I agree with John Stott (like, who am I not to) when he said that 1 John is a letter about assurance, a brief book in which the Apostle John outlines (over and over) three signs that confirm what John already knows: namely, that the recipients of his epistles are beloved children of God.
- The first sign is theological. You should have confidence if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God (5:11-13).
- The second sign is moral. You should have confidence if you live a righteous life (3:6-9).
- The third sign is social. You should have confidence if you love other Christians (3:14).
Of course these are not the things we do to earn the salvation, but the indicators that God has indeed saved us.
Starting from this chapter (1 John 3:11-24) we will look at the third sign, which of course is a unity with the other 2 signs, whether we are truly believers. You should have confidence if you love other Christians (1 John 3:14).
The lesson on loving others may be very familiar to us that sometimes we feel like we’re done with it and perhaps get a little bit bored. We have a tendency to think there is nothing else we need to respond to the same preaching. We feel like we have given the best response, to the point that it feels like we are done at that part and we can move on to another one. Whatever the reason, we need to be careful if God’s word no longer somehow causes us to be taught, declared wrong, and sadly, trapped in the complacency of our faith.
For the Apostle John, loving one another is essential in the life of a believer and needs serious reflection. He gave two profound examples of what it is not and what it is to love one another through Cain and Jesus Christ. These two examples are in stark contrast to each other.
The first example is about Cain who did not love his brother, Abel, so he killed him. The word ‘kill’ used there also has a very horrible feeling (brutally murdered, or to slaughter) which is more often used for animals. Full of violence and no mercy there. John even adds that Cain’s actions show that he actually came from the evil one. Cain is not of God, not a child of God, as we learned in the previous passage. For those who are of God will do righteousness. There is nothing in between. If it doesn’t come from God, it comes from the devil.
John chose to use Cain as a negative example appears to show that, apart from God, even one’s own siblings could commit such a heinous crime. No wonder that for the Jews and early Christians, Cain was often used as an example of how people behaved from the evil one. Humans can be that depraved without God.
Why did Cain kill Abel? This passage explains why: “And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” What does it mean? In the light of 1 John, we are familiar with the way John explains that a person’s deeds are the evidence of someone’s faith. Therefore, it seems that John just wants to emphasize once again that Cain and all his evil deeds are a man of the evil one, and Abel, with all his righteous deeds, is a man of God. Hebrews 11:4 even mentions that “by faith Abel offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because God commended him for his offerings.”
The evil one cannot stand it if the truth is being shown. The evil one will be disturbed to see the righteous doing something in line with Christianity. So the negative examples through Cain shouldn’t make us feel, “oh okay, I never really wanted to kill anyone, then I’m safe from this lecture.” Don’t we sometimes have a spirit like Cain? We hate those who are more righteous than ourselves. Therefore when we face our neighbor who shows us our sins or faults, we are uncomfortable. In fact, it is difficult for us to accept rebukes and process them with thanksgiving. “Wow, I need to learn more in this section. I need to grow and mature in this aspect.”
When the truth of God’s word conveyed by others is faced with our mistakes and omissions, there is always a desire to defend ourselves and justify ourselves. Some generations don’t like being compared to other generations. Some generations feel that what worked in their day must work in the same way today. So what will be blurry after these two tensions is the biblical truth—and that’s what the devil likes.
The devil can use any means to deceive believers. Jesus said the devil is the father of lies. He doesn’t like the truth. And do we realize that the fellowship of believers is the most disturbing place for the devil? Why? Because through a strong bond with each other, the truth of the Word learned together can be more strongly expressed. If someone is weak in understanding the Word, there is a spiritual sister/brother who will teach them. They will sharpen each other according to God’s truth. The fellowship with believers is a place where it seems that the devil will work harder to obscure God’s word.
We may not kill each other. However, we can cultivate the spirit of Cain with hatred which is actually quite similar to killing. Remember when we find it hard to love certain people. Ain’t we sometimes hope not to see that person? It feels like life is better if you don’t meet him or don’t see him. In short, it’s better not to have him around than to suffer all the time to love them. We are not murderers, but we hate their presence around us—because we don’t love them the way we should. I remember this saying I heard years ago, “I don’t hate you. I am just not necessarily excited about your existence.” You know, that’s the spirit of Cain.
Later on, it says, “don’t be surprised if the world hates you.” The word ‘world’ means something contrary to God—which is not from God. It is the clear consequence that will be experienced by God’s children who continue to strive to love and show the truth in their lives. Isn’t that what we see in the history of Jesus Christ’s ministry, where He was even rejected by His own because He had a different definition of love than they wanted? Isn’t that also what we see in the ministry of the apostles? They were hated and killed because they loved people so dearly that this world can’t understand. So dearly that the only way to do it is to share the Gospel so they will be saved from the eternal judgment. Your love for the truth, for people, is so disturbing that somehow this wicked world will hate you because of it.
