1 John Chapter 3: Characteristics of the Sons of God, and Children of the DevilFeb 8th, 2010 | By admin | Category: 1st & 2nd & 3rd John, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)
1 John Chapter 3: Characteristics of the Sons of God, and Children of the Devil
1 John 3:1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
The startling difference in the Gospel Age from any time previous is the call to sonship—to being sons of God. Previous calls were to be the servants or the friends of God. For example, Moses was called the “servant of God,” and Abraham was the “Friend of God” (Neh. 10:29; James 2:23).
John was different from the other writers of the epistles except for his brother James, both being sons of Zebedee, sons of thunder. The similarities are a subtle argument confirming, in our judgment, that the Epistle of James was written by James Zebedee, not James of Alphaeus. The consecrated are all called “sons of God” now. Therefore, all who have accepted the call have this common heritage in the present life.
Comment: John wrote in his Gospel, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).
As John said earlier, his purpose in writing this epistle was to bring joy to those of the consecrated who had responded to his tutorship. This epistle was open-ended. As a general epistle, it was not addressed to a specific individual, church, or location. At the time John was writing, he was the special servant, for Paul and Peter had already deceased. If John went to Ephesus, which seems to be the case, he was addressing those whom he had instructed and influenced over the years as an apostle; that is, from Ephesus, he was writing not just to one location but to brethren in all locations where he had been. As the last surviving apostle, he was a steward now in a special sense.
“Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” The scribes and Pharisees could not understand Jesus’ preaching because they were of their “father the devil” (John 8:44), whereas the consecrated are of God, their Heavenly Father.
Q: Can the pronouns “him” in verse 1, “he” and “him” in verse 2, and “he” in verse 3 apply to either God or Jesus?
A: Yes, both applications are appropriate. In regard to verse 2, our hope is to see both God and Jesus, and all who get a spirit resurrection will see God. The angels see God as He is—his form and nature. Certainly the very elect will know God on a higher level, or plane of thinking, than any below that plane, but all who remain faithful unto death will see Him as He is. This manner of reasoning was peculiar to John. Paul centered on winning the prize, and John emphasized remaining faithful—on not abandoning the Christian walk and on obeying God’s will.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that all of the very elect “may be one,” even as he and the Father are one (John 17:11). However, it will take an eternity to know God, even if one is of the very elect, because He is so unfathomable in all His ways.
Comment: 1 John 2:28 reads, “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming [presence].”
The presence (Greek parousia) will last the entire thousand years. During that period of presence, different things will happen. God willing, if we make our calling and election sure, the very first one we will meet is Jesus, who will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). Then Jesus will escort the 144,000 and introduce them to the Father. However, to a lesser but very real sense, anyone who gets spirit life will see Jesus and God.
1 John 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
Of course verse 2 refers to Jesus, but it also applies to God. Our hope is to see God and to hear
Him sing. First, Jesus will individually and separately introduce each of the 144,000 to the
Father. Then, when the formal group acceptance takes place at the marriage ceremony, God will sing, as well as do certain other things at the marriage supper. “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zeph. 3:17). For those Christians who maintain their consecration and hang in there, this will be their very special experience.
If faithful, we will see God and Jesus, and we will partake of the divine nature and be immortal like them. As stated in verse 1, what “manner of love” to “be called the sons of God”! We should most desire to see (in descending order) God, Jesus, and the apostles.
1 John 3:3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
Therefore, “every man that hath this [glorious] hope [and prospect] in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” Verse 3 shows the importance of the doctrine of hope. Faith alone is not enough. We should personally identify faith in God with the hope of the high calling, expecting to receive the reward of divine nature if we are faithful. Just as credulity is not faith, so there is a false hope. True hope is based on true faith. Faith, hope, and love are essential—and equally important.
John was reminding the brethren of things already explicitly inculcated by the Apostle Paul. Themes of love, sin, and eternal life were stressed over and over. Practical instruction of Christian living came from Paul, and John gave general exhortation afterwards. In regard to sin, John took the opposite tack elsewhere. We sin; we do not sin. We must be careful in studying his epistles, for unlike Paul, he did not give the specifics. In order to understand John’s epistles, it is necessary to study his Gospel and the Book of Revelation. The false Church has used John’s epistles to justify wrong deeds.
1 John 3:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
The thought of “whosoever committeth sin” is “whosoever practices sin” because everyone sins. As the Apostle John said, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). However, John also said, “Do not sin,” meaning that the Christian tries, with all his might, to live a righteous life to the extent of his ability and then asks for forgiveness whenever he transgresses. However, to practice sin is another matter, for that would be sinning as a creature of habit.
