"BEHOLD, WHAT MANNER OF LOVE..."
As I read the third chapter of First John, it is hard for me to truly come to a full appreciation of what the Bible teaches here. For me, a sinner, to be able to be called a child of the pure, all-wise, all-knowing, all-loving God is something that is beyond my comprehension. Surely, there could be no other motivation but a deep, abiding love for mankind that could move the Holy God of Heaven to offer such a relationship to me a sinful, miserable, filthy human being.
The book of First John is a
marvelous, beautiful book which teaches (among other things) the fact of God's
love for us and the kind of love we are to have for our fellow Christians. It's
teaching, if applied to every Christian's life, would revolutionize
relationships -- both our relationship with Divinity, and with one another. Let
us study First John chapter 3 and see what we can gain from it.
1 JOHN 3:1-3
The Love that the Father has for His children is impossible for even the saints to understand. We have a sense of it when we read of the beautiful garden in which the first man and woman were lovingly placed (Genesis 1-3). We see it in the creation itself and the many material blessings that God gives both to the just and the unjust (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 19; Matthew 5:45). But the greatest expression of God's love is seen in the cross of Christ. There we see the incredible price that God was willing to pay so that we might become His children. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). The word "so" in this great verse is an adverb of manner. It is expressing how much God loved the world. The word "world" is referring to human beings. It is referring to you and me. He loved us so much, that He was willing to send His only begotten Son to die on the cross for us. Paul writes, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Here the Bible teaches that God "demonstrates" His love for us. How does He do that? "Christ died for us!" Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Paul further writes, "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)..." (Ephesians 2:4-5). Even though we were dead in trespasses, God made us alive together in Christ. We are "in grace, having been saved" as the Greek may be translated. Why? "Because of His great love with which He loved us." Can we truly appreciate and comprehend such love?
What did it take to make it possible for us to be called the children of God? It took the sacrifice of God's only begotten Son. It took the Father forsaking the Son on the cross. It took the sacrifice of God's perfect, sinless son for sinful, rebellious man. Again, such love cannot be fully understood, even by those who are the recipients of it. The apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesians that they, "may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height; to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:18-19). Can any person comprehend the width, length, depth and height and know the love of Christ which passes knowledge? Can we comprehend One who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice that we might be saved? We can do so only by understanding and accepting the gospel of Christ. Those who reject the gospel stumble over His love. They often point to the requirements of God and make Him out to be a tyrant, while completely ignoring the fact that the gospel is the means by which God extends His love and mercy to us.
Verse 2 speaks of the hope of the Christian when it says, "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." Those who have obeyed the gospel -- the children of God -- are now in a body of flesh. One day we will reside in a body that is eternal, spiritual and not subject to decay. What will it be like? We really have no frame of reference. In fact, the Bible does not tell us much about it, perhaps because human language cannot express fully what has never been experienced. But one thing we do know. "We shall be like Him."
When Jesus was resurrected from the dead, He was resurrected in the physical (flesh and blood) body He lived in while He was on this earth (Hebrews 2:14; John 20:27). Yet, the Bible teaches that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthian 15:50). We conclude from this that when Jesus ascended to Heaven His physical body was changed to a spiritual one. Thus, when He comes again, our bodies will be changed to conform to His. Paul discusses this in 1 Corinthians 15. In verse 42 he speaks of our physical bodies. He says of the body we are now in... "So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). The natural body that Paul refers to is the physical body that we now inhabit. This body is sown in corruption. That is, it is subject to decay and it does decay when it dies. But this same body will be raised in incorruption. It will be raised not subject to decay. This same body is sown in dishonor but is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, but it is raised in power. It is sown (buried) as a physical body, but it will be raised as a spiritual body. The bodies of those who are dead when Jesus comes again will be raised as new, different, perfect, powerful spiritual bodies. For those who are alive when Jesus comes again, the physical body will be changed to a spiritual body. "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). "It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know when He shall appear we shall be like Him." What a great promise and hope!
Verse 3 says,
"And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself,
just as He is pure." The
person who has the hope of this changed, glorified body, of being like Christ,
will purify himself even as Jesus is pure. If we expect to be like Jesus then,
we must be like Him now. We cannot expect to live for Satan while in this
physical body and then to live with Jesus in our spiritual bodies. This is a
motivation to purify ourselves. It is hard to remain pure in this impure world.
It seems that we are bombarded with impurity from every direction. How do we
keep ourselves pure? One of the ways is to let this great hope
motivate us. (See also
How to Overcome Sin).
