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Today’s post continues with a study of John’s letters, few readings from which are included in the three-year Lectionary for public worship.

As such, they qualify for inclusion in my ongoing series, Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential for our understanding of Holy Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the King James Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 John 3:14-18

14We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.

 15Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

 16Hereby 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.

 17But 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?

 18My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.


The Apostle John painstakingly reviewed the truth of apostolic teachings with his faithful, who had been visited and preached to by false teachers who appear to have left as quickly as they arrived.  John called these people antichrists for working against our Saviour in their words and deeds.

In last week’s reading, he pointed out that Christians would know each other by their righteousness and warned them that the world would hate them because of their goodness.  He cited Cain as an example of someone who hated his brother’s righteousness so much that he slayed him.

Cain killed his brother Abel by slitting his throat, as one would in animal slaughter. The two men were Adam and Eve’s sons; so, murder — as horrible as it is — appears very early in the Bible. It demonstrates that there are wicked minds in the world capable of death and destruction.

John continues reinforcement of scriptural truths with this passage. To the casual reader, he may appear repetitive, however, he is trying to reinforce Christian principles and discernment in the minds of his listeners so that they avoid falsehoods.

In verse 14, he emphasises the idea of mutual love that believers have for each other. The words about passing from death to life indicate the move from death in sin to life in Jesus Christ as well as the shift from the second death at the final judgment to life eternal with Him.  Someone who has no love for his brother is living in death; he is lost and there is no hope for him.

In verse 15, he develops this idea further, recalling verse 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.

Verse 15 echoes this, as John says anyone who hates his brother is a murderer and cannot share eternal life. I know this will be a difficult statement for some among us to read, especially those of a a universalist persuasion. The New Testament is full of verses as to who will share eternal life, so we would do well to reread and consider them carefully.

Looking at Cain, it is vital to note that he did not outwardly turn from the faith; he was there sacrificing with his brother Abel, who offered the sacrifice which God wanted. Cain, on the other hand, decided to make his own sacrifice, which God disapproved of. So, an angry and jealous Cain turned on Abel and took his life.

John MacArthur explains:

And the Bible doesn’t say that Abel rubbed it in. It doesn’t say that Abel said anything to intimidate his brother or to sort of elevate his anger. It simply says here he killed him because his deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous. The world is murderous, always has been. And the evil wretched world under the prince of the power of the air, the children of Satan, hate the righteous. They hate the righteous. Jealousy of acceptance with God, anger at being indicted leads to murder. This is life on the level of the children of Satan …

He adds that those with murderous hearts do not have to actually commit the act:

Most people have never murdered anybody. They would like to have. That’s the only difference. They’ve just not done it. The only difference between murder and hate is the act, the attitude is the same. Right? The attitude is the same. Maybe you never had an opportunity to do it. You were restrained because of the consequences. But in God’s eyes, hatred is the moral equivalent of murder. Hatred is the moral equivalent of murderer. You’re not off the hook just because you don’t kill somebody. You are children of the devil and whether you kill somebody or not, that will manifest itself in your hatred of others.

This is why parents tell their children not to use the word ‘hate’, although most of us have at some point when younger: ‘I hate you!’ It’s a very serious thing to say. However, most people toss the word ‘hate’ around rather casually, referring to situations or things. I’ve been as guilty as the next person.

Furthermore, some of our fellow Christians can have murderous, hateful hearts. MacArthur says:

And you want to understand this, folks, some of the most murderous people who exist, some of the greatest haters of those who were truly God’s are those who are religious. In fact, you can make a case that they’re the worst. It wasn’t atheists who murdered Jesus. It wasn’t atheists who screamed for His blood and demanded that the Romans crucify Him. It was religionists who were in their own twisted way worshiping the God of Israel, the God who was the very God and Father of the one they sought to kill. Outward ritual, outward religiosity is no proof that a person is born of God. Cain was a very religious man. He didn’t bring the right sacrifice because he had a self-styled religion. There’s no question in my mind that he had been commanded to bring an animal sacrifice as his brother did, and that’s why God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and didn’t accept Cain’s because Cain didn’t bring what God asked. Rather than bring a sacrifice which God asked, he brought the fruit of the land which he himself had toiled to produce and so for him he was going to make his relationship with God based upon what he accomplished, and that never gets you to God. But he was a religious man …

And false teachers are like that. The false teachers that came in to pollute the clear waters of truth in the lives of these people to whom John writes hated true righteousness, they hated the true Christ, they hated true religion, they hated true righteousness. They despised it because those people who are outside the Kingdom of God and do not possess true salvation even though they are religious are the children of the devil.

That is the response to atheists who equate Christian love with evil. They either do not understand or refuse to see that love does not involve hate; those ‘Christians’ who scheme against others and sin against them are antichrists, because they work against Christ. They are not Christians at all.