“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth [not only the gospel but] also the law.” Not only does the committing of a sin transgress what we see exemplified in Jesus’ ministry—in his gospel light—but also it is a transgression against the Old Testament. Thus it is a double sin. The Old Testament is the thinking of God, and in the New Testament, the “God life” is seen in the person of Jesus. Stated another way, if we see Jesus, we see what God would do if He could appear in the flesh. Thus we have the example of Jesus in the New Testament and the principles of righteousness in the Old Testament. If we sin, we transgress both the letter and the spirit of the Law. Both willful and unintentional sins are transgressions. New creatures do sin, but they do not practice sin. Habitual wrong behavior is not part of the new creature.
1 John 3:5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
All three major anti-Christian doctrines that existed when John wrote this epistle denied the vicarious sacrifice of Christ—that his death, the shedding of his blood, cancels sin and is the basis for repentance. Therefore, when John wrote, “And ye know that he [Jesus] was manifested to take away our sins,” those whom he was addressing realized he was pointing out the fundamental error of the prevailing heretical doctrines. “In him [Jesus] is no sin.”
1 John 3:6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
“Whosoever abideth in him [Christ] sinneth not [does not practice sin].” However, if anyone says that he does not sin at all, he is a liar (compare 1 John 1:10). The Christian is not to practice sin, but John did not mean that a Christian could not be overcome or overtaken in a sin.
Comment: The NIV reads, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.”
Both “abiding” and “sinning” involve a period of time. The epistles of John must be harmonized, not considered as isolated verses. The new creature does not allow sinful thoughts to nest or take up residence in the mind, for little sins can lead to big sins. The new creature does not continue in sin.
1 John 3:7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
“Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is [reckoned] righteous, even as he [Jesus] is righteous.” Those who practice righteousness—righteousness is their pursuit—are trying to do God’s will as it is exemplified in Jesus and recorded in Holy Writ.
Verse 7 must be qualified. Many in the world do righteous works, but that is not the thrust here. Romans 10:3 reads, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” To be acceptable to God, we must be sure that our righteousness is according to His requirements.
A new creature not only thinks good thoughts but practices good acts in harmony with the Word of God. That a tree is known by its fruits is a general, overall rule.
1 John 3:8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
Comment: Here is an example of John’s using a limited vocabulary. The word “beginning” is in 1 John 1:1; 2:7,13,14,24; and 3:8,11, but the references are not all to the same beginning.
Reply: Yes, and this verse mentions “the devil” three times.
“The devil sinneth from the beginning.” For instance, about four years before the Apostle Paul died, he took a boat to Israel but stopped en route at Miletus on the coast of Asia Minor. He sent word ahead to the elders of Ephesus to meet him there, and they did. In his rather long dissertation, he spoke prophetically, warning them that they would not see him again or receive any more advice from him in the future because this was his last journey. (From there, he went to Israel and then was shipped to Rome as a prisoner, where he served a little time, was released a short time later, became incarcerated a second time, and was put to death by Nero—all within four or five years.) Thus, shortly before his decease, he said to the elders of Ephesus, “For I know this,  that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also  of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, [seeking] to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29,30). Both conditions are reflected in John’s first epistle, which was written about 25 years after Paul’s prophetic statement. If John was now the bishop (or overseer) at Ephesus, he was encountering grievous wolves entering the Church and some from within speaking perverse things.
Now we can understand why John worded portions of his epistle two different ways. (1) He told about evil ones, grievous wolves, who had never been of the Church. They had a wolfish nature when they entered, and they were still wolves. In other words, while they professed Christianity, there was no change in their conduct. (2) John also told of a class that arose within the Church speaking perverse doctrines. They were of the truly consecrated, but they began to err and go out of the truth. Thus there were two different classes.
In this first epistle, then, John went back and forth in speaking of the two classes. He said that those of the grievous wolf class were of the devil—they were of the devil previously, they were of him now, and they would be of him in the future. Those of the other class left of their own volition. They tried to draw disciples by dividing the class and getting some to leave.
Down through history, the Catholic Church has called such individuals schismatics and Protestants, but sometimes brethren leave a class because of faithfulness and sometimes because of unfaithfulness. Each situation has to be studied to see which side is right when crucial issues arise. Is the division in harmony with doing God’s will, or is it at enmity with Him? In this case, those who left John were in the wrong, and they were of both classes—the grievous wolves and those who arose speaking perverse things (3 John 9-11).