1 JOHN 3:4-9
John defines sin as "lawlessness." Lawlessness is violating or transgressing God's law. It is being without law. It is the rejection of the will or law of God. One of the things this passage teaches is that there is such a thing as law to which all men are obligated. If we are not under law today, then there can be no sin (cf. Romans 5:13). If there is no sin, then Christ died for nothing, because He was manifested to take away our sins. Thus, we conclude that all people today are obligated to obey law. But what law? James calls it the "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). Paul calls it the "law of faith" (Romans 3:27), "the law of the Spirit of life" (Romans 8:2), and "the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). That Christ has a law and that all people are obligated to obey His law today should not be a subject for debate. The person who commits sin commits lawlessness. He rejects the law of Christ.
John states that there was no sin in Christ. He lived a perfect, sinless life. The Bible says that Jesus "knew no sin..." (2 Corinthians 5:21; cf. 1 Peter 2:22). This is one of the things that qualified Him to be the sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 9:13-15).
Verse 6 has given some people problems especially since John is inspired to write in chapter one and verse eight, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Yet, John writes in chapter three and verse six, "Whoever abides in him does not sin." Is there a contradiction here? Absolutely not! The answer lies in the tenses of the Greek verbs which are not brought out in the English translation. The English Standard Version renders the verse like this: "No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him." The verb translated "sin" in the NKJV is a Greek present tense indicating continuous action. The ESV rendering brings out the true sense of the Greek. It is not the case that the person who abides in Christ will never sin, but that he will not keep on sinning as a habit of life like he did before he became a Christian. In other words the person who abides in Christ will do his best to be like Christ. Christ never sinned even one time. We know that we human beings cannot live perfect, sinless lives (1 John 1:8), but we must strive for sinless perfection and not live an habitual life of sin. The person who keeps on sinning has neither seen him or known him. This passage shows that we cannot "commit any sin from murder to adultery" (Quotation from a denomination preacher defending the "once saved, always saved" position) and still remain in God's grace, because the person who keeps on sinning has neither seen him or known him. Let me quote verses 6 through 10 from the ESV showing the sense of the Greek present tense: "No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother." The true sense of the Greek verbs are brought out in the ESV. The Christian is not one who never sins (1 John 1:8) but one who does not live a habitual life of sin (does not keep on sinning). The person who practices righteousness is righteous like Christ is. Righteousness can be defined as "doing what is right in God's sight." In order words, righteousness is doing God's will. The person who practices righteousness is righteous as Jesus was righteous because Jesus was obedient to God in all things (Hebrews 5:8-9). On the other hand, John says that the person who keeps on sinning as a habit of life is of the devil. He is doing what the devil does because "the devil has been sinning from the beginning." The devil exists to sin. He is a habitual sinner. The Christian who does not practice righteousness but who keeps on sinning follows in the footsteps of the devil.
How are we able to avoid living
a sinful life? First, Jesus appeared to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus
gives us deliverance from an habitual life of sin because He forgives us of our
sins and He also gives us incentive to avoid sin. Second, God's seed is to abide
in the Christian. God's seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11). When one has God's
seed (the Word) abiding in him, then that word will help him avoid the pitfalls
and traps of Satan and thus avoid sin (Psalm 119:11). God's word is powerful
(Hebrews 4:12) and will help us overcome the temptation to sin (Matthew 4:1-11).
1 JOHN 3:10-15
In verse 10 the Holy Spirit through John tells us how we can know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are. They are made known in the fact that the person who does not practice righteousness and who does not love his brother is of the devil. If you observe someone who claims to be a Christian who is not obeying God's will and who does not love his brother, you know he is not of God but is of the devil. That is, he is a follower of the devil.
In verses 11 and 12, the Holy Spirit emphasized that "we should love one another," and gave an example of one who did not love his brother. That example is Cain. Most people know the account given in the Bible about Cain and Abel. It's found in Genesis 4. God had commanded certain offerings to be offered to Him in worship. We know this because Hebrews 11:4 says, "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain..." Romans 10:17 says, "So then faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of God." Faith comes from hearing God's word. Since faith comes from hearing God's word, and Abel offered his offering by faith, then we conclude that Abel offered that which God told him to offer. On the other hand, his brother Cain substituted for God's command and offered what he thought God would be pleased with. The Bible says that God "respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering" (Genesis 4:4-5). In other words Abel's offering was accepted by God because it was what God had commanded. Cain's offering was rejected because he substituted for what God commanded. This made Cain jealous and he murdered his brother. John asks, "And why did he murder him?" And then he answers, "Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous." Notice that Cain's "works were evil." It is evil to offer a substitute for what God has commanded. It is evil to add something to what God has commanded or to subtract from what He has commanded (Revelation 22:18-19). It is evil to go beyond God's word (2 John 1:9-11; 1 Corinthians 4:6). This is what Cain did and because of that he is considered to be "of the wicked one." Cain hated Abel because God rejected his substitute. And he murdered him because of it (For further study about Cain see Where Did Cain Get His Wife?).
But John then says in verse 13, "Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you." It should be no surprise that evil people hate righteous people. It has been true since the beginning of the world. People hated Jesus because of His teaching and Jesus told the apostles that people would hate them. Cain is the example of one who hated his brother.