This includes some of our clergy in their disregard for the faithful and failure to uphold apostolic teachings.  By doing so, they mislead those earnest souls who do not have a good knowledge of Scripture and are causing them to stumble into the darkness of sin.  By asking for tolerance of sin ‘because we have to move with the times’, these clergy are killing others’ souls — sending them to perdition. This is why it is so important to know what the New Testament says. Read it and get comfortable with it. Use a good commentary to help you understand it in the right context.

MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

Back in chapter 1 verse 5, he kind of began at that point. “This is the message we have heard from Him and announced to you.” I’m telling you the message, John says, that I received from Jesus Christ. And I don’t care what anybody has said to you since, it’s not true. That’s what the cults all do, don’t they? They take the Bible and then somewhere in more modern history there is a revelation from an angel or there’s a revelation from some supernatural source to somebody who writes that revelation down whether it’s Ellen G. White [Seventh Day Adventists], or whether it’s Annie Besant [Fabian Theosophists], or Madame Blavatsky [Theosophists], or Judge Rutherford [Jehovah’s Witnesses], or Joseph Smith [Mormons], or whoever else it is in whatever cult, or whatever… it is our responsibility to say that’s not divine truth, go back to the original revelation. That’s what John essentially is saying. Let’s go back to what we taught you in the beginning. There’s nothing new. The truth is not altered. It doesn’t change. The truth about Jesus Christ doesn’t change. The truth about the gospel doesn’t change. The truth about man doesn’t change, he’s sinful and that doesn’t change. The truth about obedience and righteousness does not change and neither does the truth about loving one another. Go back to what you first heard and don’t get led astray. And what did you first hear with regard to this particular emphasis? That, verse 11, we should love one another. This is the manifestation of transformation.

In verse 16, John cites a contrast by referring to God’s love for us by sending His Son to die for our sins. He adds that we, too, should be willing to lay down our lives in love for each other. That is a difficult verse to read and to commit to. Fifty years ago, people would have said, ‘Yes, it’s terrible how other countries persecute Christians.’ Now in the 21st century, that reality is much closer to home. We do not know how this will play out in our lifetimes, and we would do well to give this thought and reflection. Pray for courage that we do the right thing should that day come.

Matthew Henry writes:

How mortified should the Christian be to this life! How prepared to part with it! And how well assured of a better!

John isn’t asking anyone to take stupid risks, but when the hate of the world turns actively murderous, we should be prepared for an extreme eventuality.

This strikes me as something else which distinguishes believers from unbelievers. Unbelievers have this incredible attachment to this life, as if they could never bear to lose it. Their own lives are so important that they idolise themselves with no thought for their souls or the afterlife, just how healthfully and materially they will live today, tomorrow and next year. This also reflects our attitudes towards the deaths of others. Almost every Western country has problems accepting death. This is partly because of our modern longevity. I’m not saying to not mourn our loved ones or those who die in tragedies, but death is inevitable. We tend to forget that. Of course, knowing that we are going to die does not make the event easier, particularly in the case of untimely deaths, which are shocking for the families concerned. However, if we are mindful that we are here for a limited time and to make the most of this life in preparation for the next, death loses some of its finality.

Perhaps this is an additional reflection we can bring to verses 17 and 18 — that we make the most of each day by loving and helping each other fully in this world.

Henry explains:

It appears here that this love to the brethren is founded upon love to God, in that it is here called so by the apostle: How dwelleth the love of God in him? This love to the brethren is love to God in them; and where there is none of this love to them there is no true love to God at all … there may be other fruits of this love; and therefore the apostle desires that in all it should be unfeigned and operative, as circumstances will allow: My little children (my dear children in Christ), let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth, v. 18. Compliments and flatteries become not Christians; but the sincere expressions of sacred affection, and the services or labours of love, do.

A woman recently said to me, ‘In friendship, I look for what I can get out of it. If I’m not getting anything from it, I put a stop to it.’ This novel perspective, for lack of a better expression, took me aback. Perhaps she had been getting things from those subsequently discarded relationships, value which she couldn’t recognise. Perhaps she needs to talk and the other person is a good listener. Although she is actually looking for gossip or criticism about others in return, isn’t being a good listener a better alternative?  I’ve never thought about what I ‘get’ from my friendships other than love through acceptance and companionship. Have you? What should else should we be ‘getting’ if that person enjoys our company?  Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that what friendship is about?

Love is a difficult thing sometimes. If we view it materially, we strive for the unattainable. If we love in Christ, however, we discard the thought of the cost of that love. We love because that’s what we sincerely want to do.  That’s God’s grace working through us.

Next week: 1 John 3:19-24

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