In summary, Paul prophesied of coming turbulence in the Smyrna period of the Church, of which the Apostle John was the messenger. John delivered the message that Jesus is “the first and the last,” but those who drew disciples after themselves felt that Jesus was merely a good man and a leader and that now they were leaders (Rev. 2:8). This type of thinking was the early beginnings of the development of Papacy. Advocates of that system claimed to be the representatives of Christ, and they forbid reasoning on the Scriptures separate from the doctrine of the nominal Church. Such subterfuges took away from the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice. In his own way, vocabulary, and thinking, John was saying that Jesus is the Head of the Church. He is the beginner and the finisher, the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega.
The message of John in the Smyrna period of the Church continued: “I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews [Christians], and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9). In other words, the grievous wolves and those who arose from within speaking perverse things were of the devil, of the synagogue of Satan, but they claimed to be Christians and said that John and those with him were not Christians. However, John pointed out that Jesus, as the first and the last, was the Teacher of the Church, and not the others.
Another portion of the message to Smyrna, but applying to the latter part of that period, was the following: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days [the ten years of persecution under Diocletian from 303 to 313]: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
Of the Ephesus period of the Church, Jesus said, “I know … how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Rev. 2:2). Faithful Christians hated “the deeds of the Nicolaitans” (Rev. 2:6).
Paul pointed out about five of these errorists by name, cutting their influence, and Peter mentioned Ananias and Sapphira.
Thus the devil’s seed did not prosper until “men,” the apostles, fell asleep in death (Matt. 13:25).
John was the last living apostle, so we can imagine what happened after his death. The seed thoughts were there, and he was fighting the error. He tried to countermand and rebut the reasoning and thinking of the others, and his message was successful until his death. He commended the “little children,” the “fathers” (the old-timers), and the “young men” for courageously siding with him when this test came (1 John 2:12-14). Truly John, with the effective type of reasoning he used, was the best man for the job at that time. When he died, doctrinal chaos ensued. The woman with the gospel light on her (the true Church) became pregnant and labored in pain, showing trouble within the Church. “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered” (Rev. 12:1,2).
While John was alive, the errorists left because they knew they could not countermand his reasoning. Having been an eyewitness, he could say, “I knew Jesus. I saw him, and I was his disciple.” Thus the errorists left and tried to needle and seduce others to come and listen to their thinking. When John died, real trouble occurred in the Church. The woman gave birth to an illegitimate man-child, which was caught up to heaven to become the man of sin (Rev. 12:5).
“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works [the deeds, the outward manifestations] of the devil.” In other words, there was no gray area in John’s day. Everything was either black or white. The conduct of those who were evil was manifestly evil. Today, to the contrary, there is a great and wide gray area between good and evil because no one wants to draw a line. For example, legislators do not know where to draw the line between pornography and what is allowable.
1 John 3:9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
“Whosoever is born [begotten] of God doth not commit sin [willingly]; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot [practice] sin, because he is born [begotten] of God.” The consecrated knew that if they joined the others, they were leaving the fellowship of the Son and of God.
The children of God in John’s day were manifest. In contrast, the children of God in our day are not obviously manifest. Sometimes a hypocrite is thought of as a Christian in good standing, for those who observe him see good works. As we get nearer and nearer the end of the age, evil will increase, and the condition John spoke of in this first epistle will be most appropriate. The Book of Jude shows that a real problem will surface in the true Church. When that problem develops, John’s practical, common-sense reasoning will be very effective. The longer one allows the little foxes to nibble at the vines, the less are the chances of retrieval through repentance. The longer one remains in sin, the deeper the nails are driven into the coffin.
We can and should judge right and wrong deeds, for if we close our eyes to them, we will incur responsibility. The Scriptures tell us when to excommunicate and/or rebuke and when to be silent. Incidentally, we should try to determine if repentance is genuine, that is, whether there are real or crocodile tears. Following repentance, one is restored to God’s favor—to life at least but not necessarily to the Little Flock.
Thinking of the new creature and the flesh as two separate entities can be dangerous, for the wicked old heart can then excuse sin as being “my flesh,” “my nature.” It is helpful to have a measure of doubt in regard to our degree of responsibility and our standing with the Lord. This type of “fear” was illustrated by Paul’s saying he could not judge himself.
There will be 144,000 new creatures in the Little Flock, but the Great Company are new creatures too. Some of the consecrated become fully developed but slide back to the Great Company. Others never develop to Little Flock status and thus remain unripe wheat. With sin, we cannot determine the fine line between the new creature and the flesh—only God can make that determination. The instruction is to work out our “own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). We are to have the highest standard possible, which is God’s standard of perfection.