In verses 14 and 15 John is
inspired to write, "We know that we have passed
from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his
brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know
that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." When we love
our brethren it is proof that we have passed from death to life. This, John
says, is the way we know it. But the person who hates his brother abides in
death. He is lost and without hope. The Holy Spirit makes a very serious charge
in reference to the Christian who hates his brother. He accuses him of murder.
And he says
"you know that no murderer has eternal
life abiding in him" (cf.
In other words, no murderer can be saved. This, of course, is speaking of one
who has not been forgiven of murder. A person can be forgiven of murder if he
meets God's conditions of forgiveness. But the fact is, as long as you hate your
brother you are guilty of murder. The way one is forgiven of this sin is to
repent (stop hating your brother). When one begins to love his brethren instead
of hating them he knows he has passed from death to life.
1 JOHN 3:16-24
In verse 16 John tells us how we know love. That is, how we know what true love really is or how it is shown. It is speaking of Jesus. The way we know what love is, is that Jesus laid down His life for us. There is no greater sacrifice than this. This shows what true love is. And with the example of Jesus in mind, John says... "And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." I wonder how many of us love our brethren this much? Would you be willing to lay down your life for your brethren? This is the example Jesus gives and this is the kind of love that Jesus requires.
It is easy for us to say we love our brethren. It is not so easy to prove that love by serving the needs of our brethren. This is why the Holy Spirit through John gives the example of the person who "has this world's goods," seeing his brother in need and not doing anything to help him. He asks, "how does the love of God abide in him?" Of course, the answer to that is, it does not. Our actions must prove our love. It is not enough to "love in word or in tongue," we must love "in deed and in truth." Love is active. Love is active in good deeds. John says, "by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." It is by our actions that we prove that we are "of the truth" and by which we "assure our hearts before Him." If we want assurance, if we want to persuade ourselves and set our minds to rest that we are "of the truth" then it is done by our actions.
But we still may have doubts. That's why John says, "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God." God knows if we are obedient to His will, if our love is expressed by action, and treats us accordingly. In other words, God will reward us even though we are not convinced in our own minds. But if we are convinced, then that gives us confidence toward God.
In verse 22 John gives the Christian great encouragement. He says, "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight." What a great promise. Whatever we ask we receive from Him. Isn't that great? But wait. There is a condition set forth in this verse. Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. When our love is expressed in action, when we truly love God, which we prove by keeping His commandments and doing those things that please Him, then our prayers will be answered. But for the person who does not put his love into action and does not keep His commandments and do those things pleasing in His sight, God does not answer his prayer.
"And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment." One of the commandments of God is to believe on His Son Jesus Christ. Another is to love one another. To believe on Jesus is to obey Him. One cannot truly claim to believe on Jesus if he is not willing to obey Him. Our love is shown by action. Our faith as well is shown by action. And the action that proves that we believe on the name of Christ is our obedience -- our keeping His commandments. It is impossible to separate faith and practice.
Finally, we have this great promise in verse 24, "Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him." This verse reminds us of John 14:23 where Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." You cannot separate your love for Jesus from your keeping His word. In other words, love and obedience is really the same thing. If you love Jesus, you will obey Him. If you do not obey Him, you prove that you do not love Him.
this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us."
The Christians to whom John wrote in the first century could know that God was
abiding in them. They knew this by
the Spirit whom He had given to them. When John wrote this book in the first
century, Christians were given gifts of the Holy Spirit which taught and
confirmed God's word in the absence of the completed written New Testament.
God gave His Spirit to those Christians through the apostles laying their hands
on them and praying for them (Acts 2:17-18; 6:3; 8:14-18; 10:44-45; 15:8;
19:2-6).. The fact that the Holy Spirit enabled the Christians in John's day to
exercise certain spiritual (miraculous) gifts such as speaking in languages
(tongues), healing, preaching, etc... was proof that God was abiding in them.
Today, we possess knowledge that God abides in those who keep His commandments and that the person who keeps His commandments
abides in God. That knowledge is given to us by the Spirit through the written
word given by inspired prophets, apostles and teachers before and during the
first century (Mark 12:36;
1 Corinthians 2:4-5;
1 Timothy 4:1;
3:7; 9:8; 10:15;
2 Pet. 1:21; Rev. 2:7; 3:6).
We have just as much assurance today that God abides in us and we in Him as the
first century Christians. But today that assurance is not given to us through
spiritual (miraculous) gifts but through the written word.
What manner of love has the Father bestowed upon us? Unspeakable, incomprehensible, and incredible love. Undeserved love. Sacrificial love. A love that allows Him to call us His children. What kind of love must we have for our brethren? The same kind. And how do we show our love for God and our fellow man? Through obedience to God's will and an active service to our fellow-man. May God help us all to have this kind of love and to appreciate the love of God.