I. LOVE TO BE TRACED TO A SAVING CHANGE.
1. Not to be expected in the world. "Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you." Cain hated Abel; after the same fashion the world hates Christ's people. Our Lord, whom John here echoes, points to the fact of his being hated before his people, and then adds, "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." Abel's tragic end was conclusive evidence that he was not to be classed with Cain; so when the world hates us, there is this consolation, that we have evidence of not being classed with the world.
2. Its presence the sign of a saving change. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." Here again John echoes our Lord, who describes the saving change in the same language (John 5:24). The passage out of death into life is to be interpreted in accordance with being begotten of God and having his seed in us. It is not simply justification - a passage out of a state of condemnation into a state of acceptance. It is rather regeneration - a passage out of a dead, abnormal state of our thoughts, desires, volitions, into their living, normal state. This is a passage which must take place in the spiritual history of every one of us who would come forth into the light of God's countenance. It is not effected without Divine help, which is offered in the gospel. To every one to whom the gospel offer is made there is granted the assistance of the Spirit, that he may lay hold on Christ as his Saviour. With Christ there is a new principle introduced into our life, which now needs full manifestation for our perfect health and happiness. It is a matter, then, of the very greatest importance for us to know that we have made the passage out of death into life. We are not to take this for granted, but to be guided by evidence. The test given by our Lord is - hearing his Word, and believing him that sent him. John's interpretation of this is loving the brethren. We are to love those who are animated with the same Christian sentiment, not in the same way those who are animated with worldly sentiment. If we have the right feeling within the Christian circle, loving all who love Christ, then we may conclude that a saving change has taken place in us.
3. Its absence the sign of continuance in an unsaved state. "He that loveth not abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." The apostle singles out him who is not under the influence of love (without any specification of object), and says of him, that he abideth in death, i.e., has not made the passage - remains where he was. In confirming this, he assumes that want of love is equivalent to hatred of a brother. It is only where love is active that hatred is effectually excluded. "Whosoever hateth his brother [there seems to be a limitation to the Christian circle] is a murderer." He has the feeling of the murderer, in so far as he is not sorry to see the happiness of his brother diminished. If he is a murderer to any extent, then - according to the old law - his life is forfeited. It cannot be said of him, as it can be said of him that loves, that he has eternal life abiding in him. His true life, that which has eternal elements in it, has not yet commenced.
II. LOVE IN ITS MANIFESTATION.
1. Love in its highest manifestation. "Hereby know we love, because he [that One] laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." The apostle has laid down love as the sign of a saving change; how are we to know what love is? He does not give any philosophical definition of it; he reaches his end better by pointing to its highest manifestation, viz. that One laying down his life for us. "I have power to lay it down," he said, "and I have power to take it again ;" but he elected to lay it down. It was laying down that which was dearest to him, that which cost him an infinite pang to lay down. There was not a little truth in what Satan said, "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life." It was only love that could overcome the greatest natural aversion to dying - a love stronger than death, a love burning with a flame that waters and floods could not quench. It was love going out toward us, that sought to be of infinite service to us. He did not grudge his life, that we might have life - the pardon of our sins, and the quickening of his Spirit through our whole nature. To point to this is better than to give any definition of love - it is love meeting a great necessity, solving the problem of sin, triumphing over the greatest difficulty that could arise under the moral government of God. There was rebellion against the Divine authority: how was it triumphed over? Not by a resort to force, which would have been easy, but by drawing upon the resources of love, even by that which was fitted to excite the astonishment of the universe - the Son of God becoming incarnate, and laying down his precious life, that the guilt of rebellion and all its evil consequences might be removed. So John needs not to give any definition of love in abstract terms; he needs only to say, "Hereby know we love." This is its absolute realization - a realization from which we are to derive instruction and inspiration. For what does it say to us? John puts it thus, "And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." As he represents those who hate as murderers, so he represents those who love as martyrs. If we take "laying down our lives" as actual martyrdom, then there is not an obligation to this raider all circumstances. In the early times Christians had often to face martyrdom - it was a matter of obligation to them from which they could not free themselves, from which they sought not to free themselves, because they were under the spell of Christ's sacrifice for them. It is to the honour of our Christianity that they went forth even joyfully to meet death in whatever form it came to them. If opportunity offered, it would be our duty to do the same. But observe the spirit of our great exemplification of love. It was not self-immolation for its own sake, but rather self-immolation for the sake of being of service to us. He who, like Lacordaire, has himself bound to a literal cross is doing a bold thing, but a mistaken thing, for the reason that there is no proper connection between his act and service done. Carried out, it would turn Christianity into a religion of suicide. What keeps us right, while still preserving the spell of Christ's sacrifice, is that we allow our love to go as far in sacrifice as our doing service to others requires.