If the standard is lowered, we will not measure up to the Little Flock. We are to “fight the good fight of faith,” which means to continually fight the old man (1 Tim. 6:12).
Only in a few limited cases can we judge the degree of willfulness. Denial of Christ after consecration is sinning the sin unto death. We do not pray for such individuals, for praying would be a waste of time. In other cases—the “grayer” areas—our prayers should be in proportion to the possibility we see of retrieval and repentance. As time goes on, our prayers become less frequent. We are not to pray for Satan or for those avowed (formerly consecrated) enemies of God who, in essence, are following Satan’s ways.
We are studying about “love” in John’s epistles because some back in his day did not help suffering, hungry, and poor brethren but believed in a form of stoicism. They said the Christian should be impervious to both sorrow and pleasure. In fact, they said that those who sorrowed were not faithful Christians. Hence John was opposing the harsh puritanical spirit and those who were not merciful toward their brethren undergoing trials. This element thought power and prosperity came because of faithfulness. John was combating these extremes—he was not saying to disregard sin in others.
Before consecration, we were of our father the devil (John 8:44). If we lose our begettal after consecration—our begetting with the seed of the life of the new creature—then we will once again be of our father the devil. Notice that it is the “seed” of life, not the seed of immortality, for new creatures, if faithful, will be of either the Great Company (eternal spirit life) or the Little Flock (immortal spirit life). It is one thing to lose the anointing and another thing to lose our begettal, or sonship. The anointed body is just the 144,000. We can lose that anointing yet still get life in the Great Company, or we can lose both the anointing and the begettal and go into Second Death.
1 John 3:10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
“Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God.” How simple to discern! Those who were doing evil could be seen, and the evil was extreme, for most of it was along the lines of lasciviousness and immorality. In addition, the love of the world and of money occurred.
Money was so attractive that it created deeds of cruelty to others. We speak of corporations as having no soul because the stockholders are looking for profits. For example, the product may contain additives, the object being to maintain the price or to boost it higher for more and more profit.
With regard to immorality, footprints were incorporated into the stone in Ephesus to lead people to the brothel, and the brothel was conducted in the name of Diana, the goddess of love. The criticism of the Ephesus period of the Church was that the brethren had left their first love. With the Smyrna period, there was no criticism, for those who stayed with John were loyal. However, Smyrna was not the most prolific period in developing members of the very elect, for the harvest of numbers occurred in Ephesus and Laodicea. Nevertheless, those who remained with John will get life.
“Neither [is] he that loveth not his brother” of God. This lack of love was manifested in different ways such as not visiting the brethren who were imprisoned for their faith. Instead those who were imprisoned were criticized and thought of as immature. Those who did not love their brethren were sophists, who believed in wisdom. They maintained that God was interested in the new creature, the new mind. There is a measure of truth in that statement, but each step of knowledge has to be followed by a step of deeds, or works. Just as the Israelites entered the Promised Land foot by foot, so it is with the progress of the new creature. Joshua said, “God will give you the victory, but you first have to put your foot forward.” Then faith will follow. Knowledge is essential but not necessarily a great degree of it. Grace and obedience are the primary objective; that is, character development is the bottom line as to where each of the consecrated stand with God. Faith is necessary, but character development is more proof.
John was speaking plain language to those of his time, and they knew what he was talking about. There was a lack of brotherly love, even when great atrocities were being committed, as well as injustices in the Church. Those who listened to John’s counsel were very much profited, and he was successful in his ministry of that time in regard to Smyrna.
1 John 3:11 For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
Those to whom John was writing this epistle had “heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” John’s warning was directed against those who were influenced by Gnosticism in thinking they “knew it all.” Feeling they were spiritual, they believed that God was interested in the new creature. Consequently, they minimized the old creature, allowing all sorts of abuses to take place. They felt their immoral conduct would not jeopardize their standing with the Lord, for they were intellectually serving God in the inner man. Actually, the Christian needs both—moral conduct and knowledge. For each step of knowledge, there should be a step of grace and obedience.
What was the message that the brethren had heard “from the beginning”? John was referring to the new and living way preached by Jesus Christ. After his crucifixion and resurrection, the apostles, including John, went out and preached this new message of love, life, and liberty in Christ, summarized here as “that we should love one another.”
1 John 3:12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.
Comment: The Parable of the Penny indicates that some of the consecrated at the end of the age will have an “evil eye,” an improper heart condition (Matt. 20:9-15). Since John’s writing seems to indicate a spirit of jealousy, these two conditions show that trouble is coming.
