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 brothers.
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1 John 3:16-17. Hereby perceive we the love of God — The word God is not in the original: it seems to be omitted by the apostle just as the name of Jesus is omitted by Mary, when she says to the gardener Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, &c., John 20:15; in which place there is a very emphatical language, even in silence. It declares how totally her thoughts were possessed by the blessed and glorious subject. It expresses also the superlative dignity and amiableness of the person meant; as though he, and he alone, were, or deserved to be, both known and admired by all. Because he laid down his life — Not merely for sinners, but for us in particular. From this truth believed, and salvation received by that faith, the love of Christ, and, in consequence thereof, the love of the brethren, take their rise, which may very justly be admitted as an evidence that our faith is no delusion. But whoso hath this world’s good — Worldly substance, far less valuable than life; and seeth his brother have need — (The very sight of want knocks at the door of the spectator’s heart;) and shutteth up — Restraineth, whether asked or not; his bowels of compassion — Excited, it may be, by the view of misery; how dwelleth the love of God in him? — Certainly not at all, however he may talk of it, as the next verse supposes him to do. Thus the apostle having, in the preceding verse, observed, that we know the love of Christ by his laying down his life for us, and that the consideration of his love to us should induce us “so to love him as, at his call, to lay down our lives for the brethren; here tells us, that if, so far from laying down our lives for them, we refuse them, when in need, some part of our worldly goods to support their lives, the love of God can in no sense be said to be in us.”3:16-21 Here is the condescension, the miracle, the mystery of Divine love, that God would redeem the church with his own blood. Surely we should love those whom God has loved, and so loved. The Holy Spirit, grieved at selfishness, will leave the selfish heart without comfort, and full of darkness and terror. By what can it be known that a man has a true sense of the love of Christ for perishing sinners, or that the love of God has been planted in his heart by the Holy Spirit, if the love of the world and its good overcomes the feelings of compassion to a perishing brother? Every instance of this selfishness must weaken the evidences of a man's conversion; when habitual and allowed, it must decide against him. If conscience condemn us in known sin, or the neglect of known duty, God does so too. Let conscience therefore be well-informed, be heard, and diligently attended to.Hereby perceive we the love of God - The words "of God" are not in the original, and should not have been introduced into the translation, though they are found in the Latin Vulgate, and in the Genevan versions, and in one manuscript. They would naturally convey the idea that "God" laid down his life for us; or that God himself, in his divine nature, suffered. But this idea is not expressed in this passage as it is in the original, and of course no argument can be derived from it either to prove that Christ is God, or that the divine nature is capable of suffering. The original is much more expressive and emphatic than it is with this addition: "By this we know love;" that is, we know what true love is; we see a most affecting and striking illustration of its nature. "Love itself" - its real nature, its power, its sacrifices, its influences - was seen in its highest form, when the Son of God gave himself to die on a cross. For an illustration of the sentiment, see the notes at John 3:16; John 15:13.

Because he laid down his life for us - There can be no doubt that the Saviour is here referred to, though his name is not mentioned particularly. There are several instances in the New Testament where he is mentioned under the general appellation "he," as one who was well known, and about whom the writers were accustomed to speak.

And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren - For the good of our fellow Christians, if it be necessary. That is, circumstances may occur where it would be proper to do it, and we ought always to be ready to do it. The spirit which led the Saviour to sacrifice his life for the good of the church, should lead us to do the same thing for our brethren if circumstances should require it. That this is a correct principle no one can doubt; for:

(1) the Saviour did it, and we are bound to imitate his example, and to possess his spirit;

(2) the prophets, apostles, and martyrs did it, laying down their lives in the cause of truth, and for the good of the church and the world; and,

(3) it has always been held that it is right and proper, in certain circumstances, for a man to lay down his life for the good of others.

So we speak of the patriot who sacrifices his life for the good of his country; so we feel in the case of a shipwreck, that it may be the duty of a captain to sacrifice his life for the good of his passengers and crew; so in case of a pestilential disease, a physician should not regard his own life, if he may save others; and so we always hold the man up to honor who is willing to jeopard his own life on noble principles of self-denial for the good of his fellow-men. In what cases this should occur the apostle does not state; but the general principle would seem to be, that it is to be done when a greater good would result from our self-sacrifice than from carefully guarding our own lives. Thus, in the case of a patriot, his death, in the circumstances, might be of greater value to his country than his life would be; or, his exposing himself to death would be a greater service to his country, than if that should not be done.