2. An ordinary failure in love. "But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?" It is very exceptional where our duty is to lay down our lives for the brethren; it is generally a much simpler matter. Here is a Christian who has the means of living for this world beyond what he absolutely requires. He is not rich, let us say, but is in good health, and employed, and has an ordinary living. Here, on the other hand, is a brother in need, who is in bad health, or is unemployed, or is incapacitated by age for work. "The poor ye have always with you." What, then, is the duty of a Christian to a needy brother? Is he not guided to it even by his natural feelings? As he beholds his brother in need, his heart opens in compassion toward him; and he goes and lays down for him, not his life in this case, but a little out of his worldly store, which goes to lighten the burden of his brother's poverty. That is the Christian part. But let us suppose the converse. Here is one who professes to be a Christian. Nature does not refuse him assistance. The spectacle of a brother's poverty opens his heart in compassion. But he selfishly shuts it - goes away, and finds prudential reasons for not making the little sacrifice that his feelings unchecked would lead him to make: have we not grounds, in this case, for doubting his Christianity? Of one who goes and lays down of his living for a needy brother we can think that he has the love of God abiding in him. Even in that little sacrifice he is acting in the same line in which God acted in making infinite sacrifice. But of one who cannot lay down, not his life, which is the highest test, but a little of his living, which is a very low test, what are we to think? What has he in common with that God whom he professes to love, of whose love the cross of Christ is the expression?
3. The requisite of reality in love. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth." With all affectionateness he would have them to attend to this lesson, calling them his little children, and including himself in what he inculcates. Love may very properly find expression in word. "Kind messages have a grand part to discharge in the system of utterances and acts by which the reign of love is maintained and advanced in so hard a world. As soon as we have passed beyond the limits of school into the real world, we find that it is sweet to be remembered with regard by friends at a distance - to learn that you have not faded out of their memory, like unfixed photographs in the sunshine; that you are sufficiently a distinct object of regard to be found worthy of a direct and affectionate salutation." It is very proper also to use the tongue in conveying love. The kindly feeling must be in the heart; but let the kindly expression also be on the tongue. There is nothing more beautiful in the picture of the virtuous woman drawn by King Lemuel than this touch: "In her tongue is the law of kindness." Let not the tongue be used as the vehicle of disagreeableness, of rancour; let love teach us how to use it. Kindliness of tone, especially when accompanied with the fitting word, does much to take away the hardness of life and the oppressive sense of isolation. But, when proper occasion arises, let us also love in deed. Withhold not from a needy brother when thou canst relieve him. Perform the act to which the kindly feeling prompts. Then only can we love in truth. Love that stops short of doing, that does not go beyond fine phrases, is characterized by unreality. To be true, it must penetrate into what is practical, however unromantic.
III. LOVE IN ITS BENEFICIAL RESULT.
1. Assurance. "Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him." The link of connection is truth as the sphere in which love moves. Let us go on loving, and we shall know that we are of the truth; i.e., have hold of eternal reality, so as to be steadied by it and wholly charactered by it. Knowing that we are of the truth, we shall assure our heart before him. It is of the utmost importance that we should have our heart assured as to our state and destiny. This can only be "before him;" for it is with him that we have to do - to whom we stand or fall. Does our heart tell us that we stand in a right relationship to him? We may have experience of sin, as we have already been taught, and yet stand in a right relationship to him. God's people are those who are being gradually cleansed from sin in the blood of Christ and in connection with confession of sins. Their titles, then, are not affected by remains of sin, if there is a new life operating in them, showing itself especially in the activity of brotherly love. The following course of thought cannot be ascertained with certainty. The difficulty is caused by the introduction of "for" before "God is greater." For its omission there is one very good authority of the fifth century; but the weight of authority is for its introduction. If we take the more authoritative reading, we have not a clear sense; on the other hand, if we take the less authoritative reading, we have a clear and excellent sense. It seems to be a case (very rare, indeed) in which the authority of manuscripts must yield to the authority of consistent thought. The way of getting over the difficulty in the Revised Version is far from satisfactory. It seems to teach that, if we only love, then, whereinsoever our heart condemn us, we may pacify it by the thought that God is greater than our hearts, especially in his omniscience - which is a latitudinarian sentiment. In the old version there is a distinction drawn between the case of our heart condemning us and the case of our heart not condemning us.