Reply: Yes, there is a relationship, for certainly the Parable of the Penny is a prophetic picture of a situation that will arise at the very end of the age, at the twelfth hour of the parable, at the time of the giving of the penny to the laborers. We have defined the “penny” as the responsibility of obeying present truth at that time, the cost of which will be a very severe experience. As shown in the parable, the murmuring will occur right in the brotherhood because the Lord will reward with the same privilege those who come in at the eleventh hour and participate in the Harvest work.
There is a danger in becoming hypercritical. To critique a situation is one thing—to judge right from wrong dispassionately in our mind. We may differ with brethren in regard to policy, direction of service, etc., and certainly the Lord’s Word does not stultify differences of opinion.
However, conduct that absolutely contradicts the character, life, and deportment of Jesus, the apostles, or the prophets is a more serious matter that can degenerate as it did with Cain. For example, the Israelites’ murmuring on ten occasions in the Book of Numbers was really against God, although it was manifested in some cases against Moses or Moses and Aaron. And Miriam and Aaron even murmured against Moses. Thus there are different types of murmuring, and the question is, Where will the murmuring lead?
Here John said to love one another, but he was not saying to love those who had left him. Rather, he bluntly called them liars and antichrists because of their fruits. As Jesus said, it is incongruous for both bitter and sweet waters to come from one mouth, orifice, or well. Thus the Gnostics, who had great intellectual knowledge about God, revealed the true heretical nature of their doctrines by their contrary conduct, which they openly manifested. In this epistle, John was encouraging those who were still with him that they were doing the right thing and that they had the truth. Since the others were openly transgressing, the right and the wrong of the matter were plain and simple to see.
Another strong argument was as follows. Had those who were all intellectual known Christ from the beginning? Had those who differed with John heard the Sermon on the Mount? Were they among the 500 brethren who had seen Jesus after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6)? Almost without exception, they were not, but they gave the impression of having known the truth for a long time. In contrast, John knew Christ and had seen him. John had followed Jesus from place to place and leaned against his breast. He had heard Jesus’ sermons and seen the miracles. A testimony from someone like that carried more credibility than the word of the empty talkers despite their oratorical skills.
“Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother.” This statement is strong, for John was likening those who had left him and disagreed with him to Cain, who “slew his brother.” They did not mince any words as to what they thought about John. Even though he was an apostle, they felt they had superior information. From their standpoint, morals were given the back seat and knowledge the front seat, whereas knowledge and conduct were to coalesce and harmonize.
“And wherefore slew he [Cain] him [his brother]? Because his [Cain’s] own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” Jealousy was one problem, for Abel offered up a better sacrifice, which was ostensibly a lamb, whereas Cain gave a cereal (or material) offering that indicated self-justification. Those whom John addressed understood what he was saying.
If we had lived back there, we could have recognized the false class from their rejection of John. They ceased to heed his instruction. Just as Cain slew Abel, so this false class “slew” the true brethren. There was a sharp line of demarcation back there that we do not have today.
The allusion to Cain and Abel will apply at the very end of the age. Today we see seed thoughts, but as time goes on, conditions will greatly deteriorate. Both in the world and in the Church, the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. Feeling they are right, the erring element will differentiate between the new creature and the flesh, and thus will justify their wrong deeds. Some in the early Church betrayed their own brethren to be put in the arena with lions. The same type of betrayal will happen at the end of the age.
1 John 3:13 Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.
Verse 13 is a comforting thought. John was concerned that some who were with him might be seduced into this other line of reasoning (1 John 2:26). To answer the situation, he talked bluntly and straight from the shoulder, that is, without innuendo or fine words. Proof that the others did not know what they were talking about was that their actions did not square with the doctrine of Christ.
Comment: It is one thing for the world to hate the Christian and a more serious matter for brethren to hate other brethren.
1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
Comment: John subsequently wrote, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments” (1 John 5:2). Verse 14 should not be taken out of context, for it is describing a proper love, not an emotional love.
John was saying that the Holy Spirit was leaving the others. Whatever they were before, they were now manifesting the spirit of the world and of the god of this world, Satan. They were using worldly, human wisdom and reasoning in trying to seduce the brethren. They were not using truth that squared with God’s Word.
The statement “We know that we have passed from death unto life” does not mean, as some would say today, “once saved, always saved.” The implication is, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” In other words, passing from death unto life is conditional, for we can lose that love for the brotherhood.