Thus, the Saviour laid down his life for the good of mankind; thus the apostles exposed their lives to constant peril in extending the principles of religion; and thus the martyrs surrendered their lives in the cause of the church and of truth. In like manner, we ought to be ready to hazard our lives, and even to lay them down, if in that way we may promote the cause of truth, and the salvation of sinners, or serve our Christian brethren. In what way this injunction was understood by the primitive Christians, may be perceived from what the world is reported to have said of them, "Behold, how they love one another; they are ready to die for one another." - Tertullian, Apol. c. 39. So Eusebius (Eccl. HIsaiah 7.22) says of Christians, that "in a time of plague they visited one another, and not only hazarded their lives, but actually lost them in their zeal to preserve the lives of others." We are not indeed to throw away our lives; we are not to expose them in a rash, reckless, imprudent manner; but when, in the discharge of duty, we are placed in a situation where life is exposed to danger, we are not to shrink from the duty, or to run away from it. Perhaps the following would embrace the principal instances of the duty here enjoined by the apostle:

(1) We ought to have such love for the church that we should be willing to die for it, as patriot is willing to die for his country.

(2) we ought to have such love for Christians as to be willing to jeopard our lives to aid them - as in case of a pestilence or plague, or when they are in danger by fire, or flood, or foes.

(3) we ought to have such love for the truth as to be willing to sacrifice our lives rather than deny it.

(4) we ought to have such love for the cause of our Master as to be willing to cross oceans, and snows, and sands; to visit distant and barbarous regions, though at imminent risk of our lives, and though with the prospect that we shall never see our country again.

(5) we ought to have such love for the church that we shall engage heartily and constantly in services of labor and self-sacrifice on its account, until, our work being done, exhausted nature shall sink to rest in the grave. In one word, we should regard ourselves as devoted to the service of the Redeemer, living or dying to be found engaged in his cause. If a case should actually occur where the question would arise whether a man would abandon his Christian brother or die, he ought not to hesitate; in all cases he should regard his life as consecrated to the cause of Sion and its friends. Once, in the times of primitive piety, there was much of this spirit in the world; how little, it is to be feared, does it prevail now!

16. What true love to the brethren is, illustrated by the love of Christ to us.

Hereby—Greek, "Herein."

the love of God—The words "of God" are not in the original. Translate, "We arrive at the knowledge of love"; we apprehend what true love is.


and we—on our part, if absolutely needed for the glory of God, the good of the Church, or the salvation of a brother.

lives—Christ alone laid down His one life for us all; we ought to lay down our lives severally for the lives of the brethren; if not actually, at least virtually, by giving our time, care, labors, prayers, substance: Non nobis, sed omnibus. Our life ought not to be dearer to us than God's own Son was to Him. The apostles and martyrs acted on this principle.

He laid down his life for us: the intimate union between the Divine nature and the human in Christ, gives ground for the calling Christ’s life as man the life of God; as, Acts 20:28, his blood is said to be God’s

own blood. And this testimony of God’s love to us, his laying down his life for us, ought so to transform us into his likeness, that out of the power of that Divine principle, the love of God in us, (so that implanted love is called, 1Jo 3:17,

the love of God), we should never hesitate, or make a difficulty, to lay down our lives for the Christian community, or even for the common good and welfare of men, being duly called thereto. Hereby perceive we the love of God,.... The phrase "of God" is not in the Oriental versions, nor in the Greek copies, but is in the Complutensian edition, and in the Vulgate Latin version, and is favoured by the Syriac version, which reads, "by this we know his love to us"; and so the Ethiopic version, "by this we know his love". That is, the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is truly and properly God, the great God, the mighty God, the true God, and God over all, blessed for ever. His love is manifested to his people, and perceived by them in various instances; but in nothing is it more clearly seen than in the following one:

because he laid down his life for us: of the life of Christ, and his laying it down in the room of his people; see Gill on , which shows his love, his free grace and favour; for this arose not from any merit or worth in the persons he died for; not from their love, loveliness, or duty, but from his rich mercy, and the great love wherewith he loved them; and which, though it cannot be equalled, should be imitated:

and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren: not in such sense, or for such ends and purposes, as Christ laid down his life for us; for no man, as by giving his money, so by laying down his life, can redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him: but the meaning is, that saints ought to risk their lives, and expose themselves to dangers, for the sake of their brethren, when they are called to it, and the case requires it: as Priscilla and Aquila laid down their necks, or ventured their lives for the Apostle Paul, Romans 16:3; and they should also, when called unto it, freely lay down their lives in the cause of Christ, and for the sake of his Gospel, for the gaining of souls to Christ, and for the confirming of the faith of the brethren in him, as the apostles of Christ, and the martyrs of Jesus, have done; this is an argument for brotherly love, in the highest instance of it, taken from the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, than which nothing is more forcible, or can lay a greater obligation on the saints.

