rom. 5:5) particularly as it relates to our brothers and sisters in the faith.

We now come to consider 1 John 3:11-24
Our text is rooted in what we have considered last week in 2:28-3:10. Let us revise what we learned there: 

1.   2:29: The imputed righteousness received from God in Christ enables the believer to practise righteousness.

2.     In 3:1ff we are told that the love of God has been given to every believer. And in John’s eyes we are the beloved.[3] The inevitable outcome of this love is that we love God so much that we want to obey His commandments (1:3). The greatest application of that commandment is that we must love our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is the greatest mark of Christlikeness (3:3). It is the sign given to the world by which the world may know that Christians are like God i.e. godly (see John 3:34,35).  Part of expressing that love is that we do not love what the world loves (2:15). In fact, biblical love is hatred of sin (3:4ff). Sin is of the devil for the devil has been sinning from the beginning (3:8). So, any definition of biblical love needs to incorporate a hatred for that which is contrary to the nature of God. But love cannot only be known by that which it disapproves. Love must be shown in a practical sense to our Christian brothers and sisters. 

3.     In 3:8-10 we take note of the 2 family groupings of mankind in this world. There are the children of God and the children of the devil. That is the only proper division that can be made on this earth. John makes a distinction between light and darkness, believers and unbelievers, children of God and children of the devil.    

So, with this is mind we are able to consider our text in 1 John 3:11-18.  Here we shall find two profound  thoughts expressed by John:

1.     3:11-18  Profound distinction  made between the two families of the earth.
2.     3:19-24  Profound pastoral counsel  given.

1.     A Profound Distinction

John likes to state things in clear terms. There are no grey areas in John's theology. The two key words, which distinguish these two families are (i) hate and (ii) love.  We are no strangers to these terms, for John has already introduced us to them in 2:7-11.

(i)           The family which is of the devil is represented by Cain. “Cain, who was of the evil one… murdered his brother… because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” [4] (3:12). This family’s chief trait is hate. This family’ history starts with jealousy and it ends in murder. This family’s history continues in the world. This family killed the true prophets, because it despises and hates the truth of God. The Pharisees etc. hated Christ so much, that they murdered him.  That is why John adds this thought, “Do not be surprised brothers, that the world hates you.” (3:13). Jesus often warned his disciples concerning this.[5]  This conflict continues. Having been born in the last century  I never thought  that I would see such hatred  of the world for the Christian faith. I grew up in a society where Christ and the church were largely revered. This has changed totally, and all around the world Christians are now mocked, despised, persecuted and killed.

(ii)      The family of God is represented by Abel, and more specifically by our federal head, Christ. This family’s chief trait is love.  “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (3:11). This family is motivated by the love of God, which is imputed, or given  to the members of this family (cf. 3:1; 4:10,19).

What we learn here is that basic attitudes lead to basic actions. You will ultimately display what is in you.

(i)           If you are driven by the world’s way of thinking, rooted in the fall and acting as a fallen person, your fallen attitudes will lead to a life of hatred. It may not lead to physical murder, but we only need to be reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus in Matt. 5:21-26, where we are reminded that there is no moral difference between the murderer and the hater. Both Jesus and John say that hating is akin to murder.  Anyone possessed with perpetual hatred or jealousy or envy towards a brother or sister cannot claim to have eternal life (3:15).  Such a person cannot claim  to be  indwelt  by the Holy Spirit (3:24,4:13).

(ii)         By way of contrast, if you are indwelt by the love of Christ, that attitude will  lead to a very different action. “Christ laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers“ (3:16). Verse 17 continues to explain what this laying down of our lives means. It may not necessarily mean that we have to die for others. But something in us has to die. We must die to our own comforts and desires when it comes to the suffering we see in our brothers and sisters.  We cannot be indifferent to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our brothers (3:17).  Love is not an academic exercise. It is very practical (3:18).  Love is in deed and  in truth. We hear echoes of James 2:14-17.