An appropriate text is 2 Corinthians 6:8,3, which shows that the Christian should think of the brotherhood and its standard: “By [through] honour and dishonour, by [through] evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; … Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed.” The words “All one body we” in the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers” are like a principle or a platform with regard to those whom God is calling. In thinking of the brotherhood, we are not thinking of individuals, for the personalized aspect changes to a brotherhood, to those whom God is calling as members of Christ. This epistle indicates that some who were with John at one time subsequently deflected and were no longer with the brotherhood. The brotherhood is a standard, and that standard has to be held up high. Even if we ourselves cannot do all we would like, we need to keep the ideal as high as we can and not let it suffer loss. From that standpoint, “we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren”—and, therefore, we should continue to love the brethren. That abiding love, or constancy, assures one of life, and its absence brings death. When John said, “He that hateth his brother,” he was referring to a hatred that was openly manifested.
Comment: Cain had opportunity to change his thinking, for the Lord spoke to him in between the time he offered the unacceptable sacrifice and the killing of his brother. The warning was, “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door” (Gen. 4:6,7).
Reply: Yes, God told Cain what the problem was, but instead of asking for forgiveness, he slew Abel, his brother.
Comment: Cain’s response after killing Abel was, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). The question was raised in the negative when, in reality, Cain was his brother’s keeper, and we are our brother’s keeper too in terms of the brotherhood at large in the context of this epistle.
Reply: Yes, for there are two extremes in being our brother’s keeper. (1) With Cain, there was a complete absence of the keeping. (2) The other extreme is where one becomes a dictator. In that case, one is so concerned for his brethren that he does not want them to differ with him in any way, and he tries to force them into bondage. The middle ground between the two extremes is the proper ground. Stated another way, the two extremes are libertarianism and bondage, and in between is the liberty wherewith Christ makes us free and where one communicates with “him that teacheth in all good things” (Gal. 5:1; 6:6). The proper love and keeping of one’s brother is alerting him to danger if he pursues a course that would jeopardize his future.
However, to become judgmental in the sense of relegating a brother into a certain class is dangerous. There are a few but very rare instances today where it can be observed that an individual goes into Second Death. In the past, for example, one who came into the truth as a brother subsequently denied Christ, even thinking of him as Antichrist. Such an experience may seem impossible, but it has happened.
1 John 3:15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
The opponents of John manifested open animosity. Consider Cain as an example. The climax of his anger occurred when he slew his brother Abel, but surely, prior to the slaying, hatred was reflected in his face and attitude. Wouldn’t there have been a spirit of enmity and jealousy in his relationship with Abel? The inference, too, is that there were providences where the Lord favored Abel. However, Cain saw those providences in an improper light, and his hatred ended up in the extreme act of murder. We can be sure that he gave plenty of other digs before committing that ultimate act.
Comment: While all of the consecrated will get the penny in the future, the Judas class will turn to the same spirit of hatred and murder that Cain manifested.
Reply: Yes. Judas acted for monetary reasons. When his conniving did not pan out as he had intended, he experienced pangs of conscience—but too late. Whatever his motive was, the deed of betraying Christ sealed his fate. Incidentally, there are several ways of betraying Christ. In the Middle Ages, a family member sometimes betrayed another family member—the father the son, the son the father, the wife the husband, the husband the wife, etc.—but why? In some cases, the reason was not money but the avoidance of death. Some wanted to disassociate themselves from a family member in order to escape persecution, and the disassociation was accomplished through betrayal. Thus there are different motives, all pertaining to gain. One may gain his life through betrayal but lose his soul.
“Ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” The suggestion is that the murderer experienced a change of attitude. Life was in such an individual at one time, but his love grew cool and changed.
John’s message of encouragement was that, generally speaking, if those who loved the brethren and were standing up for the truth remained faithful, they had the assurance of receiving life after death. They might not be members of the Little Flock, but they would get life. John was giving that slant so that the faith of a greater number of his fellowship would be strengthened. He wanted to encourage them to continue.
Why, in verse 13, did John insert the thought “Marvel not … if the world hate you”? Verse 12 mentioned that Cain slew Abel and they were brothers. Hence John was warning that such “murder” will occur right in the Church. Verses 12-15 are warning us not to be surprised if the world hates us because Satan controls the world, but right in the true Church, brother will hate brother as Cain hated Abel. John went back and forth from negative to positive reasoning and vice versa.
Those who love the brethren pass from death to eternal life (that is, not necessarily to immortality). However, those who manifest the Cain disposition will go into Second Death. In John’s day, the hatred of this class was easily recognizable through abusive words and deeds.