{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.

(16) Now he shows how far Christian charity extends, even so far, that according to the example of Christ every man forgets himself, to provide for and help his brethren.

1 John 3:16. Whilst he who belongs to the world hates his brother and is therefore an ἀνθρωποκτόνος, Christians, on the contrary, are by the example of Christ to lay down their life for their brethren.

ἐν τούτῳ refers to the following ὅτι.

ἐγνώκαμεν τὴν ἀγάπην] “we have known the love, i.e. the character or the nature of the love” (Bengel, de Wette, Baumgarten-Crusius, Lücke, Sander); some commentators (Carpzov, Paulus, etc.) erroneously supply with τὴν ἀγάπην as a more particular definition: τοῦ Χριστοῦ; others (Grotius, Spener, etc.): τοῦ Θεοῦ. In Christ’s self-devotion to death, love itself became concrete. Without adequate reason Ebrard supplies with ἐν τούτῳ an οὖσαν, so that ἐν τούτῳ forms the predicate of τὴν ἀγάπην; thus: “we have known love as consisting in this;” and ἐγνώκαμεν is only used as an accessory.

ὅτι ἐκεῖνος] i.e. Christ; comp. 1 John 3:7, chap. 1 John 2:6. “He, says the apostle, without mentioning him by name, for He is to every believer the well-known,” Rickli.

The phrase: τὴν ψυχὴν τιθέναι, besides here and frequently in the Gospel of John, never appears elsewhere either in the N. T. or in the classics. Meyer on John 10:11 explains it by the “representation of the sacrificial death as a ransom paid: to lay down, to pay; according to the classical usage of τιθέναι, according to which it is used of payment; “Hengstenberg (on the same passage) explains it by Isaiah 53:10; but it is unsuitable to supply the idea “ransom” or “an offering for sin,” for the τιθέναι τὴν ψυχήν is not merely ascribed to Christ, but is also made the duty of Christians; besides, in that case ὑπέρ could not be wanting, as is the case in the Gospel of John 10:17-18. The derivation of it from the Hebrew שִׂים נֶפֶשׁ בְּכַף (Ebrard) is equally unsuitable, because “here the בְּכַף is essential” (Meyer). According to John 13:4, τίθημι may in this phrase also be interpreted = deponere (so most commentators), which is so much the more appropriate as in John 10. ἵνα πάλιν λάβω αὐτήν is conjoined with τίθημι τὴν ψυχήν μου, just as in John 13:12 it runs: καὶ ἔλαβεν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ; “comp. animam ponere in Propert. II. 10, 43, and animam deponere in Corn. Nep. vita Hannib. I. 3” (Brückner). Perhaps τίθημι might also be taken in the meaning of “to give up” (Il. xxiii. 704: θεῖναι εἰς μέσσον, τιθέναι εἰς τὸ κοινόν, in Pape see τίθημι).

ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν is: “for our good” i.e. to save us from destruction; for the idea, comp. chap. 1 John 2:2.

καὶ ἡμεῖς κ.τ.λ.] comp. chap. 1 John 2:6. By this the climax is stated (John 15:13); but even every self-denying sacrifice for our brethren belongs to the τιθέναι τὴν ψυχήν, to which we are bound by the example of Christ by virtue of our fellowship with Him.

The reading θεῖναι is just as conformable to the N. T. usus loquendi as the Rec. τιθέναι, for ὀφείλειν is sometimes connected with the pres. inf., and sometimes with the aor. inf. For the idea, comp. Romans 16:4.[228]

[228] The thought of this verse is, according to Ebrard, the surest proof that John in this section is not treating of the “general and vague (!) idea of brotherly love,” but of “the relation of the τέκνα Θεοῦ to those who are not τέκνα Θεοῦ,” because the apostle cannot possibly “limit the duty of loving sacrifice of life to the relationship of the regenerate to one another.” But (1) the idea of Christian brotherly love is very far from being a vague idea; (2) when Christians are exhorted so to love one another as to lay down their lives for one another, that is not a limitation of the commandment of love; (3) those who are not τέκνα Θεοῦ, and are therefore τέκνα τοῦ διαβόλου, John cannot possibly call ἀδελφοί without any further statement; (4) the whole section is an explication of ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους, ver. 11; but by ἀλλήλους cannot be understood the children of God and the children of the devil in their relation to one another; comp. besides, 1 John 4:2-11.