(1) Misery of a heart that condemns. "Whereinsoever our heart condemn us; because ['For if our heart condemn us'] God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." Having started the thought of assurance, John emphasizes it by putting forward the calamitousness of its opposite. If our heart condemn us, i.e., if, from the presence of unloving feelings and from other evidences, we do not have good ground for thinking that we have yet come into a covenant relationship to God, then our case is bad. We have not only self-condemnation - conscience turned against ourselves - but we have something worse. God is greater than our heart in this sense, that he has made it with its power of judgment upon ourselves. Conscience is only his legate; we must think of the great God himself pronouncing judgment upon us, and his judgment is more efficient than ours. We have but a limited knowledge even of ourselves. If with that limited knowledge our judgment is condemnatory, what must the judgment of God be? He has more to proceed upon; for he knoweth all things - things that have faded from our mind, things in the depths of our heart beyond our own power of clear discernment. This clear condemnation of ourselves, involving the weightier and more terrible condemnation of God, is not to be taken as equivalent to want of assurance, which only goes thus far - that the evidences do not warrant a clear judgment in our favour. This want of assurance, which not a few Christians have, is a painful state, which should stimulate to a laying firm hold upon Christ, in whom all our interests are secured.
(2) Bliss of a heart that does not condemn. "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God." In view of his now stating their case and his own case, he calls them "beloved." We look into our hearts, and, with an honest desire to know the truth, we cannot come to the conclusion that we stand in an uncovenanted relationship to God. With the traces that there are of sin, there would seem to be also traces of a work of grace going on in the heart. This may not amount to full assurance; but, in so far as it is present, we do not need to look up to God with fear. We are conscious of having the justifying judgment of God, of being children of God; and we can look up with holy boldness to our Father.
2. Privilege of being heard. "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in his sight." One form which our boldness takes is asking. We are full of wants; and it is natural for us, in the consciousness of our sonship, to express our wants to our Father. We go upon the ground of our covenant relationship in pleading. "Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee." "Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?" We ask not always with the full knowledge of what we really need, but with the reservation that respect may be had by God to our real need. And whatsoever we thus ask, we receive of him. He constantly blesses us out of his boundless stores. There is a ladder of communication between us and heaven, upon which the angels of God ascend and descend. We are heard, not apart from obedience. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." We must be conscious of an honest intention to bring our life into agreement with our prayers. It is only when we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight, that we have that boldness in asking which God rewards. Added explanation. "And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment." He would leave no doubt as to what he means. The commandment is one in two parts. The first part of the commandment is that we believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ. This may be said to be his full Name. He was the historical Jesus, who stood in an essential relationship to God as his Son, and was sent forth to do his saving work. That is the blessed import of the Name here given to our Lord. His nature has thus been declared; and what we are commanded to do is to trust in the Name. We are, as sinners, to trust in the Name of him who has gloriously wrought out salvation for us. And what a Name to trust in! Not the name of one who can love a little, and can have no saving merit to transfer; but the Name of him who manifested the infinite desire of God for our salvation, and, in labour and in hiding of the Father's face, acquired infinite merit for transference to us. The second part of the commandment follows on the first. It is loving one another, and the manner is added (as commanded by Christ) - which is loving one another as he has loved us (John 15:12). He in whom we trust commands in accordance with his own nature, commands in accordance with his own example. We cannot trust in him and not love; and thus there is virtually one commandment.
3. Privilege of communion. "And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him." The apostle here recurs to the key-note of the Epistle. When, trusting in Christ, we love one another, we keep the way clear for communion with God. Transition to a new section. "And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us." The pledge of communion is possession of the Spirit, which is unfolded in the following paragraph. - R.F.
Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you
I. THE WORLD'S HATRED OF THE BRETHREN.
1. It is natural; not marvellous. The Lord prepares His disciples beforehand to expect it, warning them not to look for any other treatment at the world's hands than He had met with. Notwithstanding all warnings, and all the experience of others who have gone before him, the young Christian, buoyant, enthusiastic, may fancy that what he has to tell must pierce all consciences and melt all hearts. Alas! he comes in contact with what is like a wet blanket thrown in his face, cold looks and rude gestures of impatience, jeers and jibes, if not harsher usage still. Count it not strange that you fall into this trial. Why should you? Is their reception of you very different from what, but yesterday perhaps, yours would have been of one coming to you in the same character and on the same errand? Surely you know that love to the brethren — true Christian, Christlike love — is no plant of natural growth in the soil of corrupt humanity; that, on the contrary, it is the fruit of the great change by means of which a poor sinner "passes from death unto life."
2. It is murderous, as regards its objects: "He that loveth not its brother abideth in death: whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer." "Loveth not," "hateth," "murdereth"! There is a sort of dark climax here! Not loving is intensified into hating, and hating into murdering. The three, however, are really one; as the Lord teaches (Matthew 5:21-24). Be on your guard against this spirit of the world finding harbour again in your breasts. Even you need to be warned against the world's evil temper of dislike and envy. Consider how insidious it is. Consider also its deadly danger. Consider, finally, how natural it is; so natural that only your "passing from death unto life" can rid you of it, and make you capable of its opposite. Grace may overcome it; grace alone can do so. And even grace can do so only through continual watchfulness and prayer, continual recognition of the life through which you pass from death, and continual exercise of the love which is the characteristic of that life.
II. Of THIS LOVE, AS OF THE HATRED, TWO THINGS ARE SAID.
1. It is natural now to the spiritual mind; natural as the fruit and sign of the new life.
2. It is the very opposite of the murderous hatred of the devil; it is self-sacrificing, like the love of God Himself.
(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
I. First, then, for the fact that THE UNBELIEVING WORLD DID HATE THE CHURCH. It is established, not by sacred testimony only, but by the concurrence of heathen writers.
II. The apostle not only states the fact that the world did "hate" the Christian, but HE PROCEEDS TO WARN THEM NOT TO "MARVEL" AT IT. There were two reasons that would very naturally induce Christians so to marvel.
1. The first was derived from considering the Divine origin of their faith. They might be inclined to suppose that a religion coming from such a source, and so confirmed, would at least secure its professors from persecution.
2. The singular innocence and harmlessness of the lives of its professors might reasonably be expected to disarm malice of its sting. Now, for the first of these grounds, of their "marvel that the world should hate them." The very pretension of the religion to speak with authority from God, armed the world, Jewish or heathen, against it. With the Jew it was not like a new sect, such as the Herodians, added to the older division into Pharisees and Sadducees. But it was a deposing Moses from his authority, and placing him beneath Him whom they execrated, "the carpenter's son of Galilee." Nay, more, it was not deposing Moses only from his place, it was a loss of rank and caste to themselves likewise. For if the Christian religion broke down the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, and made both one, what became of their own fancied superiority over the rest of mankind? Still more, what became of their own special position as lords over their brethren? Again, for the heathen. The Christian religion was not like adding another form of worship to the ten thousand that were already received in the world, so that it has been said that there were more gods than people at Rome; but it pronounced every one of these forms to be foul, cruel, pernicious, and false. Even some conviction that it must have conic from God, was not sufficient to hinder those to whom it was brought from hating and murdering those who brought it. But again, if the suspicion that the religion came from God were not sufficient to deter the world from persecuting the Christian, neither would the innocency of the Christian's life be any defence. So far from it, it would be a special ground of attacking them. Wickedness has a consciousness that it is in the wrong, and as it only can support itself by having the multitude on its side, so it regards all goodness as a desertion, an exposure of its weakness. And what is the result? Clearly, that we ought not to be taken by surprise if we find the very best designs, the most palpable efforts of self-denial, not only misconstrued and misrepresented, but its ground of such opposition as the spirit of the age will permit. In more tranquil days, there is reason to apprehend that our faith may grow weak from want of exercise, and degenerate into mere morality and conventional decorum.
(G. J. Cornish, M. A.).
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