And we often think we can make a different deal with the world. We messed up the truth and love. We don’t take the right path because it’s hard to do both and prefer one over the other. We adopt a world-view of loving others which is actually half-true of what the Lord Jesus taught us.
Verses 14-15 says, “We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians.The one who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his fellow Christian is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.”
In evangelism, we need to preach the Gospel, so they will be saved by grace, through faith, transferred from death to life. So that loving others becomes something that appears in the lives of those we evangelize. Even if they don’t kill, they long for the presence of the most unlovely, undeserving, and ungrateful brothers and sisters around them. In discipleship, for those of us who are continually being discipled and making disciples. Let’s ask God’s help, so our lives continue to radiate love for others with a quality that is renewed day by day; become the living testimony that we are God’s children who have been given eternal life.
After giving a negative example through Cain, the Apostle John then invites us to look at the positive example of Jesus Christ himself. We will look at the quality of love for neighbor that should emerge in the believer.
Verses 16-17, “We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians. But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person? But whoever has worldly possessions and sees his brother in need but closes the door of his heart to his brother, how can the love of God remain in him? My children, let us love neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and in truth.“
Instead of taking His brothers’ lives, Jesus gives His own life to them, so they live. Jesus Christ was hated but He still loved them. He still loves me. He still loves you. That’s how we learn that we are not called to love those we think we can love only. Even our enemies are the recipients of love with the quality that is equal to our own lives. Therefore, we will not know what true love is outside of Christ.
When I listen to BTS’s speech and songs about love, there is a kind of confusion to find out where the true one is. By the way, I am their fan. BTS was invited by UNICEF to speak in the Love Yourself campaign. BTS themselves have started their Love Myself campaign with their albums.
What kind of confusion is depicted in the songs? They realize that they need to love themselves to know how to look at life properly and to love others. So far, it seems that it is in line with the truth of God’s word. But then, they think they find the answer through music, through this universe, through their fans, and so on. They think it is music that primarily makes them known, recognized, and therefore valuable.
But, true love is only found in Jesus Christ. Our ability to see ourselves right, to love ourselves right, never starts with anything but Jesus Christ. The life He gave is what makes us live and function as He created us, for His glory. Other than that, there will always be inconsistencies in our lives. Like BTS who later said to their fans, “Thank you for loving us. It looks a bit like we use you to love ourselves. So please use us to love yourself.”
While this may seem very romantic, it actually shows that apart from Christ, love for other people will look like a trade-off. We seem to use those who love us to love ourselves, thinking it is how we produce the seeds of love within us. In fact, we will only have exclusive love, only to those we like and find beneficial. We will also have this tendency to close our hearts to those who hate us.
What is interesting? Many of this generation are deeply comforted and strengthened by their songs that speak of this kind of love. Some people even confess that they stopped suicidal thoughts because they finally felt loved through BTS songs.
What does it mean? This generation, like other generations, is in desperate need of true love, unlike a profit-and-loss transaction. Something that will make us continue to love even though we can’t get anything in return–and we think we had found it somewhere else and not in Jesus Christ.
When I listen to their songs, I amazingly reflect on Jesus Christ, who loves me and makes me convinced that I am known, seen, and acknowledged by the Owner of this life. I don’t need anyone’s approval to feel accepted and loved because Jesus Christ has shown me very clearly how much I am loved. But most people who listen to their songs have not heard that the answer to what they are looking for is in Jesus Christ only.
We won’t know what love truly is apart from Jesus. Of course, we can’t love one another as we should, apart from Him.
What’a next? Loving our neighbor as Christ loved us asks us to die to ourselves. Even though life is difficult, we are carrying various wounds, the burdens of life are crushing, the calling remains the same: love one another. Love those who will even take advantage of you without using them back, not because you can’t, but because you don’t want to.
The Apostle John makes a very concrete application of love for one’s neighbor that is not comparable to what Christ gave previously. If you have worldly possessions and see that your neighbor suffers from a need, but you close your heart and refuse to help them, it is doubtful that you have experienced God’s love through Christ’s sacrifice. The point is, to love others is to love them in deeds and in truth. Not always asking for our lives right away, but never less than that.
We need to constantly ask God how we can help our neighbors. Sometimes it’s not that we refuse to be generous, but we don’t know there are actually people who need our generosity around us. Because it turns out that our heart is closed to them—especially those we find hard to love. We enjoy our individual life too much and we become so ignorant.
Verses 19-24 says, “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.”
This is the conclusion of what we have learned earlier. If we love one another, we have confidence before God that we are children of God, people of God, and God dwells in us. Our love for others is God’s work through His Spirit. It is also the basis of our courage to come and pray before God to wait for Him to reveal His will through us. Therefore, our presence should help people around us to grow and bear fruit in their love for others. And that is very possible because the all-powerful God dwells in those who believe in Christ.
This generation needs true love, and in fact, needs to love one another with biblical understanding. Please show them you don’t have the spirit of Cain–you are not a ‘murderer’.
Soli Deo Gloria.