Please note that these two contrasting attitudes and actions issue in two contrasting destinies, and they are summed up in 3:14: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death”.
And so we must observe that practical love for our brothers and sisters is a defining mark of the Christian. If you have it this will be an assurance to you. If you don’t have it, you should be very concerned.

2.     1 John 3:19-24:  Wise Pastoral  Counsel

Most of us find that we have problems with assurance at some stage of our spiritual walk. Now may be the moment. You have been listening to this and you may be saying to yourself. “I wonder whether I am a Christian at all? Am I not failing this test?” John, in this section is addressing the challenge of a condemning heart, and he will give us wise pastoral counsel.

3:19-20: “By this (or ‘in this’)  we shall know  that we are of the truth and reassure our hearts before Him; for whenever  our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”  John has just spoken about hating and loving brothers or sisters, and the consequences of that. Now we alone know our inner motives and struggles that we may have with a particular, brother or sister. We may feel that our hearts condemn us in this matter (3:19).  It is appropriate that this seasoned pastor and apostle John should stop here and deal with the hearts of his readers and listeners.
John does not encourage us to go into denial mode about these things. He wants to help us, and he wants to help our anxious hearts in this respect: “God is greater than our hearts and He knows everything.” (3:20). God is greater than our anxious hearts! It is not that God minimizes or ignores our failures. He knows us better than we do. He knows our imperfections.  So, when we face the crisis of a condemning conscience (and all Christians do, by virtue of their  sensitised hearts)  we  need to take that anxious conscience  to God, and  let Him work with us.

At times like this it is important not to get lost in the subjective experience of a moment of failure, but to fully  rest in the grace of God.  And we must  rest on the general tone and tenor  of our lives, and  based on  God’s truth and love  at work within us. We must  examine ourselves before God in prayer with regard to a particular situation or conflict that has arisen  between a brother /sister and ourselves. It may require repentance at that point (if we have truly sinned – do not just indulge in false guilt), but the main thing is that this is not  something that should rob us of  our peace. If our general behaviour is in line with the gospel, our heart after such examination  should not condemn  us.

From this follows the next line of argument. If our conscience do not condemn us we have confidence with God, and our prayers are in no way hindered (3:22). 

At all times we must remember that our assurance is not built by excessive navel gazing and introspection, but by looking  more to Jesus,  the Author and Perfecter of our faith. We are called to believe in the name of  his Son Jesus Christ (3:23)  and we need to revel in that relationship!   

John takes those many commandments  which  we need to obey (3:22)  and combines them all into  one great commandment ,”to  believe in the name  of his Son Jesus Christ, and to love one another.” (3:23) This is in essence the summary of the 10 commandments,  and of the Scriptures.

What then gives us ultimate peace and assurance? ANSWER ... believing in Christ.
What is the greatest outworking of our faith in Christ?  What are the fruit of our believing? ANSWER...that we love the brothers.  

Please note that  we must maintain that order, and never turn that order around. Never begin with the love  for your brothers. You will find enough to condemn you. The key  to  Christian assurance  is found  in that little word abiding (cf. John 15, and so many times in this letter)  - abiding  in God and God abiding in us (25:4a). Make sure that your relationship  with God is right. Everything else follows.

But, finally, how does He abide in us?...By the Spirit  whom he has given us (3:24b). No-one less than the Holy Spirit can give us this level of  assurance  (see also  Rom 8:16).

With God at the centre we can truly live as God’s beloved children. We can truly love, even imperfectly.  Our final assurance  rests  in God’s finished  work in Christ. Amen




[1] 2:1,12,18,28; 3:7,,18; 4:1; 5:21
[2] The work of the Holy Spirit in 1 John :  3:24; 4:2, 6, 13; 5:6,8
[3] 2:7;3:2,21; 4:1,7,11
[4] The story is recorded in Genesis 4
[5] Jn. 15:18,19,25; 16:1ff ;17:14

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