Cain’s works were evil; Abel’s works were righteous. John used common-sense natural reasoning here. Works and actions are to be observed over a period of time, for cumulative actions and deeds should be judged. The wrong element in John’s day taught that Christ did not come in the flesh, they thought they did not sin, they did not manifest compassion, etc.
These things could be observed. As Christians living in the end time, we should pray about these matters and watch. We should not judge by an isolated word or incident but by cumulative words and deeds.
Abel’s sacrifice with the shedding of blood was more acceptable than Cain’s. Back in their day, some information was probably available that God preferred animal to grain sacrifices. The sacrifices of Cain and Abel were habitual, not a one-time offering. Cain, who was not meticulous enough with regard to his own offerings, was jealous of the preference God showed to Abel. “Works” (plural) were either righteous or evil habitual sacrifices, and on one occasion, Cain’s envy got out of control with the result that he killed Abel.
“Hateth” was a strong manifestation in John’s day. We should not look down on a brother, for an ill-will disposition is not Christlike. One who hates his brother will not get eternal life. Note: One who is sweet and gentle in speech can still be a murderer. John was a “son of thunder,” and he loved his brethren.
1 John 3:16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
“Hereby perceive we the love [Greek agape]” that God is looking for, as exemplified in Jesus. Jesus laid down his life for us, and we should “lay down our lives for the brethren.”
How does one lay down his life for the brethren? There are many ways, some of which are sacrifice along lines such as moral, financial, and prayer support; service; visiting the sick; and correspondence to offer encouragement. Common menial things done for our brethren are also in order. For example, Jesus, who could do great miracles, washed the disciples’ feet.
Another mode of service, one not usually thought of, is being properly and constructively critical when a brother is doing something seriously wrong. The eternal spiritual welfare of the individual is considered rather than personal temporary fellowship. Therefore, in view of the fact that we are interested in the outcome of one’s life, there are times when we may have to say some hard things, as John was doing here.
Laying down life for the brethren can center on our motivation. For example, a brother might refuse a promotion so that he (1) will not compromise principle and (2) will have more time to help the brethren. However, we should not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of or to become so busy with activity for the brethren that we actually jeopardize our own spiritual welfare by not having enough time for study.
Those who were trying to seduce the brethren with John probably talked about the wonderful light they had. They would have emphasized their freedom of conduct. How appealing that approach would be to the flesh! To base our love for God on just knowledge, while ignoring the moral aspects of the Christian life, would be having one foot on the earth and one foot in heaven. It would be getting the best of this world’s goods and the best of the spiritual life. How nice to get the new creature to agree with the old man, the flesh, in this thinking! The Scriptures say that the natural heart is exceedingly deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). The new creature must predominate over the old man and be the superior.
1 John 3:17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
1 John 3:18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
Verses 17 and 18 remind us of two texts in the Epistle of James. “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” (James 2:15,16). The family relationship of John and James Zebedee can be seen in their similar writings. The difference is that John’s common sense was more emotional, and the common sense of James was more severe and strict in its practicality.
“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue.” What is the difference between not loving “in word” and not loving “in tongue”? “Tongue” refers to a dishonest statement or profession, to an untruth, whereas “word” is an honest profession that is not acted upon. We are not to withhold help from brethren truly in need. The instruction is to love in deed and in truth, not in words only.
1 John 3:19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
If one has love for the brotherhood, that concern will be manifested in various ways. In varying degrees, we are either an extrovert or an introvert by nature. An extrovert is often confident where he should not be, while an introvert is too critical and constantly condemns himself. Those who are given to frequent self-examination should try to evaluate themselves in a dispassionate way. Considering all of their good points helps them to come out of the cycle of introversion. Since none are perfect, we need to ask, “Am I really trying to serve the Lord?”
Yes, we are trying with all our might, but we find that we are imperfect and need Christ’s robe of righteousness and the forgiveness of our sins and shortcomings.
John was trying to encourage the brotherhood. His opponents, who were extroverts by nature, were prospering and confident. Their message to those loyal to John was to come up to a higher level and experience their joy. Although they were speaking falsehoods, this salesmen type of mentality seems to prosper in Satan’s world—with recognition, better pay, and better jobs.
While the opposers were more prosperous, they did not share that prosperity with the brethren who were in need. John was calling attention to the disparity that existed. Some people wrongly regard temporal prosperity as God’s blessing and favor. Thus providence is very difficult to discern unless we train ourselves to see what is right and what is wrong. The Apostle Paul spoke of those who “have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). And what enables one to discern between good and evil? Maturity in Christ.