1 John 3:16-18. Description of true love.1 John 3:16. τὴν ἀγάπην, “the thing called ‘love’ ”. The love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord is the perfect type. Till the world saw that, it never knew what love is. ἐκεῖνος, Christ; see note on 1 John 2:6. ἡμεῖς emphatic, “we on our part”. ὀφείλομεν, see note on 1 John 2:6.16. Hereby perceive we the love of God] Better, Herein know we love: see on 1 John 2:3. The Greek is literally, ‘we have perceived,’ and therefore we know, as R. V., and there is no ‘of God’. The A. V. here collects the errors of other Versions: Tyndale and Cranmer have ‘perceave’, Wiclif and the Rhemish insert ‘of God’; the Genevan is right on both points, ‘Herby have we perceaved love.’ We have obtained the knowledge of what love is, in the concrete example of Christ’s vicarious death. Christ is the archetype of self-sacrificing love, as Cain is of brother-sacrificing hate. Love and hate are known by their works.

because he laid down his life] For ‘herein’ followed by ‘because’ see on 1 John 2:3. ‘To lay down’ may mean either ‘to pay down’ in the way of ransom or propitiation, or simply ‘to lay aside.’ Classical usage sanctions the former interpretation: Demosthenes uses the verb (τίθεσθαι) of paying interest, tribute, taxes. And this is supported by ‘for us’ (ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν), i.e. ‘on our behalf’. But ‘I lay down My life that I may take it again’ (John 10:17-18), and ‘layeth aside His garments’ (John 13:4; comp. John 13:12), are in favour of the latter: they are quite against the rendering ‘He pledged His life’. The phrase ‘to lay down one’s life’ is peculiar to S. John (John 10:11; John 10:15; John 10:17, John 13:37-38, John 15:13). In Greek the pronoun (ἐκεῖνος as in 1 John 2:6 and 1 John 3:7) marks more plainly than in English who laid down His life: but S. John’s readers had no need to be told.

and we ought] The ‘we’ is emphatic: this on our side is a Christian’s duty; he ‘ought himself also to walk even as He walked’ (1 John 2:6). The argument seems to shew that though ‘the brethren’ specially means believers, yet heathen are not to be excluded. Christ laid down His life not for Christians only, ‘but also for the whole world’ (1 John 2:2). Christians must imitate Him in this: their love must be (1) practical, (2) absolutely self-sacrificing, (3) all-embracing. ‘God commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). Tertullian quotes this dictum of the Apostle in urging the duty of martyrdom: “If he teaches that we must die for the brethren, how much more for the Lord” (Scorp. xii.). Comp. Proverbs 24:11. See on 1 John 4:18.1 John 3:16. Τὴν ἀγάπην, love) the nature of love.Verses 16, 17. - The nature of love as shown by Christ, and its obligation on Christians. Love has been declared the criterion for distinguishing the children of God from the children of the devil. It remains to show what love is; and this is best seen in a concrete example. "The Eternal Word, incarnate and dying for the truth, inspires St. John to guard it with apostolic chivalry; but also this revelation of the heart of God melts him into tenderness towards the race which Jesus has loved so well. To St. John a lack of love for men seems sheer dishonour to the love of Christ" (Liddon). Verse 16. - In this (verse 10; 1 John 2:3)we have come to know (have acquired and possess the knowledge of) love (what love is), in that he laid down his life for us. This is better than "We have come to know love as consisting in this, that he laid down his life for us," which would have been ἐν τούτῳ οϋσαν. Cain is the type of hate; Christ, of love. Cain took his brother's life to benefit himself; Christ laid down his own life to benefit his enemies (see on John 10:12). This realized ideal of love we must imitate; ready to sacrifice ourselves, and even our lives, for the good of others. The effacement of another's rights and perhaps existence for one's own sake is the essence of hatred; the effacement of one's self for another's sake is the essence of love. Christ died for those who hated him; and the Christian must confront the hatred of the world with a love that is ready even to die for the haters. This shows that the "brethren" here and in verse 14, though used primarily of Christians, does not exclude unbelievers; otherwise the parallel with Christ would be spoiled (see on verse 10). Hereby (ἐν τοίτῳ)

See on 1 John 2:3.

Perceive (ἐγνώκαμεν)

Rev., correctly, know.

The love

Omit the italics of A.V., of God, and render as Rev., hereby know we love.

Laid down His life (τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἔθηκεν)

See on John 10:11.

We ought (ὀφείλομεν)

See on 1 John 2:6.

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