1 John 3:20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
God is able to read our hearts. Therefore, if we know we have done something wrong, then certainly God knows it too. If we know a wrong has been done, we should try to correct the situation and then do better the next time. There are things we do not know about ourselves that only God knows. And sometimes others know something obvious that we are unaware of. In other words, some people have secret faults that everyone can see except the one who has the fault. In either case, the situation is thoroughly apparent to God like an open book, for He looks on our heart like a lapidarian with a jewel. He looks at our true character to see if something is salvable.
John was giving encouragement. If we know we are trying our best to do God’s will, and if our prayer is to that effect morning and evening, we should count that a favorable sign. A review of our past history and God’s leadings is sometimes necessary to encourage us to continue on in the way.
One knows if he is uttering a dishonest or hypocritical remark. Paul said to keep the antitypical “feast, not with … the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:8). “Conscience” is a watchdog that helps us to search our heart and make a correction where appropriate. If our conscience is bothered, then we can be sure that God, who is greater than we are, knows about the sin too. We are to strive to have (1) a conscience void of offense toward God and man, (2) an unfeigned love, and (3) an undissembled faith.
1 John 3:21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
1 John 3:22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
Even with all of his experiences and his faithfulness, the Apostle Paul said, “I judge not mine own self,” yet he advised Christians to examine themselves (1 Cor. 4:3). We are trusting in Christ and trying to follow his leadings, but we are imperfect beings in an imperfect world. Neither we nor others can be perfect. As long as others give outward evidence of their love and zeal for God, we accredit them as brethren in good standing despite their faults. We want the same relationship for ourself. Standing apart and viewing things from this perspective sometimes helps us not to be introspective to the point of discouragement and despondency.
Medications are on the market today that were not available in the old days. People lived and died with their medical problems. In addition, dentistry lacked modern techniques, anesthesia, and antiseptics, so when people got seriously sick, they died—and often at a young age. A unique problem today is that in our society, almost everyone is taking medication, pills, and/or vitamins. The drugs play on the emotions and the minds of those who take them. Thus there is sort of a contradiction to some of the things that we read, even in Scripture, about the mind or the body, for pills interfere with our behavior.
If we are misunderstood but know we are doing right, we should have “confidence toward God.” He searches and knows our heart.
We receive what we pray for if we ask aright and if we keep God’s commandments and do what is pleasing to Him. Thus there are two conditions. To receive, we must (1) not ask amiss and (2) be obedient, doing those things that are pleasing to God. Sometimes we get an experience that prepares us for an answer to a later prayer.
1 John 3:23 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.
1 John 3:24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
Verses 23 and 24 express very simple logic. The verse is not saying, “He who believes in the invisible presence or the sin offering,” but, “Those who believe on the name of God’s Son and love one another and are trying to obey.” These two verses should be encouraging, for they help us to know we are in the way of truth. True, we still have to attain the finished product, but at least the criterion of trying to keep God’s commandments helps us to know which side of the fence we are on.
To “know” Jesus Christ is to know about his preexistence. In fact, John called Jesus the “Son of God” because of his preexistence. If we did not appreciate Jesus’ laying everything aside and coming down here to planet Earth, his becoming flesh, and his dying for us, half of the truth would be lost. To not have this realization and appreciation would be to see Jesus as only a man—and not as a Redeemer sent by God. Jesus had to die to be the basis for our forgiveness.
Therefore, with John saying, “Believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ,” we think Jesus had a preexistence as the Son of God in a special sense. We have to hold onto that thought so that the power of what Jesus has done on our behalf will sink in and become meaningful.
John needed to remind the brethren that Jesus came in the flesh and that we should believe in the name of Jesus as the Son of God and love one another. The necessity for this reminder shows the extent to which doctrine deteriorated so soon after AD 33. Many did not believe in Jesus’ preexistence—they thought he was a man only, not the Son of God. Hence John went into the preexistence of Jesus as the Logos. The vicarious aspect of his life was soon forgotten because heathen philosophies permeated, and Jewish thinking got intermixed.
If we believe on the name of God’s Son, love one another, and keep His commandments, we know that He abides in us and we abide in Him. Verses 23 and 24 are showing the bottom line of life and being with God and His Son. Of course, as Paul said, we are to build on that platform, or base, as if only one gets the prize (1 Cor. 9:24). John’s chief concern for the life of each individual—for long-term destiny—was love. Love is rewarded with eternal life.
He who keeps God’s commandments dwells in Him. John emphasized God in his Gospel and epistles. For example, “The Father himself loveth you” (John 16:27).
“Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” A contrary spirit, or disposition, is not one that God dwells in.
(1997 Study with Excerpts from 1982-1983 Study)